Victims of diploma mills have been persuaded to believe that they are receiving a legitimate degree or diploma when, in fact, the academic degree they obtain for paying a lump sum of cash is worthless. So-called higher learning institutions that are unaccredited but profess to have the ability to provide bachelor’s, master’s and even Ph.D. degrees fool people into falling for their hype by awarding “life experience credits” for diplomas that can be earned within weeks of paying a fee. Diploma mills posing as accredited online universities may even have a URL ending in “.edu” and have names resembling well-known, accredited online schools.
Characteristics of a Diploma Mill
Before enrolling in an online school degree program, be aware of the following signs that indicate you may be dealing with a diploma mill:
- No nationally recognized accrediting agency has accredited the school ( a list of these legitimate accrediting agencies can be found at the U.S. Department of Education Accrediting Agencies website.
- Although they may have a business license, diploma mills will misuse this license by claiming their school is “licensed” or “state-approved”. Authentic online universities do not make it obvious that they are “licensed” or “state authorized”.
- Content on a diploma mill’s website tends to be overly formal and full of “legalese”. For example, one diploma mill asserted that their degrees have been “sealed and attested” by a “notary appointed by the government”. Actually, notarization simply means that a document has been attested and signed by the person named on the document.
- Academic requirements for “earning” a diploma are drastically minimized. Students may need to purchase textbooks and submit one or two assignments but the amount of studying is greatly decreased, if not entirely nonexistent
- Be aware of schools that offer degrees in pseudoscientific subjects like astrology or paranormal investigation. These degrees are worthless and are not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
- Diploma mills may have P.O. box numbers rather than physical addresses. Many diploma mills actually operate outside the U.S. and change web URLs frequently to avoid being discovered.
- Instead of charging tuition per semester, diploma mills will charge you on a “per-degree” basis. In addition, unaccredited online universities are not eligible to receive financial aid for eligible students, such as Pell grants or Stafford loans
- Remain cognizant of online university websites that have noticeable spelling errors, pretentious language or odd phrasings. This is a definite sign that the people operating the “school” are not reputable
Beware of Diploma Mills. Make sure the online school you want to attend is Accredited.
The bottom line is that you cannot earn a legitimate degree which is recognized by accredited higher learning institutions, employers or government facilities in just three or four weeks. Moreover, any online college or website offering degrees for $300 or $400 is to be avoided and, if possible, reported to the proper authorities.
What To Do If You Are Scammed by a Diploma Mill
- The first thing to do is demand your money back. Tell them that you feel you were misled by false claims of accreditation and have found out the “degree” you received is worthless. When your demand is denied or ignored (typical of a diploma mill), mail a registered letter to the school (if there is a physical address) explaining why you think they are guilty of deceptive practices and repeat your request for full reimbursement of tuition and fees.
- If you do not receive a response from the school, report them to the Better Business Bureau and the Attorney General’s office in your state. By detailing the issues you encountered with a particular diploma mill at the Better Business Bureau, you can prevent the same thing from happening to other students.
- Additionally, contacting the Attorney General can establish a record of your dealings that may be useful in prosecuting the fake online school at a later date, especially as more deceived students complain about the same diploma mill.
Laws Regarding Diploma Mills
The US Department of Education works to close down Diploma Mills and Protect Students.
The U.S. government has given states the authority to regulate diploma mills. However, only a few states have taken action against the continuing problem of fraudulent online schools claiming to offer legitimate degrees. The primary problem of trying to crack down on these diploma mills is their ability to simply disappear overnight, only to resume business using another website in another location. Furthermore, diploma mills operating overseas are nearly impossible to locate and prosecute.
Regrettably, some consumers knowingly contribute to the consistent prospering of diploma mills by paying for these fake degrees and passing them off as real diplomas to employers. Many “students” know that what they are doing is not exactly legal. Be aware that purchasing a fake degree may lead to being arrested for impersonating a professional who is entrusted with other people’s lives–doctor, policeman or nurse, for example.
Before Enrolling in an Online School Degree Program
Do your research before applying to an online university or college. Make sure the school is accredited by a nationally recognized agency, read reviews from other students who attended the school and do not hesitate to call the school’s representatives for answers to any questions you may have regarding the school’s legitimacy. Get a physical address if one is not evident on the school’s website as well as more than one phone number to reach administrators working for the school. Finally, asking the school if they accept financial aid is a good way to quickly discover the validity of their accreditation credentials, since online schools that are not accredited cannot accept Pell grants or Stafford loans from the U.S. Department of Education.
This article originally appeared on onlineschool