Education Scams: Diploma Mills and Fraud Degrees
Quick degree scams - "Get your degree in 30 days!" "No studying required", "Turn your experience into a degree". They say they are accredited and the degree is legal and meaningful. That's part of the scam.
The existence of unaccredited, substandard, and/or fraudulent postsecondary education (college, university, graduate schools) providers is a global phenomenon, as is the existence of unrecognized and/or fraudulent accreditors. The credits and degrees awarded by these unaccredited or sham diploma mills are not going to be recognized by legitimately accredited institutions, official professional licensing authorities, recognition authorities or reputable employers.
And when the sham is exposed that you purchased your degree; you'll be out on the street and no one will hire you. You may make the cover of a newspaper, exposed as the worthless hack you are for attempting to buy your degree. You may make a list of people who have purchased scam degrees, that we're working on right now.
So how do you avoid being sucked into an education scam?
What to watch for to recognize a diploma scam
Unaccredited schools share a number of fairly easy to verify characteristics. See this page for a checklist to check out a school or degree program that you are considering.
U.S. Laws on fake degrees are inconsistent in the United States. Even where it is explicitly illegal, both in some states and abroad, enforcement is erratic. The U.S. federal government puts the responsibility on the states, and since it is a white collar crime, no large scale enforcement has taken place.
Types of Fake Degrees
There are two types of fake degrees:
- Diploma mills - they offer to convert "life experiences" into coursework (complete with grades) based on your own self-assessment. Often these schools claim to be accredited. Diploma mills claim to be institutions of higher education, but they operate without supervision of a state or professional agency. The diplomas are scams because the "institution" lacks the proper standards.
- Fake degrees for sale - there's little mistaking the fraud here: they simply offer to produce a "real" degree for you for a price: no course, no studying, no exams, no review, no "life experiences", nothing. Give them money; they send you a diploma.
The following resources can help you to avoid substandard and unaccredited institutions, unrecognized accrediting bodies, and academic frauds that have been or are being investigated and prosecuted.
FEDERAL INFORMATION RESOURCES
- Diploma Mills and Accreditation is the U.S. Department of Education's overview and guide to how to recognize fraudulent institutions and accrediting bodies.
- Scholarship Scams is the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's guide to avoiding fake offers of student financial assistance.
GAO Reports on Diploma Mills
provides links to reports on diploma mills issued by the U.S. General
Accountability Office (GAO), the investigation and auditing agency of the U.S.
Congress that has examined how the diploma mill problem affects both U.S.
citizens and the federal government.
STATE INFORMATION RESOURCES
NOTE: Because state governments actually oversee the organization and structure of U.S. higher education, the state agencies that publish information about diploma mills and accreditation mills are very important. Several states agencies now have the legal power to publish "negative lists" of unapproved, unaccredited, or illegal providers.
- Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs Guide to Unaccredited Degree-Granting Institutions provides links to information on Hawaii's actions to combat diploma mills, including lists of providers that have recently been prosecuted.
- Maine Department of Education Degree Mills and Accreditation Mills Page provides information on Maine laws and procedures and a list of unaccredited institutions known to operate in Maine.
- Michigan List of Unaccredited Institutions and Unrecognized Accrediting Bodies is the official Michigan list of illegal providers and accreditors known to operate in that state.
- Minnesota Office of Higher Education Tips for Validating a School's Claims provides links to information resources on state-approved institutions, fraud complaints, and related matters.
- New Jersey Statutes & Regulations Regarding Academic Degrees provides information and links to New Jersey regulations prohibiting the use of qualifications earned from institutions not accredited by a recognized accrediting agency.
- Oregon Office of Degree Authorization (ODA) provides extensive and authoritative information on diploma ills and other unaccredited institutions, state policies on regulating unaccredited institutions, as well as links to other authorities and an extensive list of diploma mills and other unaccredited and unrecognized providers. The Oregon ODA is considered authoritative by many other states and is frequently referred to by international authorities as well.
- ODA Accreditation Page provides information and a list of accrediting agencies known to be unrecognized and/or fraudulent.
- Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board List of Illegal Institutions and Degrees provides a directory of unrecognized and fraudulent institutions know to operate in Texas.
- Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board Degree Authorization Page provides information on how institutions and programs are approved, how to avoid diploma mills, and links to state directories and authorities.
- Wisconsin Education Approval Board Resources Page provides extensive information on recognized institutions, fraudulent academic credentials, diploma mills, and the legal process for approving a postsecondary education provider.
INTERNATIONAL INFORMATION RESOURCES
Both UNESCO and the Council of Europe (COE) have suffered due to diploma mill and accreditation mill websites claiming that these international organizations recognize institutions or accrediting bodies. International organizations have no authority to do this, and mere affiliation with such an organization does not in any way confer educational status or recognition. Neither UNESCO nor the Council of Europe accredit or recognize institutions of higher education, nor do they recognize or approve accrediting agencies.
In addition, several countries have published official warnings and/or lists of unrecognized providers operating in their territory. These include:
- Australian Government Fake Degrees and Unaccredited Providers Alert
- Indian University Grants Commission (UGC) Fake University Alerts
- Netherlands Center for Information on Diploma Mills (CIDM)
- Avoiding Bogus Degrees (UK)<
OTHER INFORMATION RESOURCES
- CHEA Degree Mills Page provides information and resources on diploma (degree) mills from the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
- EAIE Diploma Mills Presentation is a useful guide to resources as well as what to look for in diploma mill websites and advertising, by Ann M. Koenig and various U.S. experts on academic fraud. Presented at the EAIE annual conference in Basel, Switzerland, 2006.
- Dr. John Bear's Guide on Degree.Net is a detailed introduction to distance learning and the problem of distance learning fraud by one of the leading private authorities on academic fraud and distance education.
- Buying a PhD from a University that Doesn't Exist is a detailed analysis of the fakery involved in sample online diploma mill claims by Dr. George Gollin, a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor of physics.
Potential problems with degree suppliers located in these states
|State||Potential problems with degree suppliers|
|Alabama *||Split state authority over degree-granters allows some poor suppliers to operate.|
|California||Reasonably good standards, poor agency structure, and limited staffing and enforcement.|
|Hawaii *||Weak law, partly offset by excellent enforcement.|
|Idaho *||Loophole allows degree mills to operate if they don't issue degrees to Idaho residents. Idaho legislature is considering a bill to fix this problem in 2006.|
|Louisiana||Low standards. Some recent improvement.|
|Mississippi *||The worst college oversight law in the U.S. State law apparently allows any private business to issue degrees with no state approval. See the State of Mississippi for a list of these entities.|
|Missouri||Moderately weak law, especially for schools claiming religious affiliation. Also political interference with enforcement.|
|Montana||Weak, obscure law on private degree-granters. Enforcement has not been tested.|
|New Mexico||A loophole grandfathered some unaccredited suppliers that do not have to meet state standards.|
|Vermont||Good law, occasional political interference with enforcement.|
|Wyoming *||Weak law and poor enforcement allowed state to fill with unaccredited suppliers. Political interference exacerbated this problem. The 2006 Wyoming legislature passed a new law requiring eventual accreditation, which should solve the problem in a couple of years.|
|* NOTE: as Wyoming and Idaho laws change, many suppliers may relocate to Mississippi, Alabama, and Hawaii.|
- School-Level Accreditation
- Postsecondary Accreditation
- Federal Recognition and Approval
- State Approval and Licensure
- Other Quality Assurance Provisions
And please let us know about any suspicious calls or emails you receive. We look for patterns so that we can alert the authorities and victims to new scams, before it is too late!