Top Ten Warning Signs of an Education Scam, Diploma Mill or Fake Degree

Top Warning Signs of an Education Scam, Diploma Mill or Fake Degree

Here is a checklist to allow you to quickly an easily check whether a school and it's degree are real or fake. You've seen the ads and received the spam for 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. Starting with the simplest, fastest ways to check, here is a checklist to help you verify if a school you are interested in is real, and to spot the diploma mills, and separate the scams schools from real educational institutions:

  1. Too Little Time Required
    An accredited, genuine bachelor's (undergraduate) degree takes 2 to 5 years to achieve. Anyone promising a BS, BA, MA, MS, MBA or PhD degree in days, weeks or a few months is scamming you.  Period.
  2. The school offers college credits solely for lifetime or real world experience.
    Sorry, there is no free lunch.  This is quite simply, nonsense.  Degrees are not granted based upon the knowledge you already have, but rather upon the successful completion of a process that includes training, interaction with professors and a process of learning. Some legitimate institution offer credit for life or work experiences and a combination of the following methods to determine how much credit is given: standardized tests, prior learning portfolio, oral exams, past college credit, and professional certification. The amount of credit awarded will vary from institution to institution, but none will give a degree for ONLY life or work experiences.
  3. Does the website have a .edu suffix?
    All real schools have a domain that ends in .edu.  A few scam schools managed to sneak in, but aside from a couple of community colleges that are still in the application process, if the school does not have a .edu extension, forget it.
  4. Are there many negative reports at the Better Business Bureau?
    If the school is based in the United States or Canada, and someone has filed a complaint about the school, there will be a report about it. A complaint by itself does not mean the school is a scam; all schools receive some complaints. But the BBB also balances those and provides their own review and rating. On the other hand, if the school isn't in the BBB at all, that does not mean anything: only that no one has yet filed a complaint about it.
  5. Location - outside the US or in certain states
    Some countries and U.S. states have lax standards that allow almost anyone to operate a "college".  You can pretty much forget any non-U.S. school that contacts you.  Reputable overseas schools don't recruit vian email in the U.S. Many diploma mills are located within the U.S.; in states like Wyoming, Mississippi, and Alabama. Fraud laws and higher education regulations are so flimsy in these areas that unaccredited and low-quality colleges and universities may flourish. On the other hand, Oregon has strong state laws that provide penalties for people operating degree mills, so a school accredited in Oregon is probably ok.
  6. Tuition paid on a per-degree basis
    Or discounts for enrolling in multiple degree programs. Accredited institutions charge by credit hours, course, or semester.
  7. School's Address/Phone and Other Basic Information is Missing
    If the school does not have a clearly published physical address and contact phone number and the only way to reach the school is through its website, this is a clear indicator that the school is a scam diploma mill. At the very least, there should be some sort of street address and telephone number. If the address is a PO box numbers or a suite - that is a scams. That campus may very well be a mail drop box or someone's attic. Similarly, the names and backgrounds of the professors and schools deans and other leaders should be prominently posted. A scam school will either no publish the names and information or steal names and photos from other schools (a Google search on the names will turn that up).
  8. Names that are similar to well known reputable universities
    Names that are clearly made up to sound like the name of a real university (but aren't!): like the following fake names: "Oxford England University", "Hardvard University", "University of Britain"
  9. Is the school REALLY accredited?
    In some states, it can be illegal to use a degree from an institution that is not accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency, unless approved by the state licensing agency. It's important to determine if a degree from an unaccredited institution will allow you to achieve your career goals. To help you, take a look at a list of frequently asked questions about accreditation. How can you check the accreditation? If the school is trying to convince you that accreditation is optional or that it is only needed to obtain federal financial aid, forget it. Of course, accreditation is technically optional, but there are only a handful of schools in the US that are not accredited and still have a decent reputation. To check whether a U.S. institution of higher education and postsecondary career or technical school is accredited, go to Institutions and Programs. Another newer website from the government is the accreditation page.
  10. Unprofessional website?
    Most diploma mills make dreadful looking websites . You can always check the page source to see how they made the page (View > Page Source in your browser) and look for Microsoft Word or Publisher as the editor name.
  11. A huge list of Degrees or Majors Offered?
    Even large real, respected universities, with 20,000 students or more, like the University of Virginia, Stanford or the University of Michigan may only offer a total of 100 degrees. Some small schools have a number of degrees, like Tulane. And many small, but respected schools, like Muhlenberg, only offer a handful of degrees. But, for a small, unknown school to offer hundreds of degrees can only mean a scam! Here are examples for Tulane, U.Va, and Muhlenberg, all reputable schools in their categories.
  12. Has it been identified on a list of scam schools?
    Check this page for a list of schools already identified as scams. Keep in mind that if you do not find the school's name on the list, that does not mean it is NOT a scam; it just may be too new to have made the list yet.
  13. No need to speak with a professor
    Little or no interaction with professors is a sign of a scam. Even legitimate, strictly online universities require mentoring and interaction with multiple professors.
  14. Have you or anyone you know heard of the school?
    Is it a well-known, reputable school? Is the school and its accreditor listed on the Council on Higher Education Accreditation's website CHEA is the agency that accredits the school accreditors. The U.S. Department of Education also accredits accreditors.

See also:      

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!




For a comprehensive list of national and international agencies to report scams, see this page.