For many young adults, obtaining a college degree in their desired field is the key to a secure financial future. Unfortunately, though, scammers are exploiting this essential right of passage by offering fake diplomas and bogus degree programs to the unsuspecting college-bound crowd. Here’s what you need to know about college degree scams.
How the scams play out
College degree scams can take one of several forms:
- Diploma mills will advertise to attract potential students, claiming they don’t need to do any studying, take any exams or even interact with professors to earn their “degree.” Usually, all it takes is completing some forms and paying a hefty “tuition” fee to make the (bogus) diploma yours.
- Accreditation mills will allegedly provide higher education accreditation to diploma mills, which pay them for their services. Unfortunately, though, they cannot grant authentic accreditation because they are not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) or the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
- Life experience degrees will offer a fully accredited “degree” for work experience alone.
In each of these variations of the college degree scam, the victim will be thrilled at the opportunity to secure a degree with minimal effort or financial burden. It’s only later, when the victim tries to use their degree that they’ll discover it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on. The “degree” won’t be recognized by reputable employers, can negatively impact a career path even if the victim is already gainfully employed and can get the victim into serious trouble with the law.
15 signs a college or degree program is bogus
- The school’s mailing address is a P.O. box or nonexistent.
- The website has no listed phone number.
- Tuition is billed as a flat rate per degree, instead of a specific rate per credit hour or per class.
- The “School” claims you can get your degree in an impossibly short amount of time, such as 30 days.
- You have little to no interaction with the “professors” of the program.
- The name of the “college” is strikingly similar to a well-known legitimate university.
- An online search of the alleged school turns up negative reviews.
- Offers tuition discounts for enrolling in multiple degree programs.
- The “College” does not have a web address ending in .edu.
- The school is accredited by an organization that is not approved or recognized by the USDE or the CHEA.
- The school does not ask for any official form of ID when students enroll.
- The school is located in another country.
- The degree can be earned through little effort, such as faxing over your resume.
- The school claims you can earn your degree through experience in the workfield alone.
- The alleged college uses high-pressure advertising tactics to attract students.
How can I be sure my degree program is legit?
With online schooling becoming more popular and many high school graduates opting for a quick degree program instead of a more traditional and recognized college, it can be challenging to determine whether an online college or degree program is authentic.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests taking these steps before enrolling in a college or degree program of any kind:
- Find out if the school is officially accredited. Of course, bogus programs will claim they’re accredited, but you can verify the authenticity of this claim by checking for the school or program on College Navigator, and/or looking it up on the USDE and the CHEA websites. If your school or program is not listed on these sites, you’re looking at a scam.
- Call the registrar of any local community college or state university and ask if they’d accept transfer credits from this institution. If the answer is no, you should have serious doubts about the school’s legitimacy.
- Call potential employees in the field you’re pursuing and ask if they’d recognize a license from this school or program. If you don’t get a yes, the degree is likely bogus.
- Contact the state attorney general’s office in the state where the school or program is located to ask if it’s operating legally.
If you’ve been targeted
If you believe you’ve been targeted by a college degree scam, you can do your part to help stop the scammers before they trick any more victims out of their money and their hope for a financially secure future. Report scam attempts to the FTC at FTC.gov and to your state attorney general. Also, let your friends know about the scam.
College degree scams can completely sabotage a victim’s financial future. Be alert, do your due diligence before signing up for a college or degree program, and stay safe!