For many young adults, a college degree is the key to a secure financial future. Unfortunately, though, scammers are 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 on several forms:
- Diploma mills advertise to attract potential students, claiming they don’t need to do any studying, take exams or even interact with professors to earn their “degree.”
- Accreditation mills will allegedly provide higher education accreditation to diploma mills. 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 offer a fully accredited “degree” for work experience alone.
In each of these variations, the victim will only discover that the degree is bogus when they try to use it. It won’t be recognized by reputable employers, can negatively impact a career path even if the victim is already employed and can get the victim into trouble with the law.
10 signs a college or degree program is bogus
- The school’s mailing address is a P.O. box.
- Tuition is billed as a flat rate per degree.
- The “school” claims you can get your degree in an impossibly short time.
- You have little to no interaction with the “professors” of the school.
- The name of the “college” is similar to a well-known legitimate university.
- The web address doesn’t end in .edu.
- The school is accredited by an organization that isn’t approved by the USDE or the CHEA.
- The school does not ask for any form of I.D. upon enrollment.
- A degree can be earned with minimal effort.
- The school claims you can earn your degree solely through experience in the workfield.
How can I be sure my degree program is legit?
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests taking these steps before enrolling in any college program:
- Is the school officially accredited? You can verify this by checking for the school or program on College Navigator, and/or looking it up on the USDE and the CHEA sites. If your school or program isn’t listed on these sites, you’re looking at a scam.
- Ask the registrar of any local community college or state university if they’d accept transfer credits from this institution. If the answer is no, it’s an obvious scam.
- 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
- Report scam attempts to the FTC at FTC.gov and to your state attorney general. Let your friends know about the scam, too.
- Be alert and do your due diligence before signing up for a college or degree program, and stay safe!