Court halts online high school diploma mill operation that may have made $11 million

Students looking to broaden their horizons by getting a high-school diploma face a plethora of options, thanks to the increasing number of online options for getting your diploma.  But, as students of the prestigious-sounding “Jefferson High School Online” and “Enterprise High School Online” found out recently, getting a legitimate diploma over the Internet is a tricky proposition.

Last week, a U.S. District Court in Florida halted operations of the companies, which had allegedly grossed $11 million from “marketing and selling fake high school diplomas online to consumers nationwide.” The court took the action at the behest of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which seeks a permanent injunction to put them out of business and make restitution to their customers.

“A high school diploma is necessary for entry into college, the military, and many jobs,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “These defendants took students’ money but only provided a worthless credential that won’t help their future plans.”

According to the FTC’s complaint, the two companies have sold online high school diplomas since 2006 using multiple names, charging between $200 and $200 for a diploma. “Their websites claimed that by enrolling in the defendants’ programs, consumers could obtain ‘official’ and accredited high school diplomas and use them to enroll in college, join the military, and apply for jobs,” the FTC noted in a news release. (link to: http://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2014/09/ftc-action-halts-online-high-school-diploma-mill-made-11-million)

Diploma mills are nothing new, of course. The Internet has spawned thousands of web-based operations which claim to be able to give you legitimate credentials, easily and at a relatively low cost for years. The problem is that many of these for-profit businesses are just there to take your money, and anything you earn is likely to be worthless.

Diploma mills often manufacture their own sham “accrediting” bodies, adding to the confusion. When you take your diploma-mill degree to a potential employer, you’re likely to get a cold reception; employers are increasingly digging deeper into resumes to ensure that your credentials are legitimate.

But there are also many legitimate institutions which are doing great work by helping online students. So, how do you know?

The FTC gives these pointers in its online resource (link to: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0206-diploma-mills#The): Look for these red flags:

  1. No Studies, No Exams, No Interaction. Getting a degree has always taken a lot of hard work, and that hasn’t changed. And, although many legit institutions will give you some credit for life experience, it’s probably going to be minimal.
  2. Flat Fee. Legitimate schools charge by the credit, course, or semester. Beware of claims that you can get a degree for a flat fee.
  3. No Waiting. Beware of claims that you can get a degree or diploma in a very short time.
  4. Pushy Advertising Tactics. If they have to use aggressive sales tactics, pop-up ads or telemarketing, keep on looking.

And for a list of institutions that are actually accredited, visit the Council for Higher Education Accreditation at http://www.chea.org/search/search.asp

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