Thanks to the anonymity of the Internet, the tenacity of the wicked and the desperation of our times, fake online college course, aka “diploma mills”, are popping up on every corner of the web. They offer low rates for accredited degrees that can be completed in half the time to qualify students for great, high paying jobs in exciting new careers. And not only do they not deliver on the promise or even their degree, but most of the time, they just take your money or worse, your credit card and your bank account information. This didn’t start with the Internet. The scam has been around since the 1880s when fraudulent doctors would draw up fake medical diplomas and sell them to students. However, there are ways to tell if the online college course you are taking will get you an accredited diploma instead than a lower credit score.
1. Stick with accredited universities
This one may sound like a serious no-brainer, but some of the scams and diploma mills operating on the Internet can make a phony online institution seem credible with the right design and a few flashy promises.
The only real way to know for sure if an online school has some serious accreditation is to make sure the people they claim are giving them proper accreditation actually gave it them. The U.S. Department of Education hands out such titles and anyone who is concerned that the online college course of their choice isn’t legit can call up the proper bureau and get a detailed and accurate list of their proper accreditation based on the type of higher learning institution and their field of study.
2. The school name sounds very similar to another popular school
Of course, the best way to ensure that you’re getting a legit diploma is to do it through a federally recognized and fully accredited university. Sometimes, however, the scammers have found a way to work around that as well.
Some scams use concocted names that sound very similar to popular and reputable universities or use names that make the institution sound worldly or high class, just to trick some people into believing they are getting a degree. If the name sounds fishy, go with your cut and check the school with the U.S. Department of Education. If the school is located overseas, you’re better off not even opening the website in your browser.
3. They want their tuition upfront
Schools might be expensive, but at least reputable universities are willing to work with students to help them pay off their bills to ensure that they get a proper education. Diploma mill schools only want your money.
The fake online institution will ask for the entire amount upfront and are never willing to budge an inch on letting you pay throughout the semester by threatening to revoke your enrollment. Schools that want the entire amount before you even crack a book don’t have your best educational needs in mind. They have their financial needs first and should immediately wave a huge red flag in your mind to their authenticity.
4. Be wary of big promises
When times are tough or people are desperate to escape their careers for something with a slight chance of being better, they leave a huge window of vulnerability for scruple-less scammers to exploit.
People who are just after you for one thing will make promises whether they can deliver on them or not, just to get your money. Claims of automatic enrollment, quick and easy classes and short semesters that still come with highly accredited diplomas and degrees should always follow the old rule of “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
5. There is no way to contact your professors
The most effective scammer is an anonymous one and they all want the same thing (other than money): as little contact with their victims as possible.
Diploma mills and fraudulent online colleges work the same way. Colleges and universities should strive to encourage their students to have as much human and face-to-face contact with their professors and teachers as possible and if you are finding it impossible to even reach a human being connected with the university, the last thing you should do is leave your personal information with them.
6. The site doesn’t have a .edu web address
Since the Internet began to take on more of a public shape, regulating web domain agencies and companies were able to develop specialized domain name systems to ensure the sites that were being registered were legitimate and credible. .Edu became one of the seven first top-level domain names on the Internet for this very reason.
Post secondary schools that use the .edu domain name must meet certain eligibility requirements to obtain them including documented recognition from the U.S. Department of Education’s database of accredited agencies. The .edu names ensures that the institution is not only credible but monitored by a government regulatory committee to ensure the highest level of cyber security. Several for-profit institutions have the name but if your school ends in .com, .org or any other domain name, you should seriously consider dropping out, no matter what the professors or school officials tell you.