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FTC Accepts Settlement From Two Diploma Mills

FTC Accepts Settlement From Two Diploma Mills

On February 10, 2017, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that two diploma mills had agreed to settle the charges brought against them. The diploma mills had been charged with selling fake diplomas to thousands of unsuspecting consumers.  Even though this was about a year ago, this is still applicable to this day, even more so.

According to the charges, two companies (Capitol Network Distance Learning Programs and Stepping Stonez Development, LLC) had created a network of fake “high schools” offering a range of degrees and diplomas. The “schools” had names such as Aberdeen Academy, Capital High School, West Madison Falls High School, Western Heritage High School and Columbia Northern High School.

Through these schools, the companies had sold fake diplomas and degrees to thousands of consumers. They had hoodwinked the consumers by claiming the degrees were “accredited” and would, therefore, be readily accepted by employers, the armed forces and even colleges.

The problem arose when those who had purchased the diplomas presented them to employers and colleges. Most of them were summarily rejected for being fake. This led to a slew of complaints which caught the attention of the FTC.

When the agency investigated the claims and brought charges against the two companies, the companies accepted their culpability. They agreed to settle the charges – with the combined figure of the settlement totaling to $19.1 million.

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They agreed to settle the charges – with the combined figure of the settlement totaling to $19.1 million.

The Problem of Fake Diplomas

The two companies charged by the FTC aren’t the first to sell fake companies. They aren’t the first to be busted either. In 2008, a couple in Spokane was convicted of selling close to 10,000 fake diplomas and degrees to people from 131 countries around the world. The couple – who were themselves high school dropouts – sold their fake degrees through a network of fictional universities and made a whopping $7.3 million in the process.

According to a groundbreaking book, “Degree Mills: The Billion-Dollar Industry That Has Sold Over a Million Fake Diplomas”, the problem of diploma mills is only rising. The book, written by John Bear and Allan Ezel (a former FBI agent) claims that there are over 3,300 fake universities around the world. These fake institutions award hundreds of thousands of fraudulent academic credentials. The book claims that up to 50,000 fake PhDs are awarded by these diploma mills every year.

In 2010, a CNN article quoted George Gollin, a board member of the U.S.- based Council for Higher Education Accreditation, claiming that over 100,000 fake degrees are sold annually in the US alone. Over one-third of these are post-graduate degrees. The article also quoted George Gollin claiming that fake degrees can cost as little as $1,000.

The Challenge for Employers

Diploma mills present a challenge for employers. It means that they can end up hiring the wrong persons – with potentially deadly consequences. A 2009 expose by Wired Magazine reported that the buyers of fake degrees within the US include people from critical sectors like NASA, fire departments, and hospitals. Such people are typically padding their resumes to get jobs or targeting promotions and pay rises.

The major problem is that most of these fake degrees are often awarded for little to no study at all. The CNN article referenced above quoted George Gollin saying that some diploma mills offered a master’s degree for one-weeks’ worth of coursework. Others claimed that a person’s “life experience” was enough to qualify them for a diploma or degree.

Basically, diploma mills generally offer academic awards to people without giving them the relevant education or training. This sets up the stage for potential catastrophes. If people in sensitive positions like fire departments and hospitals are hired on the basis of fake diplomas, they are a disaster waiting to happen.

The bottom line is that diploma mills present a tremendous risk to employers. The risk isn’t just of a PR disaster which can arise when it turns out that one of the employees was a fake. An even greater risk is when unqualified individuals begin making life or death decisions (as in the case of workers in hospitals or fire departments). The legal blowback from that can be catastrophic.

Therefore, each employer needs to do their utmost to avoid hiring individuals with fake academic credentials. The only way to ensure this is through “extreme vetting” of individuals during pre-employment screening. This is where exhaustive education background checks come in handy.

Education Background Checks to the Rescue!

An education background check (aka education verification) is an exhaustive investigation into the academic credentials presented in an applicant’s resume. This type of background check serves two purposes.

  1. It helps in gauging the person’s qualification or competence. This is important for positions where the academic qualification directly impacts one’s capacity to do the job.
  2. It helps in gauging the person’s character. An education verification check helps in determining whether the individual fraudulently acquired their academic qualifications. This makes it important even for jobs like sales where academic qualifications may not be so important but integrity is.

And of course, education background checks can help in weeding academic credentials from diploma mills. This is because the first step in education verification is investigating the existence of the institution. After that, the investigators verify whether or not the institution is actually accredited to issue the academic qualifications listed in the applicant’s resume.

Beyond verifying the existence of the institution, the education background checks also investigates

(1) whether the institution offers/once offered the academic program listed in the applicant’s résumé,

(2) whether the applicant attended the institution,

(3) whether applicant studied the particular course, completed, and graduated; and

(4) whether the GPAs and CPGA in the resume match those in the institution’s records.

The bottom line is that education background checks can enable an employer to thoroughly investigate any education claims made in an applicant’s resume. This helps to not just weed out academic credentials from diploma mills, it also helps an employer to examine the accuracy of credentials from bonafide academic institutions.

The only thing an employer needs to do is find a reliable company to conduct the education background checks. Such a company should be able to conduct thorough investigations of all academic claims made by applicants and produce reports which are accurate, verified and actionable. This is where Crimcheck comes in handy.

Crimcheck has an education verification service which is designed to help employers to unearth the truth about claims made by applicants. This service has been used by hundreds of employers over a period of two decades. Not once has it ever failed to deliver the goods. To find out more about Crimcheck’s education verification service.