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Don’t Get Caught in a College Degree Scam

With so many schools now offering online learning options, college degree scams are more difficult to spot. Unfortunately, falling prey to one of these scams can mean losing out on valuable time and money, all while believing you’re moving ahead in securing your degree. Here’s what you need to know about college degree scams.

What’s a college degree scam?

A college degree scam can take the form of a diploma mill, in which an alleged school will advertise heavily, promising a super-quick degree for almost no work. There are no classes, or very few of them, and there’s no need to take any exams or interact with a professor to earn your degree. Just pay the fee, fill out some forms and the degree is yours. The only catch? The degree is bogus, and no graduate school or reputable employer will honor it.

In another variation of this scam, an accreditation mill will provide higher education accreditation than a diploma mill for a similar level of minimal effort. Unfortunately, the accreditation is illegitimate, as the “school” is not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) or the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

In yet another iteration, an alleged college will offer its “students” a degree for work experience alone. Of course, the degree is not worth the paper it’s printed on.

Red flags

When researching potential college choices online, look out for these red flags of bogus schools and degrees:

  • The “school” promises you can get your degree in a ridiculously short amount of time.
  • You can’t find a physical address associated with the school.
  • Tuition is billed as a flat rate per degree instead of per class or semester.
  • You have little or no interaction with the “professors” of your classes.
  • The website of the “college” doesn’t end in .edu.
  • The college claims you can earn your degree through work experience alone.
  • The college name is very similar to that of a better-known school.
  • The school is accredited by an organization other than the USDE or the CHEA, and doesn’t appear on the list of schools approved by those entities.
  • The school does not ask for any form of ID upon enrollment.

How can I verify if my degree program is legit?

Is all this talk of illegitimate degree programs and colleges making you panic about your own school? No worries; you can easily check if your college is legit. Just hold it up against this checklist:

  • Is the school officially accredited? Look up your school on sites like College Navigator and check for it on the USDE and the CHEA lists of accredited schools. If you can’t find your college on any of these sites, it may be a scam.
  • Look for a physical address associated with the school.
  • Check the URL of the school’s website. Does it end in .edu? Is the website very similar to the site of another, well-known college?
  • 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 likely a scam. You can do the same with a potential future employee, asking if they’d honor a degree from this program.

If you’ve been targeted

If you believe you’ve gotten caught in a college scam, take immediate steps to mitigate the damage. First, report the scam to the FTC. Leave the program and be sure to mark any emails from the school as spam. If you’ve shared credit card or checking account information with the scammers, you may need to take additional steps to prevent further charges, like closing the associated accounts. Finally, let your friends know about what happened so they know to also be alert.

Don’t get outsmarted by a college scam! Stay alert and stay safe.