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How to Spot Fake Degrees

Beware of Fake Degrees, the internet's full of them...

by Edward Taft

We've all seen the ads: seemingly reputable universities offering "quick and easy" programs in accounting, finance, or even nursing, that involve little more than filling out an acceptance form, paying your tuition, and providing a mailing address for your new and official-looking degree. But, as the old saying goes, if it's too good to be true, it probably is.

Online educational opportunities have proliferated in the last 10 years as they've been able to provide students with the convenience and affordability of participating in coursework via their home computer. However, as the legitimate degree programs have achieved greater popularity, the common consumer is now also presented with a dizzying array of "degree mills", as they're known. These operations of dubious legitimacy promise the same end result as other online schools (a degree) but without all the studying and testing.

So how does a student shopping around for an online university avoid being duped by a "degree mill"? Yet another adage can be used here to weed out 90% of the fake degrees: "The only place that 'success' comes before 'work' is in the dictionary". Simply put, if the school's website is clearly promising you a degree in an unreasonably short timeframe (like tomorrow afternoon) then its probably in your best interest to look elsewhere.

The rest, however, can be a little more difficult to spot, but still put you at risk of losing your money or ending up with a worthless piece of paper. Here are some of the warning signs to look for:

• Accreditation: This is the first thing you check for in an online program. If the school isn't accredited, its likely that any coursework you complete won't count for anything. However, as scam degree programs become more sophisticated, some are even proudly displaying fradulent accreditation credentials. So make sure research the accreditation agency itself through the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
• Reviews: A quick Google search will often bring up discussion groups that talk about a school's program. If people are crying foul, its a bad sign.
• Customer Service: A legitimate online school will make available representatives that you can call and have your questions answered. No real-person customer service is a dead giveaway of a scam program.
• Flat Fee: The majority of online programs charge per course. A service that promises to give you a degree for a flat rate or one-time payment is almost certainly a degree mill.

And finally, use your common sense. If you don't have a good feeling about a particular program, move on. The web now has a plethora of good choices for online education, so you shouldn't need to put yourself in a position where you're uncomfortable with the school you've picked.

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