How to Avoid Online Education Scams

For online college students, exploring online degree programs can be quite tedious and time consuming. Today, it can become unnerving as “easier” or “faster” options seem to be popping up everywhere, guaranteeing completion in as little as within a year! It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Sadly, many students still continue to fall prey to online education scams.

Online Education Scams and Accreditation

Planning to attend an online degree program for a stable career path or to pick up on another set of skills for your future job? Online learning has been in high demand not just in the United States but worldwide. It’s called numerous names, such as virtual classrooms, MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), and e-learning or distance education courses. Thing is, all of these offer ease of learning and adaptability. But the problem arises when you later discover that the degree program you’ve opted for is actually a scam. Indeed, education scams are an enraging topic, particularly for many who have a genuine interest to earn their diploma.

What are Diploma Mills?

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Diploma mills and false university scams have been around since the nineteenth century. They are most commonly defined as colleges and universities that give students a diploma in exchange for money. For so long, these charlatans have been swindling many students’ time and money. The introduction of online learning has made it even easier for them to operate their business.

Diploma mills also refer to academic institutions that operate without the knowledge of the state or accrediting organizations for higher education. They normally have a roster of degrees for a specific cost, but have not gone through curriculum approval. These academic institutions fabricate low admission policies or may assert that students can obtain their degrees for shorter periods of the time than they would in traditional colleges.

One of the glaring signs of a phony online college and university is that they guarantee a degree without doing any coursework or solely by work experience. These programs do not require schoolwork; rather, students are told they can earn their degree essentially by utilizing their professional and individual experiences for the purpose of college credits.

Case in point: if an online school says they let you earn your four-year college degree in a year even without previously earned college credits, take that as a warning.

These scammers also claim to be legitimate or certified to imply that they are assessed and approved by a review board of faculty members from other accredited institutions. Some of these fake schools even go as far as forming their own unaccredited organizations. Many of them have also set up advanced websites to assure students they are “legitimate” and “certified” schools. But the truth is, they are not. In fact, the online college program turns out not to be invalid or unrecognized.

 Why is Accreditation Important?

As more and more colleges and universities offer online degree programs in the country, it is crucial that these schools and their respective programs undergo the process of accreditation.

Accreditation refers to an assessment of the nature of advanced educational institutions such as colleges and universities. In the United States, accreditation assures students, families, government authorities, and the media that a certain institution is guided by specific rules based on a set of stringent standards. Accreditation can be comparable to a seal of approval and it should inform students that a college, university, or degree program should strictly follow scholastic guidelines. It likewise informs company employers that graduates of any degree program are prepared to enter the corporate world.

Accreditation works like a guarantee of the standards of quality and credibility that a university or college adheres to. It is practically telling the public that they are “the real deal” in terms of quality of education and scholastic services. Aside from this, academic units from a credible university or college can be credited to other institutions.

It is essential to determine the credibility of colleges, universities, and degree programs. This is because college students who apply for government and state loans as well as scholarship grants are required to go to an accredited academic institution.

The federal government imposes that a college, university, or degree program needs be accredited in order to be qualified for grants and advances or other elected assets. State governments require a college, university, or degree be certified when they create state funds accessible for these institutions and their students, and when they enable students to take state licensure examinations in different areas of study.

When applying for a job, you can be sure your prospective employers will check your credential thoroughly as part evaluating your employment qualifications. They will recognize your online degree program only if you earned it from an accredited college or university.

What are the reliable accrediting agencies?

The CHEA Database of Institutions and Programs Accredited by Recognized United States Accrediting Organizations lists more than 8,200 academic institutions and 20,000 degree programs, all present in the US Website Directory of Colleges and Universities. The database is a useful resource for students and individuals exploring their future college or university, an organization in a particular state, or a specific accrediting agency.

In the United States, the accreditors are considered as private, nongovernmental associations formed for the specific goal of evaluating higher education organizations and programs for quality assurance. In most countries, legitimate government organizations accomplish the accreditation procedure.

So how can you be assured that an online school is authentically accredited? The most ideal method is to search for the following legitimate accreditation agencies:

  • ACCSC (Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges)
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  • ACCET (Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training)
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  • ACICS (Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools)
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  • DEAC (Distance Education Accrediting Commission)
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  • CHEA (Council for Higher Education Accreditation)
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The above-mentioned non-government organizations study accreditation concerns in the area of higher education. Fundamentally, they keep a rundown of accrediting organizations that follow strict measures.

Red Flags to Look Out For

If you’re looking for an online degree program, you have to watch out for the telltale signs. Here are some common red flags you need to avoid at all costs when trying to decide on the online education program for you:

Unconvincing level of difficulty and duration of the degree

A few schools guarantee that you can have your degree, perhaps, in less than a year. Realistically, has anyone really earned a college degree in such a short span of time? If an online program gives you the impression of it being a “simple process” or offering “instant results”, you need to jump to your next option. While online degree programs do have flexible schedules and learn-at-your-own-pace set-up, they still demand a significant amount of time and effort to accomplish the coursework.

False accrediting organizations

An extensive roster of accredited organizations that look unfamiliar or seem like you’ve never encountered before can be a major warning. If an online school flaunts a long list of accrediting organizations or potentially suggests official endorsements through simple enrollment, you need to dig deeper. Chances are, the U.S. Department of Education does not duly recognize those accrediting bodies.

Online degree programs that concentrate on gaining “certifiable experience” or “lifetime college credits.”

Such academic institutions do not give importance to school work for a certain purpose. This means online classes may not even be existent at all!

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Questionable mode of payment

Reputable, accredited colleges and universities charge tuition by credit hours or course. Requiring a large sum of money instantly even before admission is a massive red flag. Generally, universities and colleges do not require full payment for an entire semester or even one academic year. Real online programs typically offer several payment options; some even take into account the student’s financial capability.

No online communication with mentors or professors

Students have the right to ask for interactions with their advisors, professors or mentors, whether personal, through the phone or video chat. In case the program does not provide direct communication with the school staff members, mull over your decision.

Odd names of academic institutions

There are college or university names that sound like those of the real schools but they are actually poor derivations! For instance, Harvard Technological College is not the top-rated Harvard University. The University of New York and Penn Brook University sound real but they’re actually fictional schools used in television shows.

P.O. Box Numbers as Campus Addresses

Suspicious addresses of colleges or universities such as P.O. Box numbers are regarded as serious red flags. Every single school should have its exact address, even those that run online programs. Unknown online school locations should keep you from moving forward with your application.

No visible student services and accessible resources

Normally, accredited academic institutions have readily accessible resources and student services such as online libraries, staff directories, and class lists on their websites for supplementary aid and support. If these are missing, it is most likely that the school is not accredited–or a fake.

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Questionable admission procedures

If the online college requires you to submit only a simple letter stating your program application intent, it’s highly possible that you’re dealing with a fake school. Accredited online colleges and universities run an extensive admission process and have several requirements prior to enrollment or admission.

Suspicious scholarship grants

There are certain cases wherein some “financial aid representative” gets in touch with you and asks for a one-time payment to “process a scholarship.” There are also some scholarship grants online that claim legitimacy but require an application fee. If you do fall into this trap and are asked to wait for that particular “scholarship grant”, you are most likely to end up receiving a fraudulent check or worse, nothing.

Recognizing these red flags can save you from squandering your opportunity, albeit unintentionally, over an online educational scam or diploma mill.

Essential Tips to Avoid Online Scams

It is worth reiterating that these fake online schools and diploma mills do appear accredited and credible enough. Unless you are willing to go the extra mile in determining the legitimacy of your online program of choice, you are at risk of being a scam victim.

Here are steps you can take so you do not end up being a statistic:

  1. For the purpose of knowing whether a specific distance learning school is genuinely accredited, visit their official website, see if the accreditation agencies they list are real, and find the name of the college or university on an accrediting agency’s site.
  2. If you happen to encounter schools with odd-sounding names, do some more research. You might be dealing with a non-existent school.
  3. Check the validity of the address or contact information that the online school has provided. P.O. Boxes may turn out to be invalid addresses. Do not even attempt to apply for an online degree program wherein the only existing address is an email address, and there are no images of physical locations to prove they run a legitimate business.
  4. Be careful of online colleges and universities with overly creative marketing strategies, website pop-up boxes, spam e-mails, and constant telemarketing calls.
  5. Do not fall for online education programs that don’t require you to take exams or tons of school work.
  6. Look out for accelerated online degree programs that only take months as opposed to years to complete as these are more likely to be fraudulent.
  7. Academic institutions with no roster of faculty members or staff on their websites are most likely to be fraudulent. Do not believe any of their claims.
  8. To avoid getting scammed, online college students should focus on the URL. For all intents and purposes, every accredited academic institution should have a “.edu” postfix.
  9. If you happen to receive an email notifying you of a requested scholarship, check how the agency was able to obtain your information and verify it with the source.
  10. If the online college or university requires you to pay for everything at the start of the academic year, don’t! This absurd arrangement is one of the most glaring signs of a fake online educational institution.
  11. Watch out for other signs of a diploma mill such as those that require a processing fee or promise you discounts upon enrollment in multiple online degree programs.
  12. Check the status of the scholarships you applied for. Find out why the check “bounced” . If the online school is unable to explain everything to you clearly or trying to avoid your questions, it only means one thing: the “scholarship” you have applied for is actually fake.
  13. When in doubt of scholarship eligibility, online college students are encouraged to go to the official site of Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Online college students who suspect that a school is fraudulently declaring that they are accredited are asked to notify the agency responsible for accreditation such as CHEA or the U.S. Education Department, which certifies online degree programs. You may also visit CHEA’s directory for a rundown of accreditation agencies and services worldwide. It is important to remember that each state has different sets of standards for accrediting courses or degree programs.

Students investigating non-U.S. online education programs should begin by communicating with the Ministry of Education, an association that is set to obtain credible information about the legality of academic institutions as well as their permission to operate.

Deciding to pursue your degree though an online program may certainly be the big step that opens doors of opportunities for you–but it is not without risks from the very beginning! Online education scams are prevalent; you need to do a extensive research before taking the plunge. Be on the lookout for signs, trust your instinct, and make intelligent decisions–or you will end up frustrated, empty-handed, financially drained, and without a college degree before you know it.


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