When you see a site advertising Buy a fake diploma from the leader in fake diplomas! you know the diploma mill problem has escalated to a Swift-esque absurdity.
Several high profile executives and government officials have recently been trapped in scandals involving degrees from so called "diploma mills".
In 2004 the United States GAO (Government Accountability Office) found more than 400 senior level, federal employees with degrees issued by diploma mills, including 9 employees of NASA.
But wait there's more; the United States government actually ponied up $169,470 in "educational fees" to pay for part of these fake diplomas. Two of the "students" were ironically employed by the Department of Education.
To be clear, it's not illegal to start, maintain or own a school that is not officially accredited.
There are hundreds of such schools in the United States, most of which serve to educate people in small niche areas, such as the Jewelers Academy in Portland, Oregon, or the Westlawn Institute of Marine Technology. These schools offer good value for a fair price. At the end of the course students have learned a valuable, marketable skill.
False diplomas are issued by "schools" who have no criteria for "graduation" other than payment of fees.
They have no standard curriculum, or indeed any curriculum and they do not transmit a body of knowledge.
Poser doctors, lawyers, psychiatrists, dentists etc. have all been arrested and prosecuted for holding phony degrees, misrepresenting themselves to licensing boards and practicing incredibly dangerous fraud on unsuspecting clients. Serious stuff.
But official accreditation is an expensive, time consuming process that requires years and plenty of money to achieve. If we compelled every educational institution to undergo the process, it would materially damage the educational milieu of American education. Forcing accreditation on every school is not a practical solution.
So, how can a student seeking education or training know where to turn for a definitive thumbs up or down on any particular institution? How can we separate the wheat from the chaff? If you saw a pile of fake diplomas would you know it?
As never before in history, the onus of determining legitimacy lies on the consumer. Individuals seeking online training or education have no other choice than to research (and research some more) in order to verify the real value of their schooling.
If an institution offers a Phd., in 30 days, for a flat fee of $3000, most people would understand that to be a come-on for a fraudulent degree.
If an institution is headquartered in another country and solicits only students in the United States, does that even make sense?
Google map the address. Is it a mailbox service? A residential address? Use the satellite image function -- how big is the campus?
When checking an institutions claim to accreditation use only the accreditation agencies appointed by the United States Education Department.
Caveat Emptor. And Good Luck!