Phony college degrees, bogus high school diplomas, and counterfeit professional certificates top the list of current Internet scams. The diploma mill business as a whole has blossomed over the last decade and with little legal, moral, or economic resistance. Outside its number one goal—to make billions of dollars off the needs of either unwitting or downright deceitful consumers—this very lucrative international business also threatens the legitimacy of higher education, both traditional and online.
Like drugs—there’s error on the side of both pusher and user. But even though the fraudulent business of manufacture and sales of fake degrees has become less murky on the business side, there as yet remains a cloud of misinformation, and an unfortunate naiveté of I-had-no-idea-it-wasn’t-real on the consumer’s side. Those individuals that have intentionally bought bogus degrees and purposely set out to dupe employers, college admissions boards, and other officials still have a bit of run time left to play their ignorance card.
Factor in the transparency of the Internet, loose laws in international realms, and the inability of the U.S. to gather its forces and you might begin to see why degree mills have plenty of room left in which to spawn.
White collar crime goes typically underreported and unchallenged in the U.S. Trouble is crimes that are ascribed stiff penalties are those that leave bullet marks, people scarred, raped, and murdered. Some politicians have been lucky enough to get sentences for drug offenses ramped up, but that’s another story.
As far as dealing with white collar crime, the federal government has a couple of agencies whose missions cover regulation of most of the common crimes:
Interestingly the FBI spent the decade of the 80s investigating the then blossoming diploma mill industry. When they closed their investigation, however, that marked the end of their direct involvement for unclear reasons. Since the early 90s, and in concert with the ubiquity and porosity of the Internet, the degree mill scam is a large living and breathing entity.
The federal government has made the regulation of diploma mills and fake degree businesses the responsibility of individual states. Out of the 50 states only a half-dozen or so have addressed the growing fraud of bogus degrees and fly-by-night “universities.” Oregon is so well prepared to fight the good fight that nearly every website devoted to providing diploma mill information links first and foremost to theirs.
As far as clear-cut laws go, though, the system is weak. Consumers caught using fake degrees as a leg up in their professional lives risk a fine, but in many cases they are playing the ignorance card. Phony degree mills, in order to evade fraud allegations and fines, are simply packing up and moving to a state where any kind of higher education regulation is lax and “soft” crimes are given little attention. But what state knowingly wishes to be labeled promiscuous when it comes to phony businesses laying claim to their turf? States, like easy-going Alabama, are scrambling to seal up the chinks in their legal foundations.
The problem of diploma mills is not confined to U.S. territory. The combination of consumer demand and the billions to be earned fan the fervor overseas as well. Some estimates put the worldwide take on degree mills in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Even if the problem is removed from U.S. soil, there is the wide-open realm of international markets with which to contend.
But what drives consumer demand for fake degrees? Why would one think a degree conferred based on “life experience” is anything but bogus? And why are the regulations on such a business so insignificant?
Profitable and successful scams thrive from the blood supply pumped by consumer frenzy. When individuals are willing to pay a few thousand dollars to a fraudulent “university” in return for nearly instant Bachelor’s, Master’s, and even Ph.D. degrees, complete with official transcripts and degree verification services, you know someone has a good thing going. Read the section on “Diploma Mills.” The types of individuals to whom fake degrees and phony diplomas appeal, and why, will likely shock you.
Right now the biggest battle over diploma mills and the consumerism of fake degrees and the like is being fought with information. As high-level as the problem may be, the discovery of illegitimate educational degrees in all areas of business and industry rarely make the top news headlines. Hopefully we can get the word out without some tragic story to bring attention to mainstream media.