Federal laws regarding diploma mills and fake degrees are nearly non-existent. Since the early 90s, when the feds closed an in-depth FBI operation called Diploma Scam, there has been a push to make each state responsible for its higher education institutions. This includes dealing with fraudulent diploma mills and businesses that sell phony degrees. The operation uncovered hundreds of fake schools all selling bogus degrees and assorted credentials.
Dipscam, as it was known, was a large FBI operation that targeted the onslaught of diploma mills from the early 80s to the early 90s. During that decade the Internet became an accessible medium for individuals, making the business of fake diplomas and degrees both lucrative and easily operated under cover of cyberspace. According to Allen Ezell, a key Dipscam agent—now retired-- the problem of diploma mills has only grown bigger. At the conclusion of the operation, Ezell reported the team had collected over 12,000 records of individuals in all areas of business, industry, and government that listed an alleged diploma mill on their professional resume. This, he said, was only “the tip of the iceberg.”
In September 2004 the Committee on Education and the Workforce called a hearing, “Are Current Safeguards Protecting Taxpayers Against Diploma Mills?” The public expose of Laura Callahan, a high-level government official whose resume was nothing but a string of bogus degrees, instigated the hearing.
Former agent Ezell was present to report on his participation in Dipscam as well as offer his best suggestions for keeping diploma mills in check. Jean Avnet Morse, a representative from the Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions, gave testimony relative to the safeguards practiced by U.S. Dept of Education sanctioned regional accrediting agencies. She argued that based on the regional standards it was highly unlikely that any diploma mills were among those institutions listed as accredited in the United States.
Between Ezell and Morse the collective suggestions for increased control of diploma mills included:
When the federal government is unable to keep its own house clean, how can it be expected to patrol the business of others? Ezell reported on the shocking incidence of government officials toting fake credentials and finally suggested the Feds take a closer, more publicly accessible, peek inside its own employment records. In support of his allegations, Robert Cramer from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) presented his own report to the subcommittee, “Diploma Mills are Easily Created and Some Have Issued Bogus Degrees to Federal Employees at Government Expense.”
Based on some of the findings from the Dipscam era, the Department of Homeland Security, he noted, had already revised its bylaws to reflect that only those degrees and diplomas issued by accredited institutions would be eligible for federal government reimbursement. But Cramer was not optimistic that agencies were capable of proper verification of such accreditation.
Cramer summarized the report’s findings by alleging the federal government itself, as chunked up into disparate departments and agencies as it is, remains inconsistent in checking the veracity of employees’ degrees and certifications. Furthermore, he alleged, most agencies would be unable to quickly collate the professional and educational credentials of their employees if requested to do so.
The federal government, namely the Department of Education, has made every effort to put up storehouses of online information relative to diploma mills and phony degrees. But their efforts largely end there. The final responsibility is handed over to each state. In the article, “State Laws Governing Diploma Mills and Fake Degrees ,” we explore the challenges faced by all states: those that have effectively shut down fraudulent diploma mills and unaccredited colleges, to those that have found themselves fertile ground for diploma mills on the run.