Just because a business is profitable doesn’t make it legal. Look at the multi-billion dollar drug business. And a website, no matter how slick, does not a legitimate business make. So are diploma mills illegal?
A diploma mill may look, feel, and seem to be a regular degree-granting college. It may be wrapped up in its own feel-good website, with appropriate links to faculty, curriculum, activities, and even an address and tuition information. But when one looks behind the marketing veneer, there is likely some questionable information. Clues that may point to low-quality college degrees include: too-good-to-be-true terms of study, cost lists for diplomas and transcripts, and while you may have the impression that there is a campus somewhere, you find out all the programs are delivered online.
While a number of states are making it a challenge for such businesses to operate offices within state boundaries, there are no laws forbidding consumers from buying into the programs, no matter how shady.
Fake degrees and diplomas can be had in exchange for money—without study time. Just Google “fake degrees” and you have your pick of dozens of online “businesses” that sell outright diplomas, degrees, transcripts, and even degree verification. Mix and match any of the above and you might even get a discount. Sound outrageous? Read the article on “High-Level Phonies.” You’d be surprised to learn who actually buys into the deal.
Again, there exist no laws limiting who may purchase a phony diploma. If laws exist, and a few do, they target those who use the fraudulent credentials as a means to obtain a job or otherwise advance their professional or business status. The incentive is unbalanced: the promise of a degree with no work at all, with little legal repercussion.
A few years ago, diploma mills and bogus degrees became a mainstream media topic, especially in light of a high-level official in the Department of Homeland Security, no less, with not just one fake degree, but many. Laura Callahan had earned her position in large part based on an impressive string of degrees, albeit bogus, that dotted her resume. The fallout led to hordes of editorials and news stories that underscored the growing problem. The fact is that professional foolery is alive and well at every level of business and industry.
The problem has not gone away. A handful of states have taken proactive steps to curtail diploma mills. Most states, though, offer little resistance to fraudulent colleges or institutions that operate within their borders.
The Federal government provides a large cache of reading material on the subject. This buyer beware literature is useful for those that wish to avoid being duped, but for those intent on getting ahead with fake degrees it serves as no deterrent.
And within international realms the problem goes even more unchecked.
Diploma mills utilize savvy and misleading marketing jargon to tease consumers to believe they need their product. The pay-off is great, especially as we’ll see for unemployed and undereducated individuals. Society has sent a clear message: you won’t get ahead without a high school diploma or a college degree. When offered the opportunity to buy one or both of the above, no questions asked, little or no threat of legal repercussions, many people cannot refuse.
As laws change, the products promised by diploma mills and phony degree businesses will become illegal, at least for those that operate within certain states. As a result, look for diploma mills and fake degree businesses to alter their marketing copy as well as overall business tactics. Laws will begin to make it outright illegal for a business to peddle fake credentials, which means any mill that promises to produce an “authentic” replica of a real college diploma or verify a fake degree from a real institution will be held liable within that state.
What happens next? In the article on “State Laws Governing Diploma Mills,” we’ll explore the consequences of tighter laws.