If it sounds too good to be true…

Education fraud has changed dramatically over the last ten years.

A decade ago, it was not uncommon to see a ‘home-made’ certificate; if you know what you are looking for these are easy to spot.

The explosion of social media and the fact that it is easy for bogus institutions to be able to present themselves as trusted entities means that it is now more common to see unaccredited institutions masquerading as legitimate providers.

The internet is littered with numerous examples of ‘universities’ that are offering to accredit life-experience; they offer programs that are completed in weeks, rather than years, all at a fraction of the cost of real courses.

In 2015 the New York Times exposed a massive case of diploma/qualification fraud. The perpetrators were jailed for 20 years each in 2019. Its business was “to take the centuries-old scam of selling fake academic degrees and turn it into an Internet-era scheme on a global scale”.  It is suggested that over 215,000 individuals purchased the worthless qualifications.

Throughout the global pandemic we have seen an increase in reports on education fraud, and it appears that even those in power believe they can get away with it.  In June 2020, Brazil’s education minister had to resign because of fake qualifications.

So, what can individuals, employers, professional bodies, universities and colleges do to prevent themselves falling prey to this type of fraud?

The first and easiest thing to do is have a really good look at the institution’s website.  If the claims being made sound too good to be true, then they probably are.  No-one can get a degree in a matter of weeks; no credible university is going to accredit life experience.

These diploma mills often have some tell-tale things to look out for:

  • Cost – low fees, easy, payment plans
  • Duration – shorter than expected, if any study time at all
  • Contact details – none given, or generic / suspiciously easy to get hold of them (“open 24 hours”)
  • Location – unclear, unlikely, or multiple
  • Long list of accreditors and affiliates
  • Offer accreditation of life experience
  • They have a commercial focus (“order now!”)

The best thing to do is check directly with the appropriate authority to verify whether the institution is legitimate. This will often be the Ministry of Education, University Grants Commission or similar body, or the local ENIC-NARIC centre.

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