Diploma Mill

FTC files charges against operators of alleged high school diploma mills

The Federal Trade Commission (the “FTC”) filed complaints on February 10, 2016 against two operators of online “high schools” that claim to be legitimate but allegedly are diploma mills, charging anywhere from $135 to $349 for a worthless certificate.

Complaints in both cases filed by the FTC in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona charge that the operators bought several website names designed to appear like legitimate online high schools and used deceptive metatags with terms such as “GED” and “GED online” to bring the bogus sites higher in search rankings. Once consumers got to the sites, messages popped up implying that the diplomas offered were equivalent to an actual high school diploma.

According to the FTC’s documents, the “courses” amounted to four untimed and unmonitored multiple-choice tests, requiring that students answer 70% of each test correctly. For some “high schools,” when students failed to meet that standard, they were redirected to the test once more, and this time, the correct answers were highlighted so that the students could change their answers.  Other “high schools” provided students with an online “study guide” that also highlighted the correct answer for students to select when taking the test.

Upon completing the tests, the FTC’s documents charge that consumers were directed to a set of menus to evaluate their “life experiences,” where selecting that he/she knows how to “balance

[a] checkbook” translates as credit for accounting coursework.  If a consumer says they “listen to music occasionally,” he/she may be given credit for a music appreciation course.

The FTC’s complaints in both cases point to numerous consumers who sought to use the diplomas to get jobs, apply for college and even join the military, only to find out that their diplomas were not recognized.

February 23rd, 2016|Fraud, Lawsuit|

FTC halts high school diploma mill

As the request of the Federal Trade Commission (the “FTC”), on September 16, 2014, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida imposed a temporary restraining order to halt the business operations of Diversified Educational Resources, LLC (DER), and Motivational Management & Development Services, Ltd. (MMDS), and freeze their assets. The FTC’s lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction to stop the defendants’ deceptive practices and to return ill-gotten gains to consumers, which according to a preliminary review of bank records referenced in the lawsuit were more than $11,117,800 since January 2009.

The complaint alleges that the defendants violated the FTC Act by misrepresenting that the diplomas were valid high school equivalency credentials and that the online schools were accredited. The FTC charges that the defendants actually fabricated an accrediting body to give legitimacy to their diploma mill operation. DER and MMDS allegedly sold the diplomas since 2006 using multiple names, including jeffersonhighschoolonline.com, jeffersonhighschool.us, enterprisehighschool.us, and ehshighschool.org, which purport to describe legitimate and accredited secondary school programs such as “Jefferson High School Online” and “Enterprise High School Online.” The websites claim that consumers can become “high school graduate[s]” and obtain “official” high school diplomas by taking an online exam and paying between $200 and $300. In numerous instances, consumers who attempt to use their Jefferson or Enterprise diplomas to enroll in college, enlist in the military, or apply for jobs are rejected because of their invalid high school credentials.

September 19th, 2014|Employment Decisions, Fraud, Lawsuit|

The SRA issues warning about a fake website

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (the “SRA”) in the United Kingdom issued a bulletin that it received a report that a website “dovernorchambers.com is operating which refers to the firm Dovernor Chambers” and that the wording on the website appears to have been cloned from the websites of genuine law firms without their knowledge or consent. The SRA says that it is identifying a new fake law firm on an almost daily basis. Some scammers reportedly are stealing a law firm’s entire web page, and then changing the contact information to redirect traffic elsewhere.

September 19th, 2014|Fraud|

Diploma mill ordered to pay $22.7 million to 30,000 scam victims

On August 31, 2012, Belford High School, Belford University and several of their co-conspirators were ordered to pay $22.7 million to a class of more than 30,000 U.S. residents who were duped into purchasing fake high school diplomas from Belford. The defendants were also ordered to forfeit the websites used to perpetrate the scam, including www.belfordhighscool.com, www.belfordhighschool.org, www.belforduniversity.org, and www.belforduniversity.com.

The lawsuit, filed on November 5, 2009, charged that Belford High School is an Internet scam that defrauded students of their money by offering them a supposedly “valid” and “accredited” high school diploma. As affirmed by the judgment, the school is a fake and the diplomas are not valid. The lawsuit also alleged that the two accrediting agencies by which Belford claimed to be accredited – International Accreditation Agency for Online Universities and the Universal Council for Online Education Accreditation – are not legitimate accrediting agencies.

Notably, we came across Belford University in 2010 when a bachelor’s degree from the “school” was listed on an employment application by a candidate for a professional level position with one of our clients. Click here to read the 2010 blog.


December 18th, 2012|Criminal Activity, Fraud, Lawsuit|

Fraudulent credentials rampant in China

Media sources report that scholars in China say that fraud in education and scientific research, and faking credentials to get work or advance in careers is staggering. With frequent news of falsified resumes by prominent officials and company heads, employers in the country have adopted stricter background checks of job candidates.

According to news reports, Fang Zhouzi, known for exposing plagiarism and academic fraud in China, said that Tang Jun, who was president of Microsoft’s China operations from 2002 to 2004, had falsely claimed in his autobiography that he earned a doctorate degree from the California Institute of Technology, when in fact, the degree was bought from California-based Pacific Western University, known as a “diploma mill.” The scandal was later dubbed the “fake credentials gate” by Chinese media.

Several media publications also brought up the case of Zhang Wuben, who through television shows, DVDs and a best-selling book, convinced millions of people that raw eggplant and immense quantities of mung beans could cure lupus, diabetes, depression and cancer. Zhung’s patient consultations, for which he charged $450 for ten minutes, were booked solid through 2012. But when Chinese journalists dug deeper into Zhung’s background, they learned that contrary to his claims, Zhung was not from a long line of doctors (his father was a weaver) nor did he earn a degree from Beijing Medical University. His only formal education was a correspondence course that he took after losing his job at a textile mill.

The exposure of Zhang’s fake credentials gained media focus and started a new round of scrutiny into the dishonest practices that plague Chinese society, and the Chinese government has vowed to address the problem. To facilitate employers’ checks of their job candidates, the China’s Ministry of Education released a list of approved Chinese-foreign jointly-run schools and a list of overseas colleges. And employers now have a greater awareness of the value of background investigations. Zhu Shibo, manager of recruitment at the China International Intellectech Corporation, one of the country’s leading human resources service providers, told media sources that the company has received unprecedented commissions to investigate job applicants. A typical background investigation includes highest education verification, employment experience confirmation and criminal record searches.

February 8th, 2011|Asia, Employment Decisions, Fraud|

Belford University: another diploma mill case from our files

So why did the applicant for a professional level position with one of our clients choose Belford University in Humble, Texas to get a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting? Maybe because Belford grants original degrees printed on traditional degree paper with a gold-plated seal which identifies it as a degree from a reputed and reliable institution. Or perhaps because the university offers free three-day shipping on a complete $249 degree package (a 4.0 GPA is $75 extra), consisting of one original accredited degree, two  original transcripts, one award for excellence, one certificate of distinction, one certificate of membership and four education verification letters. We will never know for sure. But we do know that the university’s claims on its two Web sites (www.belforduniversity.net and www.belforduniversity.org) of being “an accredited institution recognized by two renowned accreditation agencies for on-line education, namely the International Accreditation Agency for Online Universities (IAAOU) and Universal Council for Online Education Accreditation (UCOEA) are meaningless as the accreditations are not approved by the U.S. Department of Education. It is a bit suspicious too that on its “.org” site, the links to “University Briefs” are inactive, and thus we cannot find out the details of Belford’s “Clair’s Award for Excellence” and why Clair (spelled without an “e”) is giving out awards.

The Houston Press got on Belford’s haft in 2006 when it exposed the institution as a degree mill, operating from Humble, Texas with an indeed humble office (so humble that it’s non-existent as someone closed its account at the USA 2ME mailbox drop.) An entry in the Wikipedia stated that the degrees are actually mailed from the United Arab Emirates. The Houston Press checked out some of the names of Belford’s professors and its distinguished alums, which include Michael Fonseca, who was “promoted to the post of Divisional Head for Romuna Securities, a subsidiary of Romuna Group.” But the impressive-sounding Romuna appears to have its empire only in the mirage of Belford University.

David Linkletter of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board said that the board reported Belford to the state Attorney General’s office in March 2006, noting that “this is not a legitimate institute of higher education, as no legitimate university offers a complete degree on the basis of one’s life experience…To the extent that Belford University is in Texas, it is operating in violation of the Texas Education Code.” Since September 2005, the code makes it illegal to use a fraudulent or substandard degree for purposes of employment, business promotion or to seek admission to a university.

Despite Belford’s history of bamboozlement, as many as 500 resumes in LinkedIn, including  those of a New York-based director of human resources and  a CEO in the pharmaceutical industry, boast degrees  from this university, according to a February 2010 post on a  “consumer ally” Web site.

Bienville University not so bien

In our second diploma mill case this year, an applicant for a professional level position with one of our accounting firm clients claimed a bachelor of business administration degree from Bienville University in Baton Rouge, LA. Our research analyst quickly discovered that the university was shut down by state action several years ago, but subsequently began peddling degrees in Mississippi for $5,000 for the BS program and $7,500 for a master’s program (according to an Internet “rip-off” posting.) A colorful, official-looking Web site for Bienville University still can be found at http://www.3cdf.com/3rdwebs/bu3/menu/menu.html but its pages for various information categories are not active. An entry in the Wikipedia said that Bienville University was exposed as a diploma or degree mill in a 2003 report by KVBC News 3, as it was never recognized or approved by any accreditation agency of the US Department of Education.

And there is more…Bienville University’s founder, Thomas James Kirk II (also known as Thomas McPherson) was the operator of several other fraudulent higher education institutions (diploma mills), including the University of San Gabriel Valley, Southland University, and LaSalle University (Louisiana.) He was indicted for fraud in 1996 and, after a plea agreement, was sentenced to five years in a federal prison.

Go to Top