Recognizing an Online Learning Scam

Recognizing an Online Learning Scam

As with any kind of business, there are a number of scammers in the world of online education. Some of these scams are called "diploma mills" – schools that award a diploma to just about anyone who gives them money, and that in turn offer little in the way of educational content. Other scams are more vicious. These "online schools" are fronts for criminal enterprises, in which crooks accept your money and then never contact you again. Or these criminals want you to give them your personal information so they can sell it or use it in identity theft schemes. Oftentimes, though, there are strong warning signs from the start that you should avoid a particular distance learning service.

Online schools should ask applicants to complete a personal essay and send reference letters, official standardized test scores and school transcripts. If a school does not, and merely requires you to supply your personal data, then you're probably looking at a scam. 

If you can't contact anyone at the school, that's a very bad sign. You should be able to call as well as email a counselor, advisor or other school representative at any time during normal workday hours. If a school's official website provides no phone number or email address, don't waste your time with it. If there is a number and an email address, you might want to give them a try just to make sure they're legitimate.

An online school should list on its website, or should be able to send you, a course catalogue, a list of faculty members and a list of degree requirements. On the other hand, if a school says that it can get you a degree really fast – in a matter of weeks – then the school is a fraud. Any education of value takes time and effort to complete. 

You should be able to search the name of a school online and find information about it: discussions in forums related to online education, people on Facebook or with degrees from that school, and so on. If you use a search engine to hunt for info about a certain institution and you turn up nothing, then something is seriously amiss. By the same token, if you peruse online education forums and discussion boards, and just about every comment about a particular school is negative, then you can go ahead and matriculate someplace else.

Online learning market place

Nov 30, 1999