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Beware of Fake High School Diplomas

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The Internet offers a lot of options and resources. But it's riddled with fraud:


  • Fake emails from banks or the IRS

  • Pleas for international assistance promising wealth

  • Dishonest buyers and sellers on eBay

Also, online education is blighted with its own scam artists: fake high schools or fake "online GED" diploma mills. Thirty-nine million Americans need a high school diploma to get better jobs and higher education, and they are becoming victims of websites that prey on their needs.

If you type "GED test" into Google, legitimate information resources come up, but the first things you see are probably paid advertisements from "high schools" offering an "online GED" or "high school diploma."

Official Tests for Your State

No matter what they say, these websites don't actually offer a legitimate GED. Real high school equivalency diplomas are awarded by your state government based on one of two tests: the GED test and the HiSET exam. Which test you take depends on the state you live in. No matter which test you take, you'll need to go through an official test center for your state to receive a real certificate. And you'll probably need some preparation to pass.

Preparing for and passing the test doesn't require a lot of time, money, or difficulty. But many legitimate-sounding high schools with professional-looking websites offer you an online diploma immediately, with almost no requirements, and claim that they're accredited.

The questions to ask are: What is a diploma? What is accreditation?

1. Diploma

A diploma is simply a paper that says you accomplished a certain academic feat: graduating high school, passing the GED test, or graduating college. The value of a diploma depends on the academic requirements of the institution awarding it. If the academic requirements are simply answering a few questions online, a very low value is probably placed on that diploma by employers and colleges.

2. Accreditation

Accreditation is the other issue. Accreditation means that a school meets certain academic standards created by the educational body that is accrediting it. Again, you need to look at what academic standards are acceptable to the accrediting group. If simply answering a few questions online meets the academic standards of an accrediting group, then the accrediting group is probably not widely accepted by colleges and employers. Colleges and employers want to know that your high school diploma means you proved your abilities. Most online "high schools" are accredited by fake accreditation agencies made up of the same companies!

Companies that provide an "online GED" or "online high school diploma" for little or no work are called diploma mills, and their business is basically selling fake diplomas for cash, costing from $200 to upwards of $1,500. Defrauded students lose their money, and they could face serious consequences for using a fake diploma on a job application.

William Hillman was lucky that the consequences from his experience weren't too severe. He spent $225 on a "life experience" diploma from an online service. "I got the diploma. Only it turned out not to be a real one. And they checked up on the school at work, and well, I didn't get the job [I was trying to get]," he says. "I learned my lesson. If they promise a diploma online, they're a fraud."

Is the Online High School Real?

How do you know if an online high school or education service is legitimate? Here are 5 simple facts:

  1. No legitimate high school diploma can be offered entirely through an online test based on "life experience."

  2. Real online high schools offer 1-year or 2-year programs, never a 1-week or 1-month delivery.

  3. Diploma mills usually advertise diploma verification services by phone or fax. Real educational services are more concerned with coursework than diploma verification.

  4. Online study programs can provide a diploma more quickly, but you must take the GED test or HiSET exam administered by your state.

  5. You must register directly through your state's testing service to ensure your certificate is valid and accepted for jobs and college.

Legitimate online high schools exist, but sometimes they're hard to distinguish from fraudulent ones. Ask yourself: Does this school require me to prove my abilities through academic coursework and testing? If I were hiring someone, would I be satisfied that this diploma proved their ability?