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Warning Signs of Online Degrees Scams

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Diane Cerulli was a certified medical assistant, and she always wanted to be a doctor. When she found Belford University, she thought it was the opportunity of a lifetime. The online school claimed to offer a medical degree based on life experience. After taking an online test, Cerulli was offered a diploma and other paperwork for $1,400. It seemed too good to be true, and it was.

Online schools that offer high school diplomas and college degrees for cash are a major problem. The Better Business Bureau has received over 139 complaints about Belford High School and Belford University alone, and there are many other fake diploma mills online.

Official High School Equivalency Diploma

Online classes are popular and can help thousands of people advance their education and careers. But when you see an online school offering a diploma based on life experience or an online test, beware. Fake high school diplomas and college degrees can be trouble.

Debra Harris had a similar experience with her high school diploma. After dropping out of high school her junior year, she wanted to earn her credential. She saw ads for Jefferson High School online. Even though the online test seemed too simple, she paid $250 to buy an online high school diploma. When she tried to apply to college, she found out that her diploma was worthless. She couldn't contact the online high school and unfortunately lost her money.

If you buy a fake GED diploma, it could mean trouble. Even if you don't know the diploma is fake, you could risk losing your job and losing out on job opportunities. You can earn a legitimate high school equivalency diploma by taking the GED test or HiSET exam through an official test center in your state. It's easy to study online for the GED test or other high school equivalency exams; in fact, online education increased nearly 40% from 2012 to 2017 and is steadily rising.

Real Online Education vs. Fake Online Diplomas

How do you tell the difference between real online education and fake online diplomas? Here are some things to check.

  • What are the requirements? If you only need to take an online test or fill out a form, it's probably a scam.

  • For high school diplomas, the GED test and HiSET exam are only offered through official test centers.

  • Don't be fooled by websites that claim "life experience" degrees are real. If you're in doubt about a school, investigate it.

  • Check with the Better Business Bureau if you're not sure about an online course, high school, or study program.

  • Check with the U.S. Department of Education to make sure universities or online college degree programs are accredited. Don't trust a school's claims or its website. Many fake online schools will create their own fake "accreditation"!

The internet has expanded options for education, and you can study online for many degrees and certificates. But beware! As a consumer, you need to recognize fakes, so you don't get duped.

Read more in "Online Degrees: Schools Scam Aspiring Students" by Susan Donalson James on ABC News.