Genuine Fake Diplomas on the Rise

By Les Rosen, Employment Screening Resources

Getting a college diploma apparently no longer requires years of hard work, taking tests, paying tuition or even reading a book. Why bother going though the formalities when all a person needs is a credit card and a web browser in order to buy an authentic looking diploma that mimics real colleges, universities and even high schools across the U.S. Go to any search engine and run keywords such as “fake Diploma” and anyone can instantly “graduate” from nearly any school in America with a very handsome and authentic looking diploma suitable for hanging. 

In fact, the author’s dog received a very genuine-looking diploma in business administration in 2005 purportedly issued by the University of Arizona through an online diploma-selling service.  (The author picked on the University of Arizona only because a family member was attending Arizona State.  Since the author is a UCLA alumni, the author considered getting his dog a dipolma from USC as well, which was also an option.)

One such website advertises that it creates, “very realistic diplomas/transcripts. These diplomas/ transcripts are extremely high quality printed on official parchment quality paper. You can show your employer and they will never doubt that you indeed attended college. You will not find better quality anywhere!!!”

Some of these sites “officially” caution that the diplomas and transcripts are intended for “Novelty and Entertainment Use Only.” However, the fake documents you receive do not have a disclaimer written any place on them.

With statistics showing that resume fraud is a significant issue, employers must be very cautious about accepting a physical diploma as proof of a degree. When presented with a physical diploma or transcripts, employers should fax a copy to the school to confirm its authenticity. Most background firms can tell stories of faxing copies of degrees, supplied by the applicant, to high schools and colleges only to be told the degree is a fake.

These fakes have not entirely escaped official attention. In Illinois, the legislature passed a law in 2004 aimed at addressing educational fraud. It is now a Class A Misdemeanor to knowingly manufacture or produce for profit or for sale a false academic degree, unless the degree explicitly states “for novelty purposes only.”

Also in  2004, a scandal erupted after an internal government watchdog agency reported that 28 senior officials who were then serving in the federal government had degrees from diploma mills or unaccredited universities. To address this problem and help employers sort the good from the bad, the U.S. Department of Education established a Web site that lists schools with legitimate accreditation. See:http://www2.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred/accreditation_pg4.html  The other accepted organization that can accredit the accreditors is the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) found at www.chea.org,

As with other types of fraud, the criminals are always adapting. In response to the government’s efforts, degree mills have created fake agencies to accredit the fake degrees. 

Some web sites will even provide a phone number so an employer can get a fake verification of a fake degree.

Anytime an applicant claims to have earned a degree—and especially when that credential is a requirement for the job—an employer needs to take steps to ensure not only that the applicant went to the school and received the degree, but that the school is legitimate and that the degree represents genuine educational accomplishment.

ESR takes extensive measures to guard against educational fraud.  ESR first ensures that any school is on a “white list” of legitimate schools that is accredited by a recognized accreditation agency.  Unlike much of the rest of the world where the government is the accrediting agency, in the US accreditation is a complicated private/public partnership.  If the school is questionable, ESR accesses a number of lists maintained by different organizations of diploma mills.  However, diploma mills are a moving target and easy to start, so no list of diploma mills can ever be complete and up-to-date.  If a school is not on either list, ESR conducts an inquiry to determine the school’s status.