Diploma Mill Judgment of Over 22 Million Dollars Small Dent in Billion Dollar Phony Degree Business

Early in September 2012, a story published on the Michigan Live website at Mlive.com revealed that experts said a $22.7 million judgment for more than 30,000 plaintiffs in federal class-action lawsuit against a suspected ‘diploma mill’ offering worthless education credentials would have only a small effect on the billion-dollar international Internet business of “life experience degrees.” The full story is available on the Mlive.com website at: http://www.mlive.com/business/mid-michigan/index.ssf/2012/09/227m_federal_class_action_laws.html.

Mlive.com reports the lawsuit originally brought against a Pakistani businessman and his companies Belford High School and Belford University in 2009 by a Flint, Michigan woman alleged that the school offered students supposedly accredited high school diplomas that were not accredited by legitimate accreditation agencies and therefore not valid. The defendant was eventually ordered to pay $22,783,500 reflecting the $249 price of each diploma sold times the 30,500 plaintiffs – U.S. students who purchased Belford diplomas from 2003 up to the lawsuit – multiplied by three pursuant to damages.

According to experts in the MLive.com story, the diploma mill business is booming. A former official on the Board of Directors for the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) said “there are close to 200,000 fake degrees being sold every year, with the majority of those – at least 100,000 – coming in the U.S.” An FBI agent for 35 years who was once the head of the task force charged with disbanding diploma mills and who co-authored a book on degree mills called the business “a billion-dollar industry that has sold over a million fake diplomas.”

As reported earlier in the ESR News blog ‘New Report Reveals 48 Percent Increase Worldwide in Diploma Mills in Past Year,’ the second annual Accredibase™ Report for 2011 revealed a 48 percent increase worldwide in the number of known fake diploma mills – described in the report as “largely online entities whose degrees are worthless due to the lack of valid accreditation and recognition.” The United States was the world’s fake college capital and saw a 20 percent increase in known diploma mills.

Overall, Accredibase identified approximately 5,000 suspect educational institutions and accreditors, with more than 2,600 confirmed diploma mills and more than 2,000 suspect institutions are currently under investigation for inclusion in the database. The report also identified “red flags” – warning signs – to help identify of diploma mills that included degrees delivered too quickly, degrees granted entirely on work or life experience, contact details limited to email addresses, and vagueness about school’s location. The report is available at: http://www.accredibase.com/index.php?section=871&page=4493.

According to Attorney Lester Rosen, Founder and CEO of background check firm Employment Screening Resources (ESR), ‘diploma mills’ create a danger to employers since educational achievement can tell an employer a great deal about a job applicant’s ability, qualifications, and motivation. “Many employers feel educational credentials and qualifications are an important part of their decision making process in hiring and are a critical factor in predicting success on the job,” says Rosen. “For some positions, education is a prerequisite in terms of subject matter knowledge or appropriate license for the job.”

Rosen, author of a newly updated second edition his book on screening, ‘The Safe Hiring Manual,’ also says some degree mills have even created fake accreditation agencies to falsely vouch for the phony schools. In the U.S., Rosen says schools are generally accredited by private organizations that are recognized as legitimate accreditors by CHEA at http://www.chea.org/.  The U.S. Department of Education also has a website, ‘Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs,’ where employers can look up a school to determine if and how it is accredited at: http://www.ope.ed.gov/accreditation/search.aspx.

Rosen, a frequent speaker on background check issues as part of ‘ESR Speaks,’ advises employers to not take educational accomplishments at face value without ensuring that the job applicant actually has obtained the degree, and that the degree is from a legitimate educational institution. He suggests employers check the education credentials of all job applicants and has written an article on the topic  ‘The Basics of Education Verifications’ that is available at: http://www.esrcheck.com/wordpress/2009/12/16/the-basics-of-education-verifications/.

For information about education and license verifications as part of an employer’s Safe Hiring Program, visit Employment Screening Resources (ESR) – ‘The Background Check Authority’ and a nationwide background screening firm accredited by The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS®) – at http://www.esrcheck.com, call Toll Free 888.999.4474, or email customerservice@esrcheck.com.





About Employment Screening Resources (ESR):

Founded by safe hiring expert Attorney Les Rosen in 1997, Employment Screening Resources (ESR) – ‘The Background Check AuthoritySM’– provides accurate and actionable information that empowers employers to make informed hiring decisions for the benefit of their organizations, employees, and the public. CEO Rosen literally wrote the book on background checks with “The Safe Hiring Manual” and ESR is accredited by The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), a distinction held by a small percent of screening firms. Employers choosing ESR know they have selected an agency meeting the highest industry standards. To learn more, visit http://www.esrcheck.com, call 888.999.4474, or email customerservice@esrcheck.com.

About ESR News:

The Employment Screening Resources (ESR) News blog – ESR News – provides employment screening information for employers, recruiters, and jobseekers on a variety of topics including credit reports, criminal records, data privacy, discrimination, E-Verify, jobs reports, legal updates, negligent hiring, workplace violence, and use of search engines and social network sites for background checks. For more information about ESR News or to send comments or questions, please email ESR News Editor Thomas Ahearn at tahearn@esrcheck.com.