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Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

A vast network of alleged “diploma mills” with hundreds of websites for phony universities and high schools offering worthless online education degrees with no true accreditation makes “tens of millions of dollars” from people worldwide, according to a report by the New York Times.

The Times reports that a software application company based in Pakistan allegedly receives money from these diploma mills by using fake accreditation bodies, fabricated news reports, paid actors posing as professors and students in testimonials, and campuses that exist only as photos.

Former employees at the company told the Times that some customers knew they were “buying a shady instant degree for money” while others wanted a real education. Students chose “from high school diplomas for about $350 to doctoral degrees for $4,000 and above,” the Times reports.

A response to the Times article from the Pakistani company that allegedly profits from diploma mills “condemns this story as baseless, substandard, maligning, defamatory, and based on false accusations and merely a figment of imagination published without taking the company’s point of view.”

A 2011 report on diploma mills defined them as “largely online entities whose degrees are worthless due to the lack of valid accreditation and recognition.” The report also identified several “red flags” – or warning signs – for diploma mills:

  • Diploma mills do not have authority to operate or grant degrees from the education authorities where they claim to be based.
  • Diploma mills deliver degrees in a short space of time – sometimes a few days.
  • Diploma mills grant degrees based entirely on work or life experience.
  • Diploma mills offer contact details that are limited to email addresses and vague about the institution’s physical location.
  • Diploma mills allow students to choose their own course titles and specify graduation years on the certificate.
  • Diploma mills offer sample certificates, transcripts, or verification letters on the website.
  • Diploma mills make complicated or misleading claims about accreditation or recognition.
  • Diploma mills have names that are similar to that of a recognized and respected education institution.
  • Diploma mills use Internet domain names that are misleading.

To combat the rise of phony diploma mills offering worthless degrees in the United States, schools are generally accredited by private organizations recognized as legitimate accreditors by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the U.S. Department of Education.

CHEA created a Database of Institutions and Programs Accredited by Recognized United States Accrediting Organizations. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Post-Secondary Education (OPE) provides a Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

Businesses in the United States also have to be on the lookout for diploma mills, according to Attorney Lester Rosen, Founder and CEO of San Francisco, CA-area background check firm Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) and author of ‘The Safe Hiring Manual.’

“Diploma mills create a danger to employers since educational achievements can tell a great deal about a job applicant’s ability, qualifications, and motivation,” says Rosen, who outlines how employers can avoid diploma mills in his article ‘The Basics of Education Verifications.’

More Information about Diploma Mills from ESR

To read more about diploma mills, please visit For more information about Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) – ‘The Background Check Authority®’ – call toll free 888.999.4474 or visit

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