The Internet makes everything easier, even getting a diploma. What it doesn't do is make that diploma legit.
While some legitimate universities offer online coursework and some for-profit schools operate exclusively on the web, there are some more nefarious institutions out there, pandering to those looking for illicit degrees and preying on others looking for a legitimate education. So how can anyone tell the good guys from the bad when it comes to online degrees?
The New York Times just exposed one bad guy, Axact. Axact is a Pakistani software company that, according to the Times, also runs numerous fraudulent online diploma mills raking in tens of millions per year.
The problem is that there is no Axact University -- instead, there are the likes of Grant Town, Barkley, Columbiana, Newford, and Rochville. All familiar enough names (but no accreditation) with college-looking campuses (stock photos), a beaming faculty and student body (paid actors), and even glowing news reports (faked on CNN's website for citizen journalism).
According to Allen Ezell, a retired F.B.I. agent who literally wrote a book on diploma mills, Axact "is probably the largest operation we've ever seen. It's a breathtaking scam."
It'd be one thing if online diploma mills only bilked those looking for a scholastic shortcut out of their hard-earned cash. But all too often sincere folks looking for an advanced degree or even a high school diploma are handed (or mailed) fraudulent certificates and then hounded for more money for more fraudulent certificates.
Axact, and its sales team of 2,000, aggressively markets the many schools' diploma options, and then aggressively upsells customers for additional certificates, including one international recognition certificate bearing John Kerry's (fake) signature.
One accountant at a construction firm in Abu Dhabi paid over $30,000 for four fake certificates when all he wanted was a legitimate master's program in business administration. A home schooled American woman trying to get a high school diploma so she could attend college was sent the piece of paper after completing no coursework and has joined a class-action lawsuit against Axact with an estimated 30,000 American claimants. (The lawsuit won over $20 million in damages, none of which has been paid.)
We all love the Internet, but when you're looking for a legitimate diploma, degree, or professional certificate, it might be best to see your school face to face.