The advent of distance learning has made education vastly more accessible to millions of people. But just as in any other internet industry, online education is subject to its share of scams, cons, and otherwise fraudulent activity. Fake online schools or degree mills often pose as legitimate online education institutions in order to scam money out of unwitting victims in return for illegitimate and otherwise useless “degrees.” But if you're careful, it isn't too difficult to tell a legitimate online school from a phony. Just follow these three simple steps to make sure that you don't get scammed when pursuing your online education.
Check for accreditation.
Your first step when searching for an online school should be to check each institutions' accreditation. In order for a school to operate and offer its students legitimate degrees, it must be accredited by a trusted accreditation authority. Most online schools receive their accreditation from the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, or another agency approved by the US Department of Education. In fact, the Department of Education's website maintains a list of nationally recognized accreditation agencies. If a school's website includes the words “non-accredited,” or claims it is accredited by an agency not found in the Department of Education's database, it is most likely a scam. If not, it doesn't hurt to walk on the safe side and contact the Better Business Bureau regarding a school in question. Also, search the internet for any complaints lodged against the school or any other declarations against the school's legitimacy.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Watch out for schools claiming you can earn your degree in a matter of days or with little or no academic performance. Online education is fast when compared to other educational routes, but most degrees take up to or more than a year to complete and certainly require demonstration of academic performance. If a school's website or literature overemphasizes the ease or speed with which one can earn a degree or does not seem to be selective about its admissions, it is probably a scam. Some online school's may offer accelerated degrees, but be careful to distinguish them from “instant degrees,” which are certainly illegal. Online education may offer an easy alternative to more conventional education routes, but it does still take time and effort. If a school offers degrees without the expectation of either, steer clear.
If it looks phony, it probably is
A general rule of thumb when searching for online education is to trust your instincts. If something looks like a scam, it's probably a scam. Many online degree mills may give themselves away if they imitate the name of a well-known university, include excessive grammatical errors in their written materials, offer vague degree requirements, or generally appear illegitimate. Trust your gut, and never give up your personal information without knowing a specific school can be trusted. The aim of these scams is to make money off of unsuspecting victims, so take extra precaution when any website asks for payment information or offers phony degree honors like “sigma cum laude” with an extra payment. In general, simply be careful and keep you're eyes open for any warning signs, and you'll have no trouble finding a legitimate distance learning institution that's right for you.