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Friday, November 24, 2006

How To Avoid Wasting Money on Online Degree Scams

For every person hoping to achieve success and get an online education, there are many more companies and people trying to scam unsuspecting individuals. It goes without saying that these should be avoided at all cost. Of course, the best approach to avoiding online degree scams is to know your product before you buy.

Prospective online students should be on the lookout for things inside the degree offer that tout the benefits of distance learning, but provide little in the way of support for the student. A degree based on life experience alone may often not be worth the paper it is printed on. This can often be very hard for a "graduate" of diploma mills to understand, but most human resource managers would give you a blank stare if you mentioned this as a competitive qualification for employment.

A "money back guarantee" can mean nothing if the small legalese boilerplate says that only in extreme circumstances can you actually get your money back. If the work materials are out of date, poorly written, or the grading standards too harsh or unfair, to whom might you complain? The job market right now is extremely competitive. Gaining any kind of degree or credential that has questionable legitimacy can reduce your chances of being hired, promoted or recognized in your respective field.

Think about what you would do if your money was charged or your check for the "degree" cashed, and you received no diploma, certificate, or any documentation at all showing educational progress. Can you afford to sue a website or a company? Ask yourself before you enroll in any online program if there is not a more legitimate and trustworthy institution available. Why would you want to furnish identity information such as your name, address and telephone number (and IP address), credit, and social security data to strangers over the Internet anyway? Can you hire an attorney to travel to the place where the business is headquartered? Do you have a fine understanding of the legalities of suing a company that accepts money for 7-day high school equivalency courses? It’s likely they are ten steps ahead of you for any legal recourse.

Shop around and see why the "big" online schools near you don’t offer the same program, or call them and ask why. Often a look at the fine print will tell the story. Are there foreign or offshore company names, paragraph after paragraph of disclaimers, unlisted faculty, or minute clauses that state that the work being paid for is only coaching or instruction toward the goal of a degree and cannot be termed education? In order to prove you passed a course with a suspect, or possibly fraudulent, online company, could you produce screenshots of every question you answered correctly? Could you prove that these programs came from the company listed on your credit card? If you don’t receive a quality teaching experience, have you really achieved anything more than a piece of paper?

If you feel there is an online service you want to check, research the "school" or find discussion boards that tell about other student’s experiences. Do not trust testimonials from that site. Contact your state board of education or the county education offices where that school claims to be located. Ask the personnel there if they know of the school or have processed any inquiries or complaints. Keep in mind that a high school diploma obtained in another state may be legal there, but not where you live or work.

The worst thing about education scams is they injure the very people who are most deserving of help; the ones who are trying to better themselves and do what’s needed to get ahead. It is recommended that students act in their own defense first and contact local public school counseling offices or boards of education for advice first.

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