It seems that one of the reasons diploma mills and degree scams are on the social consciousness currently is very much due to the current economic climate, and its effects on distance learning and online education. Essentially, lack of jobs and increasing redundancies stimulate increasing numbers of people to head back to education, and taking up an adult education course via distance learning or online is a very economical and accessible way to do that today. And, indeed, reports of increasing online enrollment are already being heard in the US and the UK.
Realistically however, such fraudsters have been around for many years and aside from penile extensions and cut-rate Viagra, fake degrees are one of the original and obligatory types of spam e-mail. That said, it is also wrong to assume that the scammers are not indeed getting better at offering more and more legitimate-looking qualifications to the point of committing outright fraud.
Subsequently, in terms of maintaining the social faith in online education and distance learning, the public need to be 100 percent clear that using a fake degree or qualification is fraud. An action that might be surprisingly more difficult when one considers that the selling of fake academic credentials is illegal only in 11 states in the USA (according to degreeboard.com). Maybe if such sellers are brought into line elsewhere across North America we might see the first steps for spreading this knowledge, and at least halting the blight of scammers, at least if they can't be stopped altogether.
But, then, I suppose one must ask why must the USA should be the focus of a nationwide ban on such activities? For me, the answer lies in the apparent fact that the rest of the world, particularly the UK, are following the advancements the US are making in online education, e-Learning, and open content - and particularly the way it is regarded socially and publicly. Thus, the betterment of higher education globally (and the systems therein) currently seems to be directly influenced by the modes and methods that are established stateside.