FTC Files Complaints Against Two Online Diploma Mills
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FTC Files Complaints Against Two Online Diploma Mills

February 11, 2016

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has filed charges against two online diploma mills.

The phony online high schools claimed to be legitimate institutions that offered high school equivalency exams and charged students between $135 and $349 for a worthless diploma. Student were unaware that their certificate held no weight until they tried applying for jobs, college or military service.

Both operations, according to FTC complaints, associated themselves with recognized high school equivalency programs and used names like West Madison Falls High School, Columbia Northern High School, Stafford High School.

Documents filed by the FTC in both cases allege that the operations bought a number of website names designed to look like legitimate online high schools and use deceptive metatags with terms like GED and GED online to bring the bogus sites higher in search rankings. Once consumers arrive at the schools' sites, they are met with messages that imply that the diplomas offered by the defendants are equivalent to an actual high school diploma.

According to the FTC documents, the courses amount to four untimed, unmonitored multiple-choice tests, requiring that students answer 70 percent of each test correctly. For some high schools, when students fail to meet that standard, they are redirected to the test once more, and this time, the correct answers are highlighted for students to change their answers. Other schools provide students with an online study guide that, when used, also highlights the correct answer for students to select.

Upon completing the tests, the documents allege that consumers are then directed to a set of menus to judge their life experiences, where selecting that one knows how to balance a checkbook translates as credit for accounting coursework. If a consumer says they listen to music occasionally, he or she may be given credit for a music appreciation course.