How to Determine if an Online Institution is Credible

Guest Blog Post by Brittany Lyons ~ 


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According to a November 2011 study by Babson Survey Research Group, more than 6.1 million students enrolled in at least one web-based class in 2010, an increase of more than 10 percent from the previous year. Online degrees offer educational credentials from the comfort of one’s living home—but experts say the convenience carries substantial risk. Fraudulent institutions that offer worthless degrees pose a threat to well-meaning young people who hope to receive a real education.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) reported that e-learning scams have snared hundreds of victims. Typically, these “schools” offer university and high school diplomas for cash. Students complete courses and receive a certificate in the mail, only to be told it holds no academic value by admission offices, employers and military recruiters. Unfortunately these “diploma mills” that have become more prevalent as online student numbers rise.

However that is not say all schools found online are scams. The BBB acknowledges that many online institutions are reputable and offer legitimate services, providing some students who may not otherwise been able attend school in a traditional setting an opportunity to enhance their education. BBB spokesman Steve Cox points out, “Education is one of the keys to advancing in life and having a diploma or advanced degree can certainly make a difference when it comes to getting into college or landing a higher-paying job.”

If a student does decide to attend an online school, a resource for accredited online PhD degrees explains that it is important for the student to thoroughly investigate the college prior to enrollment. The most crucial aspect to explore is whether the university is accredited and by whom. The BBB adds that one good way to determine accreditation is to crosscheck the program with the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, maintained by the U.S. Department of Education. If students still have questions about the program, they want to visit an admissions office at a state college or university to ensure that the degree will help applicants earn consideration from admissions departments in the future.

There are also a number of red flags that indicate a potentially shady institution. A course-load that rewards points based on “life experience” or unusually easy exams often denotes a scam. The same is true of any “guarantees” of completion made by the program to the student, or deals for those who sign up to earn multiple degrees at once. “People who want to further themselves see something that looks really quick and easy,” Houston’s BBB spokeswoman told ABCNews.com. “People should know that if they get a college degree, there is a lot of time involved.”

Students should also note the program’s contact information. Illegitimate programs often list addresses with suite numbers and post office boxes, while the phone number may not be listed at all. Foreign offices should also be treated as suspicious, especially if the program’s description makes no mention of international culture or overseas-based curriculum.

The BBB shut down three fraudulent online degree programs last year, but the organization claims many more are still lurking on the web. Operated by the same parent company, Belford High School and Belford University are the biggest offenders—with 117 complaints from individuals in 40 states. The high school program offers a high school diploma based on “life experience;” according to its site, which also claims 99 percent of colleges accept the degree. The university program offers associate, bachelor and even doctorate degrees for no more than $1,400. However, the BBB says that in reality the degrees are not seen as proper credentials by colleges or military recruiters.

Another violator is MMDS Ltd., a company based in the St. Kitts. Their most popular program, Jefferson High School Online (JHSO), offers high school diplomas for roughly $200. Course results are determined by a “life experience” questionnaire, which asks students to list musical tastes and preferred weekend activities. Following the questionnaire, the student takes a multiple-choice test that provides hints and allows three incorrect guesses per question. More than a hundred JHSO “graduates” have complained to the BBB about numerous rejections from colleges nationwide.

As young men and women strive to earn a degree and enter the American work force, it is important for them to proceed with caution. Online college scams represent the most recent incarnation of fraudulent Internet practices that have evolved to match consumer trends and web activity. Luckily, the headaches associated with obtaining a worthless degree can be avoided with a thorough preliminary investigation, and an eye for sketchy web conduct.

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Brittany Lyons aspires to be a psychology professor, but decided to take some time off from grad school to help people learn to navigate the academic lifestyle. She currently lives in Spokane, Washington, where she spends her time reading science fiction and walking her dog.

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When the Kids Are Away, the Scammers Come Out to Play

I was asked to share this information about scams related to students away on Spring Break.  That time of year is just around the corner, and this is something that all parents need to be aware of.  Much like the Grandparent Scams, this scam preys on an adult wanted to help out a child in trouble.

MoneyGram Offers Advice to Parents of College Spring Breakers 
To Avoid Fraud During Popular Travel Period

DALLAS (Feb. 22, 2012) – While most Americans will prepare to lose an hour of sleep when Daylight Saving Time ends in mid-March, many parents are preparing to lose something else: their peace of mind when their college-age children travel on spring break

According to MoneyGram (NYSE: MGI), a leading global money transfer company, spring break can end up “breaking the bank” if parents don’t stay alert to the “family scam” – when a scammer calls parents to inform them their child is in trouble in a distant location, asking for money for medical care or bail, even though the child is perfectly safe.

“Spring break can be a letting-go experience for parents of college students,” said Kim Garner, Senior Vice President of Global Security for MoneyGram. “But along with letting go, parents should hang on to their common sense, especially when it comes to helping their kids stay safe and avoid certain common scams.

Garner offers the following advice to parents of college students to safeguard their physical and financial health during spring break:

Check in before heading out: American students traveling internationally can register with the U.S. State Department’s free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, which will help with communications in the event of an emergency. Canadian students can register with their country’s similar program, Registration of Canadians Abroad.

Take a lesson from E.T.: Phone home: Parents should make a deal with their students traveling for spring break – a little freedom for a few phone calls and some extra phone numbers. Parents should establish specific times for phone calls to check in, so they will know where their students are and what they’re up to, and get cell phone numbers for the friends of their traveling children as a back-up means of communication.

Just say no: With personal belongings left scattered on beach towels, scammers often will use student IDs to find parents and ask for money to be wired in the aid of their child who can’t come to the phone. Garner of MoneyGram advises parents to say no – and never wire money to anyone they don’t know – instead checking in by calling the child’s cell phone or the local authorities where their child is vacationing.

Give them credit: Parents can temporarily add a child as an approved user to a credit card, and place a pre-set spending limit on the card as a way to prompt financial responsibility while the student is traveling.

Put a policy in place: To guard against a financial loss, parents should check with their insurance company to make sure their child’s possessions are insured on their homeowner’s policy while the student is traveling, especially if the child will be traveling outside the United States.

“The best way to ensure a safe spring break and avoid a scam is to talk to your child in advance about these types of precautions, and schedule regular contact so you can hear directly from them that they’re safe,” said Garner of MoneyGram. “And while the student is traveling, parents should focus on their own protection against scams by never sending money to anyone they don’t know, regardless of what the individual on the other end of a phone might be telling them.”

As part of MoneyGram’s ongoing efforts to protect consumers from wire transfer fraud, the company recently launched an enhanced version of its fraud prevention website – www.moneygram-preventfraud.com. MoneyGram recommends that before initiating a money transfer, consumers should:

· Know – Always know the person to whom you are sending money. Never send money to strangers.

· Show – Never show or share information about your money transfer to anyone but the recipient.

· Throw – Discard or throw away any offers that promise easy ways to earn money, especially if the offers require you to send money before earning money.

Consumers who suspect fraud associated with money transfers should contact their local law enforcement. Consumers should call 1-800-MONEYGRAM (800-666-3947) if they believe MoneyGram was used to wire money as a result of a scam.

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Another tip from Scam Victims United
When we were kids they taught us about “Stranger Danger” and avoiding becoming a victim of kidnapping.  We were told to never go with a stranger, even if they looked “nice” or said that they were a friend of your parents and your parents sent them to pick you up.  In my family, we had a “code word” so that if someone we did not know DID have to pick us up, they would have to know the “code word” before we would go with them.  Similar to this, create a code word with your child before they leave for Spring Break.  If someone calls saying that they are your child’s friend you just need to ask “What is the code word?”  If they don’t know it, you will know right away that they are lying.

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Minnesota Bill HF343

I have mentioned the Minnesota Bill HF343 on this blog in the past.  It is one that several people who are concerned about the growing number of scams and fraud wish to see become a law.  Just this week it was sent to the General Register, which means it is one step closer to becoming a law.

To hear the audio from that meeting you can go here . . . http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/audio/archivescomm.asp?comm=87004&ls_year=87

I encourage all of you to read the bill and contact the Representatives that are backing this bill to thank them for their work and share with them why you believe this bill needs to become law.