Court Shuts Down $11 Million High School Diploma Mill

Not everyone graduates from high school, but for nearly a decade, a company in Florida has been offering what it claims are “official” diplomas from “accredited” schools to consumers who took an online test (and paid betweeen $200 to $300). Except federal authorities say these diplomas are as bogus as they sound, and this company has allegedly scammed consumers for at least $11.1 million.

According to a complaint [PDF] filed in a U.S. District Court by the Federal Trade Commission, starting in 2006, a pair of companies named Diversified Educational Resources and Motivational Management & Development Services began selling online diplomas under multiple bogus high school names, including “Jefferson High School Online” and “Enterprise High School Online.” The defendants even claimed in some cases that these schools were accredited.

These programs claimed that customers could “become… high school graduate[s]” and obtain “official” high school diplomas by enrolling in one of these programs. Additionally, the FTC says the defendants claimed that consumers could successfully use these diplomas as valid high school equivalency credentials to enroll in college, apply for jobs, and “receive the recognition [they] aspire for in life.”

The websites for these diploma mills stated that the “schools” were run by “administrative and academic professionals” who “are very confident that completing our program can benefit your needs.”

Another message explained that even “[i]f you never finished or never started high school, its [sic] not too late. Take classes and earn your high school diploma all online with a program that works around your busy schedule.”

The companies stated that their “mission” was to “[p]rovide a respected and recognized high school diploma equivalency program.”

Customers were told that these diplomas were basically the same as a General Education Development (GED) exam that many people use to demonstrate they have the knowledge and skills to graduate high school, and that the diplomas would be valid for enrolling in college and that the programs’ “exam scores and interface are designed to the rigors of a private high school graduation exam diploma program.”

But in no way was this like taking an actual high school equivalency exam, claims the FTC.

“Consumers are only required to pay a fee and pass an online test in order to obtain a so-called ‘diploma,'” reads the complaints. “Defendants require no coursework or preparation before taking the online test, and even offer consumers hints to help them select the correct answers.”

When customers later tried to use these diplomas to enroll in college, get jobs or join the military, only to be told they were worthless, some attempted to get their money back. But the FTC says these requests were denied.

In response to the FTC complaint the court has imposed a temporary restraining order against the defendants and frozen their assets.

“A high school diploma is necessary for entry into college, the military, and many jobs,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “These defendants took students’ money but only provided a worthless credential that won’t help their future plans.”

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