The government has temporarily shut down a Florida diploma mill network that it says made millions of dollars by selling worthless high school diplomas online, deceiving consumers by promising that they could use them to enroll in college or join the military.
The diploma mills, which claimed to be legitimate online high schools with names like "Jefferson" and "Enterprise" High School, charged between $200 and $300 for diplomas, the complaint alleges. They encouraged students to "Enroll online and earn your diploma today," but offered no educational services like classes, teachers, or homework.
Instead, the sites offered a multiple-choice, online test — complete with obvious hints at the answers, like prompting people to select the answer "set" with a hint that said "Ready, S..., Go." The sites also awarded fake credits for "life experiences" like playing tennis, balancing a checkbook, or listening to music, the complaint says. After "passing" the test, checking off enough life experiences, and writing a 1-2 sentence essay, the complaint says, consumers were prompted to pay hundreds of dollars to receive a "diploma" and "transcripts."
People desperate to get college degrees so they could join the National Guard or go to college were regularly duped by the sites, according to the complaint. Several said in the complaint that they were fired from their jobs after their employers realized their degrees were invalid, and another said she spent $10,000 on college classes before being forced to drop out because of her lack of high school degree.
The Federal Trade Commission is seeking to permanently shut down the diploma mills and return the money to consumers.
Molly Hensley-Clancy is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Molly Hensley-Clancy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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