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Diploma mills sell fake GEDs

Students waste time and hundreds of dollars pursuing fake credentials. For the record, you can't get a GED online.

By Teresa Mears Dec 7, 2010 5:50PM

When Becky Ploense got ready to enroll in massage therapy school, she pulled out the GED certificate she had earned online several years earlier, at a cost of $500. The massage school wasn't impressed.


It turned out her "GED" was fake.

You can't earn a GED online, as the American Council on Education, which administers the GED Testing Service, has been telling consumers for years. If you did not graduate from high school and want a General Educational Development credential, you must take the test in person.


Despite that, online institutions that purport to offer online GEDs proliferate, charging students $200 to $1,200 for a credential they could earn for little or nothing from their local school system.


"It seems like such a scam to prey on people who are vulnerable," Judy King, who works with GED students, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which wrote about Ploense and others who had been deceived. King, who works at Waukesha County Technical College in Milwaukee, said she spoke to a woman who had spent $2,000 and two years of work on a mail-order "diploma" that was worthless.


The American Council on Education has been warning would-be students about diploma mills that offer fake GEDs for years. It produced this fact sheet and this report (.pdf file) and has lobbied state attorneys general to crack down on diploma mills. It also has comprehensive information on how to get a GED.


The Better Business Bureau issued a warning last year about institutions that offered worthless GEDs, high school diplomas and college degrees.


"While the Internet facilitates learning through online curriculum, it also makes it easier for scammers to shill their phony high school diplomas and college degrees," Steve Cox, a BBB spokesperson, said.


The BBB offers this advice about "red flags" that could indicate a school is not offering real degrees:

  • Diplomas are awarded for "life experience" and require little or no work.
  • The institution guarantees you'll get a diploma in a few days, weeks or months.
  • You can get a discount if you sign up for more than one degree at a time.
  • Addresses include P.O. boxes or suite numbers.
  • Charges are per degree rather than per credit hour.

Ploense has now earned her GED through classes at a Milwaukee technical college and is working on a higher level of high school diploma before she enrolls in massage school.


"A whole weight has been lifted off my shoulder now," she told the Journal Sentinel. "The easiest route isn't always the best one."


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