The Art of Deception: A Look at Diploma and Reference Mills

Posted Friday, May 2nd, 2014 by Sterling Talent Solutions

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Diploma and Reference Mills

For years, deceitful applicants have found ways to con hiring managers into believing they are a suitable choice, but never before have they had such extensive access to the tools and resources to dupe their potential employer. “Diploma mills” are unaccredited or unrecognized organizations that operate in one of two ways: they openly sell degrees without requiring any actual attendance or schooling, or they are set up to look like legitimate institutions offering “fast track” programs or degrees based on unverified experience.

Diploma mills have existed in North America for over a century, but due to the proliferation of the Internet, the trend has picked up speed and also spread globally, becoming a major concern for both international employers and domestic employers who hire overseas talent. For example, the newsworthy University of New Castle, which originally operated in Manchester, U.K., provided fake diplomas to individuals, including eight who were allegedly linked to Al-Qaeda. In 2006, after raking in nearly £2 million, the online diploma scam was forced to shut down, only to relocate to the U.S. It now appears to have since been closed in the U.S. as well.

For every diploma mill that is exposed and shut down, 10 more seem to quickly pop up to take its place. As a background screening provider, SterlingBackcheck actively identifies and monitors these types of organizations. There are many “red flags” that we look for when scanning for suspicious education institutions. Just last month, our team in the U.K. flagged a suspicious organization, due to its questionable practices that include offering degrees based on life experience, its claims of accreditation with organizations not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, and its lack of a physical address or location.

Unfortunately, it’s not just educational diplomas that can be purchased online. “Reference mills” have seen a surge in popularity as well, supplying job seekers who have limited or poor work history with a chance to wipe the slate clean and start fresh with a brand new (and totally falsified) employment history, complete with a company website, working phone number, and even past supervisors who can vouch for the applicant’s excellent work ethic and verify their qualifications.

The unpleasant truth is that employers are deceived by diploma and reference mills every day and it puts them at risk for litigation, reputation damage, and increased hiring expenses. This can all be avoided by using an accredited background check company to thoroughly screen the employment and education claims of applicants. Here at SterlingBackcheck, we maintain databases of known organizations offering fraudulent services and our staff members are trained to look for suspicious institutions. Our team is also skilled in identifying fake references, and we can verify employment directly with Human Resources and Payroll departments for added diligence.

This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.