BBB Alert: Beware of Illegitimate Online Institutions in the Upstate

  
     
March 16, 2017

[GREENVILLE, SC] - In the current job market, having a diploma is often a prerequisite. Many have turned to online institutions as a way to further their education on their own time. Better Business Bureau of the Upstate is warning consumers against “fast and easy” institutions as it issues an alert for consumers who engaged with Woodfield High School/University, WinFord High School and West Coast High School claiming to be in Greenwood.

Reported by multiple complaints against this company, consumers would pay around $200-$300, take a test and receive their diploma. The problems arose when the diplomas were used as a credential to pursue higher education or within a job application. Consumers say that it was at this point that they were informed it was not a legitimate degree.

According to an investigation by the New York Times, Woodfield High School/University, WinFord High School and West Coast High School can all be traced to a Pakistani software company, Axact. This company operates many websites claiming to offer diplomas at low rates while giving credit for “life experience”.  The company also creates their own “accrediting organizations” in order to increase the authority of these “schools”.

One consumer reported that initially he engaged with Belford University to take the course work and was transferred to West Coast for payment. This is the same Belford University operated by Axact that was shut down in 2012 and the founder was ordered to pay $22.7 million because it “operates a sophisticated internet ripoff scheme through various websites, which falsely represent the existence of an accredited and legitimate high school, whose diplomas will be widely accepted by employers, professional associations, other schools, colleges and universities."1

The South Carolina Commission on Higher Education is aware of these institutions, and BBB recommends that any consumer who may have engaged the services of these institutions to report it to http://www.che.sc.gov/.

BBB offers tips on how to differentiate between an accredited online school and a diploma mill:

Make sure it’s accredited. The school should be recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation or the U.S. Department of Education. Visit these websites and search for your school to find its Accreditation Information. If you can’t find your school on either of these websites, it may not be an accredited school. Aside from that, also keep an eye out for programs that ARE accredited, but NOT by the two above agencies. Anyone that can create a fake business can also create their own fake accreditation, and this happens quite often with scams.

Don’t be fooled by your own temptation. Diploma mills will state that you can simply fill out a form, upload your resume, and enter your credit card information to receive your diploma. Although those seemingly “quick and easy” programs are the ones you’ll want to gravitate towards, those catchy slogans should serve as a red flag.

Beware of a program that requires a lot of money up front. Most colleges will bill you based on the amount of credits or courses you are taking each semester. A diploma mill will probably ask for a flat fee to sign up.

Look for​ evidence of student services. Colleges will always have student resources. These include a page for the library, a list of classes, a staff directory, advising, and more. If there aren’t any resources for students to show there’s substantial course work and interaction with professors, then you should be suspicious.