From a paid subscription site. Good advice on staying away from these diploma mills. Higher Edukation Available Online April 14, 2006 QUESTION: In the old days, diploma mills advertised fake correspondence college courses on matchbook covers. Most folks knew the degree was worthless. But the current trend toward distance learning has turned the online fake degree market into a major scam. How can a student be sure a degree advertised online is from an accredited school, and not the "Kollege of Hard Knox"? ANSWER: Using a fake degree is typically a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine and up to a year behind bars, but offenders don't often end up in the pokey. Why not? According to the Society for Human Resource Management, only 40 percent of employers regularly verify degrees employees claim to have earned, so it's easy to dupe them. You're right. The bogus degree market has graduated from matchbook covers to the Internet, and some of today's virtual halls of ivy offer much more than sheepskin. Alumni also get a fake class ring, fake student ID card, fake transcript, and a toll-free number employers can call to "verify" fake degrees. Diploma mills are no longer mom and pop operations. Some sham schools in Europe reportedly have as many as 15,000 graduates a year. Students should be aware of institutions offering a diploma for little or no study or promising a complete degree based only on life experience plus one essay, even if they appear fully accredited. Over 200 bogus accreditation organizations have sprung up to give diploma mills an air of legitimacy, so make sure the college of your choice is accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or your state department. The University Continuing Education Association offers a helping hand with its free list of accredited institutions at www.UCEAdirectory.org.