Tips: Verifying employees' degree credentials

Federal officials caution that some people are buying phony credentials from "diploma mills" -- companies that sell degrees or certificates on the Internet without requiring the buyer to do anything more than pay a fee. In an effort to crack down on diploma mills, the FTC, Department of Education and the Office of Personnel Management are putting new tools in place to help businesses weed out bogus academic credentials and ensure the integrity of their hiring process. The FTC emphasizes that while it is not always easy to tell if academic credentials are from an accredited institution, there are clues to help spot questionable credentials on a résumé or application. According to the FTC, some of the tell-tale signs of a bogus degree are:

ˇ         Out of sequence degrees. When reviewing an applicant's education claims, be sure that the degrees earned are in a traditional order. For example, if an applicant claims a college degree, but shows no signs of a high school diploma or GED, consider it a red flag.

ˇ         Quickie degrees. Generally it takes time to earn a college or advanced degree. A degree earned in a very short time or several degrees listed for the same year, also are warning signs.

ˇ         Degrees from schools in locations different from the applicant's job or home. If an applicant worked full-time while attending school, check the locations of the job and the educational institution.

ˇ         Sound-alike names. If the institution has a name similar to a well-known school, but is located in a different state, check it out. It should be considered a warning sign if an applicant claims a degree from a state or county where he or she never lived.

Federal officials recommend that businesses always check academic credentials, even when the school is well-known. Because employers are less likely to check with schools for verification or academic transcripts, some applicants may falsify information about their academic background. To help businesses verify academic credentials, the FTC suggests:

ˇ         Contact the school. Most college registrars will confirm dates of attendance and graduation, as well as degrees awarded.

ˇ         Research the school on the Internet. Colleges and universities accredited by legitimate agencies generally have a rigorous review of the quality of their educational program. If a school had been accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency, it is probably legitimate.