Background Checks and Diploma Mills

Article Written 2008

A background check or background investigation is the process of looking up and compiling criminal
records, commercial records and financial records.

Background checks are often requested by employers on job candidates, especially on candidates seeking a
position that requires high security or a position of trust, such as in a school, hospital, financial institution,
airport, and government. These checks are traditionally administered by private companies, sometimes for as
low as $8.00 a hire. Results of a background check typically include past education and employment
verification, criminal history, and drug screening.

A recent concern in hiring is the nationwide “trend” in the use of “Diploma Mills.” A diploma mill is a
fictitious education institution. It is a company set up to appear as an education institution. For a nominal fee,
an individual can purchase an educational degree or certificate and receive it within two weeks. We have seen
Certified Nursing Degrees, Bachelors Degrees, Master’s Degrees and other occupational certificates.

The following are high profile examples;
In 2006, Radio Shack was publicly embarrassed after it was revealed their newly-appointed CEO, David Edmondson, had not earned the education credentials he claimed1.
• In 2002, Bausch & Lomb discovered that its then CEO, Ronald Zarrella, did not complete the degree he claimed from New York University’s Stern School of Business.
• In 2002, it was revealed that Kenneth Lonchar, then CFO of Veritas Software, had not earned degrees he claimed, including an MBA from Stanford University.
• In 2003, the Department of Homeland Security discovered that the resume of Laura Callahan, associate deputy of the Chief Information Office, listed questionable degrees—a bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. from the bogus Hamilton University.
• In 2006, George Deutsch, a NASA public affairs officer appointed by President George W. Bush,
resigned when it was discovered he had not completed the bachelor’s degree he claimed.

This trend is growing and is something the Professional Background Screeners Association (PBSA) and
the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) are working diligently to combat and shut down with
criminal proceedings. Diploma mills starting popping up in the early 90’s, but within the last ten years they
have become a rising obstruction when verifying educational degrees and certificates. Ensure that your current
background vendor is aware of this issue and is effective in their due diligence. If you are conducting education
verifications in-house, make sure the institution is part of the network of “certified schools”. Your background
vendor should have a list that is continually updated when new diploma mills are disclosed. With some research you can find a list of known diploma mills the verification should be compared with. However, be careful with legitimate non certified schools. Some schools may not be certified, but are legitimate education institutions, many Bible Schools are perfect examples.

Review the degrees, the schools (websites and research blogs) and dates of the degrees carefully. Here are
some signs of Education fraud;
1. They offer degrees that can be earned in an unusually short time (e.g., a bachelor’s degree in a few
2. List accreditation is not recognized by reputable organizations
3. Place an unusually strong emphasis on earning credit for life or real world experience
4. Charge tuition on a per degree basis as opposed to by credit hour, course or semester
5. Offer discounts for enrolling in multiple programs
6. Require little or no admission criteria (such as academic record) other than a valid credit card
7. Use names deceptively similar to legitimate, and often prestigious, educational institutions
8. Use box numbers or suite addresses instead of physical addresses
9. Probably will not have a sport’s program.

I received this spam email recently, it’s as easy as responding to an email;

From: Tory Velasquez [] To: ******
BECAUSE YOU DESERVE IT! Is your lack of a degree holding you back from career advancement? Are you having difficulty finding
employment in your field of interest because you don’t have the paper to back it up – even though you are qualified? If you are looking for a fast and effective solution, we can help! Call us right now for your customized diploma:
Inside U.S.A.: 1-718-989-5740
U.S.A.: +1-718-989-5740.
Just leave your NAME & TEL. PHONE # (with country-code) on the voicemail and one of our staff members
will get back to you promptly!

If you are responsible for hiring be aware and diligent. The safety of your staff and customers depend on it.
Written by;
Brian D Chapman, Chief Operating Officer

Accredited Consumer Reporting Agency with PBSA
SOC2 Certification
GDPR Certification
Founding member of the Professional Background Screening Association.
MBI Worldwide Background Checks & Drug Screening – HRO Today Baker’s Dozen Award 2016, 2017, 2018
and 2019
1Morrison, M. “RadioShack’s lesson: Trust, but verify.” BusinessWeek, February 22, 2006
2 Gross, D. “School Lies: Why do so many executives lie about their education?”, October 22, 2006
3 Gross, D. (October 22, 2002)
4Singel, R. “No third degree for diploma mills.” Wired, March 18, 2004
5 Revkin, A.“Young Bush appointee resigns his post at NASA.” The New York Times, February 8, 2006

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