The term “Diploma Mill” refers to an unaccredited institution of higher learning that offers a degree, diploma or certificate for a fee. The credential received usually requires little or no work and is generally worthless. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, a California woman operated a fake university with the intent to scam foreign students seeking U.S. immigration status. Through her fake school, the woman was able to collect millions of dollars in fees to fund her posh lifestyle.

The 43-year-old woman purportedly collected nearly $6 million in tuition and fees, mostly from Indian nationals. Students paid $2,700 a semester in tuition for visa-related documents that permitted them to live and work in the U.S. on a student immigration status. The fraudster used the proceeds from the scam to buy commercial real estate, a Mercedes-Benz and multiple homes, including one on a golf course. (She even had one of her student employees paint her mansion and move furniture.)

The story states that three university professors testified they did not allow the woman to use their credential in connection with the institution. (Red flag #1.) Other employees told the jury the fake university had no requirements for admission or graduation. (Red flag #2.) Court documents also state that fraudulent transcripts were routinely fabricated. (Red flag #3).

The fraudster was found guilty of wire and mail fraud, conspiracy to commit visa fraud, visa fraud, use of a false document, making false statements to a government agency, alien harboring, unauthorized access to a government computer and lastly, money laundering. (Now that’s quite a list!) Four other co-conspirators pleaded guilty as part of a plea agreement.

Unfortunately, for the victims in this case, they learned a few lessons the hard way. Things to remember when enrolling in an institution of higher learning: 1) make sure an institution is accredited by a state or professional organization, 2) be wary of a school that does not have any requirements for admission or graduation and 3) note that students are not usually required to paint houses and move furniture in order to graduate.

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