Have your employees been put through the “mill”?

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Ever wonder what your employees are up to after hours? The answer might surprise you – and two cases filed by the FTC suggest a way you and your HR team might want to get involved.

What are millions of Americans – and some of your staff – doing in their off time? They’re taking classes online. When companies advertise their programs accurately, online education can offer alternatives for continuing learners. But FTC lawsuits against two unrelated operators of online “high schools” allege they were little more than diploma mills charging consumers for a worthless certificate.

According to lawsuits against Stepping Stonez Development, LLC, and Capitol Network Distance Learning Programs, LLC, the defendants bought a bunch of URLs designed to make them look like legit online high schools and used metatags like “GED” and “GED online” to boost their search engine rankings. Once consumers were drawn in, the FTC says the defendants made misleading claims that what they offered was the equivalent to an actual high school diploma. (They even use names like West Madison Falls High School, Columbia Northern High School, and Stafford High School.)

The complaints charge that the companies dispensed with things like classes, lectures, projects, and homework. Instead, the “courses” amounted to four untimed, unmonitored multiple-choice tests. In some instances, the correct answers were highlighted so students who didn’t “pass” the first time around could change their answers. The FTC also says students were given credit for coursework like Accounting or Music Appreciation if they simply clicked a box that they knew how to balance a checkbook or listened to music occasionally.

Certificate in hand, many consumers tried to enroll in college, apply for jobs, or enlist in the military only to find out that their diplomas weren’t recognized. The complaints also charge that the companies falsely claimed membership in bogus accreditation bodies. In addition, the FTC says the Capitol Network defendants mislead consumers by claiming certification or compliance with Department of Defense standards programs for online education.

The lawsuits are pending in federal court in Arizona.

Why should cases like this matter to business owners? If you have employees who are trying to get their high school equivalency, help protect them from possible diploma mills. A new FTC publication offers tips on spotting scams and links to trustworthy sources of information about earning that sheepskin. Ask your HR team to share it with your staff.


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