OPINION: Degrees of Deception: The Dangerous Trend of Falsifying Educational Credentials

close up shot of a certificate of diploma
Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

As the job market becomes increasingly competitive, many people are resorting to various strategies to stand out from the crowd. One of the most concerning of these tactics is the use of fake degrees. Fake degrees are degrees that have been purchased or falsified, and they can have serious consequences for both the individuals who use them and the organizations that hire them. 

The prevalence of fake degrees has been on the rise in recent years, as the internet has made it easier to purchase and create fake credentials. Some estimates suggest that up to 30% of job applicants have falsified their educational credentials, and the problem is particularly acute in certain industries, such as healthcare and education. Only around 53% of employers always check their job candidates’ educational history. Each year, approximately 200,000 fraudulent degrees are awarded to individuals globally. About 500,000 Americans currently hold fake degrees. The cost of these fake degrees ranges from $500 to $2,500 on average, which makes them highly sought after considering that a traditional college degree is the second most expensive purchase that consumers make in their lifetime, after their home. Over half of all new PhDs in the U.S. each year are fake. Currently, there are over 370 educational websites that offer fake degrees. 

Fake degrees are a real-world issue that affects people’s lives in significant ways. There are numerous cases where individuals have been caught using fake degrees and have faced legal and reputational consequences. In a recent case in Florida, federal authorities charged 25 individuals with participating in a wire fraud scheme that enabled aspiring nurses to obtain fraudulent nursing degrees and find employment. The indictments, which were recently unsealed, allege that the defendants took part in a scam that involved the sale of over 7,600 fake nursing degree diplomas from three Florida-based nursing schools. Another example is the case of a skyscraper that collapsed during an earthquake in New Zealand, resulting in the deaths of 155 people. The building had been constructed with the input of an individual who held a phony engineering degree. In North Carolina, two men were charged with manslaughter after having purchased fraudulent doctors’ IDs for $100 that falsely claimed to be from the University of London. The individuals had been selling a supposed “cure-all” substance on the internet and tragically took a young girl off of her insulin medication, substituting it with their potion. As a result, the young girl passed away.

There are a variety of ways that individuals can obtain fake degrees. Some purchase them from so-called “diploma mills,” which are organizations that sell phony degrees for a fee. Others may falsify their transcripts or diplomas themselves using software or online templates. Some may claim to have attended prestigious universities or earned degrees from reputable institutions that they have never actually attended. For example, a recent investigation on LinkedIn revealed that 745 individuals from various professions, including public-safety workers, lawyers, engineers, educators and federal government employees, were found to have degrees from Corllins University, which never actually existed. Many people have also started faking educational qualifications to gain admission into institutions of higher learning. One such case involved a man who was sentenced to jail after using fake educational qualifications to enroll at Midlands State University

The use of fake degrees can have serious consequences for both individuals and organizations. For individuals, the risks include reputational damage, legal repercussions and the loss of job opportunities. If an individual is caught using a fake degree, they may face criminal charges and their professional reputation may be irreparably damaged. In addition, they may be barred from certain professions or industries, and may find it difficult to secure future employment. 

For organizations, the risks of hiring individuals with fake degrees include legal liability, damage to reputation and financial losses. If an organization hires an individual who has falsified their educational credentials and that individual subsequently performs poorly or causes harm to others, the organization may be held liable for their actions. In addition, the discovery that an organization has hired individuals with fake degrees can lead to reputational damage, which can be difficult to repair. Finally, if an organization invests time and resources into training an individual with a fake degree, only to discover that they lack the necessary skills and knowledge, it can be a costly mistake. 

Why would so many people be willing to risk trouble with the law to obtain a fake educational history? The reasons behind the increasing demand for fake degrees are complex and multifaceted. One of the main reasons is the practice of credentialism, where employers require a degree even when it is not necessary for competent job performance. Some refer to this as “an employer pretends to need a degree, so the employee pretends to have one.” Many job positions now prefer college-educated candidates over those with only a high school diploma, leading to a growing number of workers feeling disadvantaged without a college degree. As a result, workers may feel pressured to purchase fake degrees to compete for well-paying jobs or promotions, especially if they cannot afford an education at a prestigious institution of higher education. This is particularly true when job seekers perceive that their employers are unfairly holding them back based on their educational credentials.

In other cases, individuals may be seeking to impress others or to gain recognition for their achievements without putting in the necessary academic work. It is also important to note that some individuals may simply be unaware of the consequences of using a fake degree, either due to ignorance or because they were deceived to believe otherwise. They may assume that a fake degree is a quick and easy solution to their employment problems without considering the long-term risks and potential legal and reputational consequences.

Economic difficulties may also contribute to a rise in the prevalence of fake degrees. The World Bank has recently warned of the possibility of a global recession in 2023. Difficult economic times may make people feel compelled to make ends meet, and if they are unqualified for certain job opportunities, they may resort to manufacturing fake credentials to secure employment.

To prevent the use of fake degrees, both individuals and organizations need to take a variety of steps. Individuals can ensure that they are obtaining degrees from reputable institutions. For organizations, one effective approach is to conduct thorough background checks on job applicants, including verifying their educational credentials with the institutions that issued them. In addition, organizations can implement policies that require employees to report any changes to their educational credentials and can establish clear consequences for employees who are found to have falsified their credentials.