The Federal Trade Commission (the “FTC”) filed complaints on February 10, 2016 against two operators of online “high schools” that claim to be legitimate but allegedly are diploma mills, charging anywhere from $135 to $349 for a worthless certificate.

Complaints in both cases filed by the FTC in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona charge that the operators bought several website names designed to appear like legitimate online high schools and used deceptive metatags with terms such as “GED” and “GED online” to bring the bogus sites higher in search rankings. Once consumers got to the sites, messages popped up implying that the diplomas offered were equivalent to an actual high school diploma.

According to the FTC’s documents, the “courses” amounted to four untimed and unmonitored multiple-choice tests, requiring that students answer 70% of each test correctly. For some “high schools,” when students failed to meet that standard, they were redirected to the test once more, and this time, the correct answers were highlighted so that the students could change their answers.  Other “high schools” provided students with an online “study guide” that also highlighted the correct answer for students to select when taking the test.

Upon completing the tests, the FTC’s documents charge that consumers were directed to a set of menus to evaluate their “life experiences,” where selecting that he/she knows how to “balance [a] checkbook” translates as credit for accounting coursework.  If a consumer says they “listen to music occasionally,” he/she may be given credit for a music appreciation course.

The FTC’s complaints in both cases point to numerous consumers who sought to use the diplomas to get jobs, apply for college and even join the military, only to find out that their diplomas were not recognized.