Unfortunately, consumer fraud can occur in any industry, including online college. If you find that your trusted online college is actually a diploma mill or even that a legitimate college has employed practices that are misleading and perhaps illegal, you can take action. There are laws and agencies to help protect your rights and hold online colleges accountable when they fail to act appropriately toward students.

The Ways Online Colleges Can Mislead Students

Online colleges can trick or defraud students in a number of ways. Some schools pass themselves off as legitimate college degree programs, but students who complete the program ultimately discover that the degree they receive is worthless to employers and graduate schools. These degree mills may provide little or no actual instruction, or they may simply be unaccredited by the right regional accrediting bodies.

Other times, colleges are legitimate institutions of higher education but may mislead students in other ways. A school may indicate or imply that the degree you’re working toward will qualify you for your intended career when in reality, it won’t. For example, an education degree might not actually prepare you for a teaching career if it is not accredited by the right agencies or does not fulfill legal requirements in your state. You may also discover problems if you go to transfer credits to another school or if you decide early on that online college isn’t right for you and attempt to drop your course and get a refund.

What to Do If Your School’s Conduct Seems Fraudulent

After trying your best to resolve a conflict with your online school, you may think there is nothing else you can do. Holding a school responsible for misleading you can be a challenge, especially because it is technically legal to operate degree mills in many areas. However, it’s not legal to create advertising materials that are inaccurate, misleading or downright lies.

You can report a school for advertising or policies that seem unethical. In some instances, filing complaints with state Attorney General Offices have led to lawsuits against the colleges in question. These colleges have had to pay substantial settlements, of which some of the money goes to reimburse students, and even to change their policies to make them fairer to students, The Gazette reported.

Because laws prohibit dishonest marketing and recruiting strategies by colleges and because agencies like state Attorney General Offices hold colleges accountable, you can feel confident that someone is protecting your rights as a consumer. However, knowing how to identify and avoid potentially fraudulent situations in the first place can ease your worries and help prevent a dishonest company posing as an online college from taking advantage of you. Always research a college, including whether it is accredited and if so, by which agencies. You want to make sure that your education will provide all the skills, knowledge and qualifications you need to succeed in your career.