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Charlotte Area

'Diploma Mill' Preys On Jobless

http://66.225.205.104/JR20110128.mp3

The Charlotte Better Business Bureau is out with its latest crop of businesses that logged the most customer complaints in 2010. This year, the recession appears to have played a large role. About half of the companies on the list have gone bankrupt or out of business, leaving their customers to swallow the loss. WFAE's Julie Rose reports on another sign of the times evident from the list: One of the worst offenders on the Better Business Bureau's list is a Charlotte-based company called Nation High School that promises a high school diploma in less than five days. "They're opportunists," says Tom Bartholomy, President of the Better Business Bureau in Charlotte. More than 50 customer complaints have been filed with the BBB against Nation High School in the last year. Bartholomy says "diploma mills" are on the rise because of the current economy. "People are out looking for jobs and they keep being turned down for jobs because they don't have that high school diploma," says Bartholomy. "Then they go online and they see Nation High School. You pay your $495 and take the test. Everybody passes." But the diploma is worthless when you apply for college or a job, because Nation High School isn't accredited by an organization that most schools or businesses recognize. When hapless students finally figure that out, they sometimes end up on the phone with Sheila Virani. She's in charge of admissions at National High School - an Atlanta-based online high school that actually is accredited by a reputable organization. "We get a lot of these calls, but when we try to talk these kids into letting them know what has happened and what are their steps they need to take moving forward, they still are looking for a short cut," says Virani. The Federal Trade Commission says the promise of a fast degree for a flat fee is a tell-tale sign of a scam. Legitimate schools charge by the credit or the semester and require actual class work. Calls to the 1-800-number listed on the Nation High School website are answered by a call center. Customer service representatives with various foreign accents placed us on hold indefinitely when asked about the company's legitimacy. The Better Business Bureau's Tom Bartholomy says the group is working with federal authorities to investigate Nation High School and its owner, a man named Steven O'Neil. They can't locate him, but believe he lives in Charlotte.