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Commission Shuts Down Diploma Mill Operators

(CN) - The owners of two Florida-based online diploma mills are permanently banned from advertising and selling academic degrees, the Federal Trade Commission announced.

The government also imposed a judgment of more than $11.1 million against the defendants, but partially suspended that punishment based on the defendants' inability to pay.

The agency says Alexander Wolfram and IDM Services, LLC, and Maria Garcia have settled charges that they deceived consumers into enrolling in their programs by claiming they could obtain "official" and accredited high school diplomas and use them to enroll in college or apply for jobs.

The defendants also fabricated an accrediting organization to give legitimacy to their diploma mill operation, the FTC's complaint says.

Doing business as "Jefferson High School Online" and "Enterprise High School Online," defendants led consumers to believe that those who passed their online multiple-choice exam and paid between $200 and $300 could obtain legitimate high school diplomas, the agency says.

The defendants claimed that their online test was styled like the GED test. On Sept. 16, 2014, a U.S. district court judge signed a temporary restraining order to halt the deceptive practices and freeze the assets of the defendants.

In addition to permanently shutting down their operation, the settlements also prohibit the defendants from making misrepresentations in connection with the marketing or sale of any other product or service.

The FTC said it will continue to monitor the defendants, and that if it finds they misrepresented their financial condition, their entire judgment will be immediately due in full.

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