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FTC Goes After Bogus Online High Schools

PHOENIX (CN) - Arizona companies have bilked people nationwide for millions of dollars by selling them phony "diplomas" online and claiming to be an accrediting agency, the FTC claims in court.

Capitol Network Distance Learning Programs and its co-defendants charge $135 to $249 for a bogus "diploma" and have taken "millions of dollars" for it, the Federal Trade Commission claims in its Feb. 8 federal lawsuit.

They operate out of multiple addresses in Scottsdale and Phoenix, and have defrauded people in two languages for more than a decade with a string of phony "high school" names, nine of which are listed in the complaint, the FTC says.

It also sued Capital Network Digital Licensing Programs, Veritas Sales and the three companies' owners and officers: Nicholas A. Pollicino, Adam F. Pollicino, and Anthony J. Clavien.

"Since at least 2004, defendants have operated several online 'high schools' that sell fake high school diplomas to consumers nationwide," the complaint states.

They claim, falsely that their "diplomas" are equivalent to a real high school diploma or a G.E.D., that they can be used to seek work or college admission, and "that the Capitol Network for Distance Learning Programs is an independent, third-party accrediting body that objectively evaluates and accredits defendants' online schools," the FTC says.

But it's all nonsense, the FTC says: "In reality, defendants do not operate accredited online high schools and do not issue valid high school credentials. Consumers are only required to pay a fee and pass a nominal test in order to obtain a 'diploma.' In fact, defendants' programs require no coursework or preparation before taking the test, and the test itself offers hints to help consumers select the correct answers. As a result, defendants' so-called diplomas are virtually worthless. In numerous instances, consumers who attempt to enroll in college, apply for jobs, or join the military using defendants' diplomas learn that defendants' programs are unaccredited and that the diplomas are invalid."

They push their product online in English and Spanish, and use bogus school names that have included, Lincoln High School, Penn Capitol High School, Heritage High School, County High School, Metro High School, Franklin High School and Liberty High School, according to the FTC.

They lure people to their sites by using meta tags, such as "Ged" and "ged online" and post testimonials from "purported" customers.

The defendants did not return emailed requests for comment Tuesday.

The FTC seeks temporary and permanent injunctions, freezing of assets, refunds, restitution, disgorgement, rescission of contracts and "other relief" for deceptive trade, unjust enrichment and violations of the FTC Act.

A message on the Capitol High School home page, checked Tuesday morning, states in large, bold letters "ATTENTION: CNDLP is not accepting new students at this time."

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