A few weeks ago I started receiving emails at the Pioneer Memorial Public Library from a person named Elizabeth Turner from a company called Accredited Online Colleges. Ms. Turner asked me to place links to her company on the website for the library. I get requests like this occasionally and mostly ignore them. As a part-time library director I don't have time to answer every request to place links on my website, but Ms. Turner was persistent. In her final emails to me, she used my name and gave me links to others in West Virginia who had placed her links on their sites. (A state Senator, a major city, and one county school website) This is when I got suspicious.
I emailed Ms. Turner back asking for more information about her company. Her emails came to me from gmail, which indicated to me that a scam was happening. When I looked at the website in question, there is no geographical location revealed for the company, nor are any administrators or company officers listed by name. Instead, there are ads. "Accredited Online Colleges" is what I call an ad mill; this is a website meant to generate ad clicks which in turn gives revenue back to the site. The '.org' at the end of the company's URL is meant to imply that this is a nonprofit organization which it is not.
Digging deeper: there are no criteria listed for the alleged resources on this company site, indicating zero legitimacy for Accredited Online Colleges. In searching for this company at WhoIs.com I see that this company is owned by an entity in Scottsdale, Arizona with a private registration name.
Little Internet Scam, Big Consequences
By now, you may be saying, "But Mary, what's the big deal? No children, puppies, or kittens were harmed in this alleged scam." While this is true, placing a link to a bogus site on a trusted site causes your site and your institution to lose integrity and reliability. As information professionals, we want to give out high-quality information to our students and patrons. Also, this scammer sets themselves up as just trying to help kids get into college. No. They are looking for backlinks which give them a higher Google rating, which will give them more ad clicks and income. You are helping scammers make cash for themselves using your website. Ick.
Just remember fellow librarians and educators: your web space is valuable. Don't give it away to anyone without checking out credentials thoroughly. And thank you, Elizabeth Turner, for your persistence and information. I contacted the West Virginia websites who allowed your links to slip in to let them know that you are not legitimate.
As an aside: Feel free to look up their site and judge for yourself. I will not post a link, but you can type it in. Have you been the victim of an online or email scam? If you need help resolving your issue, please feel free to stop by the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, West Virginia for assistance.