How to Spot a 'Scam' College

In recent years, we have all become more accustomed to tightening our belts and watching what we spend. The current state of the economy has filtered down to the average household and there are now very few of us who can afford to waste money. 

While investing in education is always an investment in your future, it’s never been more important to ensure your money is put towards a recognised qualification. One that will genuinely improve your prospects in the workplace or evidence the advancement of your knowledge for higher-level study. 

Unfortunately, over the last few years, numerous distance learning colleges have been set up to do nothing more than scam their students. Learners believe they are enrolling on genuine distant learning courses, and without attending a physical campus, it can be hard to realise anything to the contrary until it’s too late. These fake colleges are in fact bogus companies that have no interest in the well-being of their students. 

Whilst these organisations may appear to be authentic home learning colleges, they do nothing more than tarnish the reputation of legitimate distance learning providers and put students off from the real benefits of home learning. 

To help, we’ve listed ways you can spot a scam college and have provided you with a checklist of things you should be asking yourself before you register with a home learning college. 

What are the Benefits of Distance Learning?

Ignoring that people actually exist out there who sell scam courses, or even promote advertisements to students to encourage them to buy fake qualifications, for a moment, there are a host of benefits to choosing to study courses and gain your qualifications online.  

What Are the Risks? 

While there are many benefits of studying UK distance learning courses from home, there are risks of falling prey to scam colleges that will exploit their students. Luckily, there are tell-tale signs you can look out for that show these college admissions scams for what they really are.  

We’ve selected some of the key areas for concern and the questions that you need to ask any distance learning college before you decide to study with them:

One of the most important things you need to ask your distance learning provider is if they and their courses are independently accredited. Many scam colleges will say they are accredited and will mention a range of professional organisations that they claim to belong to, but this is not enough. 

The training provider should be independently accredited by an awarding body that is fully recognised by Ofqual - the Government body in charge of regulating qualifications. Regulated awarding bodies include Edexcel, City and Guilds, NCFE, CACHE and Active IQ. On completion of your home study course, you should also receive a separate certificate from the awarding body, as evidence that you have completed the distance learning courses. 

UK Provider Reference Number 

All learning providers in the UK should be able to offer you a UK Provider Reference Number. The UK Register of Learning Providers is a one-stop portal used by Government departments, agencies, learners, and employers to share key information about learning providers.  

If there is no UK Provider Reference Number, alarm bells should start ringing that the distance learning college under question is a fake college.  

The Small Print 

All distance learning UK providers should offer a money-back guarantee. So, check the small print on the online college’s website.  

Phone Calls 

Many scam colleges are actually run by just one or two people, who simply work there in the evenings, away from their primary source of employment. So, one of the easiest ways to spot a fake college is to try and give their contact number a ring throughout the normal working day.

If you are told that the lines are busy, or that you should leave a message, you should be very wary. Professional home learning colleges should at least work Monday to Friday 9am-5pm and should always be available on the phone to deal with any queries that you may have. 

Tutor Support 

Every college should provide access to tutor support, whether it be full access or an additional add on, throughout the duration of your distance learning course. If there is no mention of supported learning whatsoever, there is likely no tutor working for the college because it doesn’t exist.  Even if there is some sort of tutor support, it would be highly recommended to find out more, ask questions like, "are your tutors accredited?"  "What If I can't get through to the right tutor?" More importantly, make sure that they will offer the right support for your needs.

Active Social Media 

One of the best ways to get a feel for the authenticity of any business is to check out its presence online. Genuine businesses recognise this, and that’s why it’s critical that your distance learner provider has a current and active social media presence.  

Sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are excellent resources for potential students to use to speak to other students about their experiences with the learning provider, as well as see the number of students that the learning provider is engaging with. LinkedIn is also a great way to see the profiles of employees and founders of the online college.  


It is always worth having a look at independent review sites before you sign up with any online college. This will give you an independent and impartial view of the experiences other students have had with the distant learning college. However, if there are only a few reviews and they are all glowing, then there may be some fabrication at work.