Posted: Oct 20, 2011 11:49 AM
Updated: Dec 2, 2011 2:52 PM
MCALLEN - An offer for a high school diploma in a week is tricking some Valley residents.
You can find offers on the Internet for hundreds of online schools. If you don't read the fine print, you could have the same problem.
"I need to start over again," says Jocelyn Pena.
She's back at the bottom.
It isn't where she thought she'd be after getting her high school diploma.
Pena tells CHANNEL 5 NEWS she saw an ad in a local newspaper promising a diploma in one week.
"I called her, she says, 'It's better than a G.E.D. It's a high school diploma, and it's accepted on any job, government job, and it's accepted to go to college,'" says Pena.
She paid $450 to the company. Her diploma came from Enterprise High.
Pena is a single mom. She didn't have the money, so she took out a loan.
Pena tells CHANNEL 5 NEWS the notary public told her the test would take three days. She was ready to work hard, excited to learn and make the grade.
She waited for the call to start, but it never came.
"I get this letter from her with a confirmation that the test I passed, congratulations," says Pena.
She says she never even saw the test.
Pena tells CHANNEL 5 NEWS Celia Gonzalez took the test and told her the diploma was good at any college or work.
When Pena took the diploma to South Texas College, she was turned away.
"We've investigated. We saw the fine print. We looked into it. We found out this is not a true credential," says Mike Wilson, who oversees the G.E.D. program at South Texas College.
He says students walk into his office with this fake diploma all the time.
"Many in McAllen. There's many people who fall victim to this. I've heard of individuals who've gotten fired for providing this document they thought was a high school diploma," Wilson says.
He says people are taking advantage of the economic situation where people are desperate for jobs or college degrees.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS asked Wilson to take the online diploma test with us.
A screen with 100 questions pops up.
In the end, our score was just 16 out of 100. We failed the test, but we still got our diploma.
The fine print on the diploma says you can't hold Enterprise High liable for any damages if the diploma isn't accepted.
When we tried to contact the school, the number we found was to a fax line.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS then tracked down the Notary Public that helped Jocelyn Pena get her diploma.
We reached Celia Gonzalez on her cell phone.
"There's people who are working as substitute teachers; there's people working everywhere," she said.
When we asked for proof, she said she couldn't disclose their information.
Gonzalez tells CHANNEL 5 NEWS she only keeps $150 of the $450 she charges. That money is used for student use of her computer and Internet. She insists she only helps students take the test; she doesn't take it for them.
Gonzalez says she's done nothing wrong and refuses to give Jocelyn Pena her money back.
Pena just hopes her story will stop somebody else from having to start over like she did.
Gonzalez tells CHANNEL 5 NEWS she will be getting out of the diploma business because it's too much trouble.
Mike Wilson has left his job at South Texas College, but he says he's continuing his fight against online schools. He's pushing local congressmen to pass a law that would hold online schools to a stricter standard.
Jocelyn Pena is now working to file her case with the Attorney General's office and the Federal Trade Commission.