People may embellish or include outright lies on a resume to get a job. In fact, giving false information about having obtained a degree is one of the most common problems employers find with resumes. Verifying an applicant's educational history helps you establish the person's credibility and feel secure about hiring.
Because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a school cannot divulge a student's academic information to a third party unless the student gives written consent. Some colleges tell you attendance dates and whether the student graduated, so you should call the registrar's office first. If that fails or you want more detailed information, you can ask the applicant to request that the school send you an official transcript, which lists courses, grades and degrees conferred. A second option is to hire a company that does background checks for a fee.
If the person presents you with a diploma and you cannot verify the information otherwise, there are signs to look for in determining the diploma's veracity. If you do not recognize the name of the school, it might be a diploma mill -- an organization that sells diplomas without making students go through classes. Check for the name of the school in the U.S. Department of Education's database of accredited schools. Look carefully at the name. You should also examine in what order multiple degrees were received and how long it took to get them. Most undergraduate degrees require at least three years to complete, and most students need at least one year for each graduate degree. A markedly faster pace may indicate fraud.