65,000+ fake students enrolled in the California junior college system

Openbooks.substack brings us the story:

Every few days, Professor Kim Rich looks through new student registrations for the Los Angeles Community College District, including at Pierce College where she teaches criminal justice, and sees hundreds of newly created fake student enrollments.

In our conversations with Rich, she told us that It’s been going on for months.

Hackers enroll the fake students and collect up to $900 million in financial aid and Covid-19 aid each semester. However, no one seems to know for sure the sheer scale of the fraud.

These fake students, usually created by bots, open new accounts using easy-to-spot fake names like Barack Obama, Donald Trump or duplicate first names — Clifford Clifford, Jordan Jordan, Sidney Sidney, Kamara All of the above and fivethousandonehundredseven — names with questions marks or names with numbers.

New fake accounts are created, the fake students enroll in classes, taking seats away from actual students hoping to enroll in those classes. The fake accounts also “qualify” for financial aid.

Rich recently saw 1,000 new student IDs issued under five days and 386 were obviously fake, as duplicated names. There were probably many more that were fake, she said.

The average student in the junior college system gets $5,000 in federal grants.

Rich estimates conservatively that 10 percent of enrolled students — 180,000 out of the 1.8 million students at all 116 California Community Colleges — are fake. If each of those receive an average of $5,000 in financial aid, the cost is up to $900 million for a single semester.

But Rich says that’s a truly conservative estimate — most rosters she reviewed have more than 10 percent fake students. The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office said in August 2021 that about 20 percent of the traffic for the system-wide student application system, CCCApply, is “malicious and bot-related.”

“Even if it’s creating an .edu email account to get Apple discounts, which people do, that’s fraud,” Rich said, also speculating that some email scammers were committing  financial aid fraud as well.

While she keeps an eye on this in LACCD, recording the new fake accounts as they pop up, the problem has spread like wildfire throughout California’s community college system.

Hackers aren’t hiding their efforts

In a YouTube video, a hacker named “Targetter” applies through CCCApply and walks his 70,000 viewers through the process of creating an .edu email using a bot. He shows the process of “enrolling” at one of four listed California community colleges — Contra Costa College, Mt. San Jacinto College, San Francisco City College and Sacramento City College.

He shows the bot automatically filling out a Contra Costa College application with fake personal information, and within seven minutes, he has enrolled at Contra Costa College as Ivan N. Atkinson for the fall 2020 term.

65,000 fake student enrollments – but, no one wants to clean up the books

In September 2021, the California Student Aid Commission told the LA Times “it had identified more than 65,000 applications for aid from purported community college students that appear to be fake, lending credence to the idea that scammers are seeking to get their hands on state grants.”

That month the chancellor’s office said any student accounts associated with fraudulent activity will be suspended. Last June, colleges also added bot-detection software and a new policy required colleges to confirm if applications deemed as “likely fraud” are from real students or not within two weeks.

Unless colleges confirm the applicants are actual students, the application will be automatically deemed as confirmed fraud and eliminated from the system, the LA Times reported that Valerie Lundy-Wagner, interim vice chancellor of digital innovation and infrastructure, told colleges.

But Rich said this isn’t happening.

One is tempted to remark that in many cases they are getting a fake education anyway.


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