The California Community College system is investigating an admissions and financial aid scam involving “bot” students enrolled in courses and fraudulent financial aid applications, the Los Angeles Times reported. The fraud makes it difficult for colleges to assess fall enrollment numbers after a year of declines during the pandemic.
Patrick Perry, director of policy, research and data with the California Student Aid Commission, told the Times he believes there could be upward of 65,000 false financial aid applications, though officials caught the issue early enough that money likely has not been distributed to scammers.
He said he became suspicious several weeks ago when 60,000 more first-time applicants to California Community Colleges of a certain age range and income group applied for financial aid for two-year programs compared to last year. All were age 30 and above with annual salaries of less than $40,000.
The colleges experienced irregular admissions activity, as well. The system found that 20 percent of recent traffic on its main online application portal was “malicious and bot-related,” according to a memo written by Valerie Lundy-Wagner, interim vice chancellor of digital innovation and infrastructure. Faculty members also started to suspect some of their students were actually fake bot accounts.
“We were looking at the financial aid and they were looking at applications for enrollment,” Perry told the Times, referring to the colleges. “And we finally put the two together. The two just matched up and at that point we went, ‘Yeah, this is fraudulent.’”