Scammers sign up for the purpose of obtaining financial assistance.
A scheme involving fake students and financial aid payments affected many colleges in California last year and now Los Medanos College is facing this issue this semester. In an email from Natalie Hannum, vice president of instruction, said a recent survey indicated 530 sections that have students enrolled but never logged in or engaged in the course. This is seen as a potential sign of enrollment fraud and teachers are advised to drop such students as they may be involved in this scam.
Ghost students is a term that describes those scammers who enroll in online courses just for financial aid. Most of these scammers use information such as phone numbers and names of unsuspecting victims and even information of deceased people to appear more legitimate. By doing so, they can pass as students and enroll in asynchronous courses, making them harder to catch.
It’s an issue that has cost taxpayers millions of dollars and, during the pandemic, taken COVID-19 relief funds from people who really need it. This affects not only them, but also students who may not have been able to enroll in a section they needed because it was full. Not only that, but ghost students enrolling in online courses mess up the collected data, which could lead colleges to make poor decisions about the taught curriculum based on false information.
Depending on the section concerned and the number of ghost students enrolled in it, online courses might even find themselves at risk of cancellation due to the number of real students enrolled, but this is not a cause for concern. Tanisha Maxwell, vice president of student services, said LMC has passed the point in the semester where full-time classes would be canceled, so classes that have been affected, even smaller ones, are not currently at risk.
“The focus of future sections will be on not showing up early enough that the author cannot get financial aid and that class places are left open to genuine students who want to learn and really need the financial aid resources,” Maxwell said.
Tammy Oranje, acting director of financial aid, said this should not affect students who rely on financial aid for tuition. To help further combat fraud in online courses, Hannum urged professors to consult the district’s guidance on online participation for guidance on how to ensure engagement and participation in their course.
“As a college, we take the responsibility to protect the integrity of the program seriously and work together to ensure that we do everything we can to prevent financial aid fraud, including working with outside agencies such as the chancellor’s office and the inspector general’s office,” Oranje said. “Financial aid fraud is considered a felony, and anyone who provides false information to receive grants or loans could face up to a year in jail and/or a maximum fine of $10,000.”