Fullerton College has dropped approximately 4,130 fake student accounts since the Summer 2021 semester. Faculty uncovered a financial aid scam with the goal of illicit payments reserved for financial aid recipients. Over $1 million in financial aid funds has been stopped from being dispersed to fraudulent students.
Administration of Justice Professor and former police officer Kelly Robertson was one of the first faculty members to recognize unusual activity when she sent a welcome email to students and assigned the first assignment, with no response from half of the class.
Robertson searched through the roster to find other means of contacting the phantom students. She suspected registered students without alternative emails, phone numbers and unfamiliar names were not actual students. Robertson reported it in February 2021, and Admissions and Records dropped the accounts.
Substantial data tipped off Admissions and Records of the ongoing financial aid fraud, such as the “unusual patterns” seen in student registrations, Fullerton College Director of Campus Communications Lisa McPheron said.
In many cases of fraudulent students, their email addresses had similar characteristics, and their residences were located in Northern California.
Classes were substantially impacted at the start of the summer semester. This led Admissions and Records to drop 3,000 suspected fraudulent students a week before the start of classes and halted the release of more than $1 million in financial aid payments.
“Fraudulent groups take away from real students, and it’s important that we preserve these funds for students,” Director of Financial Aid Greg Ryan said. Ryan credited the work of many departments who came together to do the heavy lifting in analyzing and verifying student information.
Ryan is pleased the fraudulent activity was discovered before they made any financial aid payments to students. If caught later, the college would have been responsible for paying back these payments to the Federal Education Department.
Open enrollment doesn’t require an application fee, and remote learning made it easier for malicious actors who didn’t need to attend class in person. This affected students’ ability to enroll in classes because seats were being filled.
VP of Instruction Dr. Jose Nunez sent a memo to faculty last month that outlined requirements for student participation during the first two weeks of the semester to ensure students are in attendance and participating.
Nunez said the college is examining the amount of newly registered students. If any piece of information seems suspicious, registration will be withheld and the student will be contacted.
“Fullerton College Admissions and Records and Financial Aid departments are recognized across the state because of their work,” said Nunez.
Nunez acknowledged it was the vigilance of many departments working together to ensure students receive the aid they need, and the money doesn’t go into the hands of criminals.
Suspected fraud should be immediately reported to the Office of Inspector General hotline at 1-800-MIS-USED (1-800-647-8733).