Fraudulent Student Accounts

Dear Campus Community, 

Since the late spring quarter, diligent faculty, staff, and administrators have identified potentially fraudulent student accounts enrolled in classes for the summer and fall quarters. We know this has caused stress on:

·         Students who were artificially limited in available class offerings and potentially locked out of necessary classes. 

·         Faculty and Advisors who navigated classes that appeared to be full, although they knew some of the students enrolled were not actually attending.  

·         Staff and Advisors who sought to support real students trying to enroll in full classes and understood there was a problem. 
 

What we know so far: 

A preliminary investigation has revealed patterns in these potentially fraudulent accounts which appear to be generated by automated software (i.e., “bots”) using Shoreline’s application system. These “students” are admitted to the college and then register for classes, typically for those without any pre-requisites. Shoreline’s Office of Institutional Assessment and Data Management (IADM) has created an initial report of “suspect” accounts based on the identified patterns, which revealed 240 potentially fraudulent accounts enrolled in the summer quarter and 831 enrolled in the fall quarter. 

The motivation behind this activity appears to be financial aid fraud, in particular emergency aid funded through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. We also know that this type of fraudulent activity has affected community colleges throughout Washington and nationally. The State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) is aware and is working to gather information from all area colleges about the patterns of enrollment and possible security and business process measures that can be implemented state-wide to minimize the threat of this type of fraud. 
 

Actions taken so far: 

A Shoreline Fraud Investigation Team, which includes staff from eLearning, Enrollment Services, Financial Aid, IADM, Student Support, and Technology Support Services (TSS) was created and moved quickly to respond. Their first priority was to identify all fraudulent accounts enrolled in the fall quarter and then drop them from classes to free up spots for legitimate student enrollment. As a result, the College dropped the first-tier of 239 fall quarter students, whose accounts fit identified patterns of fraud, on Monday, August 1. Additionally, the team has identified and is assessing a second-tier of 100 fall quarter students and will – most likely – drop them on Thursday, August 4. 

The Fraud Investigation Team will continue to review the remaining 492 suspect accounts to verify whether they are or are not legitimate. They are also developing additional procedures to automatically identify and shut down these fraudulent accounts, drop them from classes, and prevent any disbursement of financial aid. The College will also report these fraudulent accounts to SBCTC, and in cases where any fraudulent accounts received financial aid funds, to the Office of Inspector General
 

Looking ahead: 

While the Fraud Investigation Team continues to develop a process for a full review of fraudulent student accounts enrolled in fall quarter, they will also review, investigate, and take appropriate action on suspect student accounts enrolled in summer quarter. 

The process for a full review of these fraudulent accounts will be based on the following: 

·         Effort 1: Communicate with the State Board to identify automated system-wide mechanisms to flag these students before we process their applications. Shoreline’s Acting Director of TSS Gavin Smith is coordinating this effort. 

·         Effort 2: Create a fraud review report to help the College proactively identify fraudulent accounts before they can register for classes and apply for financial aid.  

·         Effort 3: Identify a list of ‘red flags’ that can be used by faculty and staff to identify fraudulent accounts that may be currently enrolled in classes and eventually remove them from these classes. 

How can I help? 

The Fraud Investigation Team is confident that the students dropped from classes on August 1 and who will be dropped on August 4 are not real students. However, if a student reaches out to you because they were incorrectly dropped, please advise them to contact Enrollment Services at enrollmentservices@shoreline.edu   

If you suspect you may have fraudulent student accounts enrolled in your class, please contact support@shoreline.edu with the subject line Fraudulent Student Account. Please include the following information in your message: 

·         Student name(s); Student ctcLink ID(s); Course name(s); ctcLink class numbers; and why you think they are fraudulent 

Please look for additional information as we continue to learn more and adjust the process. If you have any questions, please contact Amy Rovner, Chippi Bello, or Joe Chiappa at support@shoreline.edu. Thanks to all of you who have done your own research on this issue, alerted your supervisor and/or colleagues, and for the support you provide every day to our students. 

Sincerely,

Phillip J. King, Ed.D.

Vice President for Student Learning, Equity, and Success

Shoreline Community College

pking@shoreline.edu

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