04 Dec 2012

Fraud in the admissions office: what to look for

Dishonest acts by persons in positions of trust in academia are few and far between, but when they do occur, they send shock waves throughout the profession. Disclosure of internal fraud at an institution affects the good name of that institution, and it will take many, many years to regain the public’s trust. So what can you do to protect your admissions office from fraud?

Fraud, regrettably, can come from within your admissions office. Some examples of inside fraud include an incident at Touro College, New York City where several office officials accepted bribes from students to alter grades, and sold university diplomas and records to non-students. This fraud was reported, investigated, and involved students and outside ‘buyers’, with several degrees being rescinded, and several employees being arrested and convicted.

Another incident occurred at Southern University, Baton Rouge, LA. For eight years, an admissions officer was paid by students to change 541 grades, and alter their records. Best estimates are that over 2500 individual grades were affected. Degrees to 10 persons were revoked, 27 more lost credits, and institution employees were arrested.

An outside job

External fraud is more frequent than internal fraud, both in the number of instances and potential monetary losses. With the advent of the internet and modern printing technology, the fraudster no longer needs an entire printing shop to manufacture his fraudulent documents. Now, he can design and print these documents at home, maybe even on his kitchen table. Internet offerings today range from documents produced by diploma mills to counterfeit diplomas and student records, probably even in the name of your institution. In addition, many ‘providers’ offer envelopes bearing your institution’s return address to be used in conjunction with their counterfeit records. Several fraudsters even offer a ‘verification service’ by facsimile (at an additional charge of course).

Most of the counterfeiters offer counterfeit diplomas and records in names of colleges and universities both in the USA, and throughout the world. Some web sites even specialise in counterfeits from specific countries, while others even offer counterfeit passports. The main thing to remember here is that anything that can be printed is available for sale at a price. Beware!

Fraud prevention tips

Counterfeit records and diplomas end up in your office as purported genuine academic documents, received from potential students, or from employers for verification. To protect yourself, and your institution, there are a number of steps you can take:

  1. Implement strict controls: Accessibility and accountability for your blank record papers and diplomas leads to vulnerability. Dual control should be utilised and strict inventory controls exercised at all times.
  2. Secure your stock: All institutions are vulnerable through stolen or counterfeited cheques and credit cards. All stock must be secured, under dual control, and monthly statements reviewed, then audited by third parties.
  3. Experience is key: Assign a veteran employee (not the new hire) to the task of handling incoming academic documents. Take advantage of their experience in your office.
  4. Be proactive: Stay abreast of what’s available for sale on the internet today. The more familiar you are with what is available, the better you can protect your institution. Conduct internet searches regarding ‘novelty diplomas and transcripts’, ‘counterfeit diplomas and records’, etc. Make copies and examine the sample diplomas and student records that the websites display. Look at their printing techniques and styles, typesetting, security paper used, stamps, seals, signatures, etc.
  5. Take action: Consider contacting the fraudster as a ‘potential customer’, inquiring if documents in the name of your institution are available, even asking to see a sample of what you are about to purchase. Of course, you do not have to actually make a purchase, thus no money spent. Now, notify your legal department, and/or law enforcement. Knowledge is power!
  6. Be prepared: Create a file containing copies (or originals if you have them) of legitimate diplomas and student records from the institutions most frequently received. Then, prepare another file of all fraudulent documents received. If you have determined the source of these documents, make a note of this too. Never alter the original suspect document. If practical, always attach the incoming envelope to the suspect document. This can be proof of Mail Fraud. You can use these assembled documents to quantify the problem and use them for future training materials in your office. When you take a step back and look at the documents you have assembled, you will be surprised at how the similarities will jump out at you.
  7. Read between the lines: When examining suspect documents, first look at the overall appearance of the document, ‘Does it look real?’  Does it look like the other documents you review daily? Look at the overall typeset and layout. Are there broken lines from use of correction fluid? Do the grades just look too good? Is there information on the student record which should not be there, or is information missing?

Following these tips could help you to protect yourself and your institution!

By Allen Ezell, retired FBI Agent

  • Good article. It’s disappointing that there are those who would go to such an extent to enter an institution that could lead to such terrible consequences. It also ruins opportunities for genuine students and makes them miss out in the end.

  • doreen

    This article is extremely good. All admissions personnel should read.In order for one to stay ahead of the games the advice given in the article must be followed. Any other tips anyone?

  • This article is really interesting. Great to hear it from the other point of view. People always talk about “how to tackle the issue of fraudulent courses” etc, but never about the people who get caught up in it. Thanks

    The whole issue isn’t going to resolve itself until everybody involved drops their shoulders a bit and works together. I wrote about it here: http://www.i-studentglobal.com/study-regions/canada/international-education-despite-border-agencies

  • In addition to academic fraud, I would also beware of financial documentation fraud from prospective international students who must prove sufficient funds prior to their visa approval. One U.S. consular officer noted publicly that he often ignores most paperwork at the student interview, as “you can read much more in the faces of the visa applicants, rather than the sheets of paper in front of them.” Fortunately, secure electronic systems are emerging to address the issue.

  • It is really nice article with details & tips for prevention of shameful issue in education sector. I think writer has disclosed many things with prevention tips.