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School or Scam? [Infographic]

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Trisha Baxter


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College Scams: 9 of the Biggest Education Scams in History

Online College Scams

When you apply for college and financial aid, the last thing you would expect is to be part of a large scale scam. Unfortunately, criminal minds find ways to dig into the pockets of everyone, including students who need financial aid.

The infographic below shows some of the largest scale scams in higher education to date, including details on what happened with Trump University. You will also learn about the Shah brothers who hijacked 8 million email accounts from students in order to run a massive spam campaign which made them over 4 million dollars.

There are instances of financial aid being scammed, some bribery, as well as faked documents. If it’s shady, it seems that someone found a way to do it and make a lot of money at it. Maybe if these criminals had studied more they would have realized that getting caught was inevitable, as far too often there’s a paper trail to follow.

School or Scam? [Infographic]

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University of Missouri Phishing Scam

When: 2001

Victims: College students across the country

What: Brothers Amir and Osmaan Shah hijacked 8 million email addresses from students in 2,000 colleges across the U.S. They used this info to run a massive email marketing spam campaign, selling products and services from affiliates.

Size: Though they only had a 1% response rate, the Shah brothers made more than $4.1 million.

Rio Salada College Con

When: 2006

Victim: Rio Salada College financial office

What: Trenda Lynne Halton ran an illegal business faking documents like high school diplomas and tax forms that could be used to apply for Pell grants from Rio Salada College.

Size: Because Rio Salada is a distance learning school, it took them a while to realize that Halton and her customers had defrauded the school for $538,932 in student aid.

Multi-school Student Loan Scandal

When: 2007

Victims: Students with loans from specific colleges

What: Financial aid officers from 100 prestigious schools took bribes and gifts from private student loan lenders in exchange for recommending their companies.

Size: Students affected were eventually reimbursed a total of $3 million.

Federal Government Defrauded

When: 2011

Victims: The U.S. Department of Justice and states of California, Florida, Illinois and Indiana

What: The Education Management Corp., a Pittsburgh-based company, violated the Higher Education Act by giving admissions officials at colleges bonuses for bringing in unqualified students who would receive higher amounts of federal financial aid. Some students given this aid were illiterate or under the influence of drugs or enrolled in computer classes despite not owning a computer.

Size: The federal government ended up being defrauded for $11 billion.

St. Regis Scam

When: 2005

Victims: Customers and employers of those who presented fake degrees

What: Dixie and Steven Randock sold thousands of fake online degrees from various real universities, primarily St. Regis University in Liberia, to students from 131 countries. Recipients were presented fake degrees in education, medicine and engineering.

Size: The two made $6 million in profits before being caught and prosecuted in 2008.

Financial Aid Test Manipulation

When: 2008

Victims: Federal student aid programs

What: Sue Caldwell, a test proctor for the Ability to Benefit Program assessment test in Baltimore, changed scores to qualify students to receive federal grants.

Size: Caldwell helped 72 students illegally receive $572,255 in grant money before being sentenced to one year in prison.

Inmate Identity Theft

When: 2007-2009

Victims: Inmates at Leath Correctional Institution and Webster University

What: Michelle Owens, while confined at Leath Correctional Institution in South Carolina, filed 23 separate financial aid applications to Webster University using the names of other inmates.

Size: Owens requested a total of $467,500 in loans, eventually cashing some in for personal use before being caught.

Falsified Financial Aid Apps

When: 2008-2011

Victim: U.S. Department of Education

What: For-profit college United States University in San Diego pleaded guilty to falsifying financial aid applications for multiple students to receive federal Pell Grants. These students were not eligible for the funds, but a financial aid officer was complicit in changing information on applications to fit the grant restrictions.

Size: The university settled a civil suit for $686,720 in 2013, owed to the U.S. Department of Education.

Trump University

When: 2005-present

Victims: All of its students

What: The defendant in class-action lawsuits in New York and California, Trump University — now called The Trump Entrepreneur Initiative after coming under fire for not being an actual school — made lofty promises. Students paid over $20,000, and in some cases as high as $60,000, to receive industry secrets from Donald Trump himself and learn how to become successful business owners. Trump U is accused of encouraging students to enroll in increasingly expensive seminars to receive more and more “exclusive” information.

Size: The current New York lawsuit alone represents 5,000 former students suing for reimbursement.

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