Antelope Valley College officials identified nine potentially fraudulent student applications with a distribution of $5,000 in financial aid.

LANCASTER — The Antelope Valley College disbursed more than $2.8 million to 4,739 students, of which nine were identified as potentially fraudulent, with a distribution of $5,000, college officials said.

The California Community College Chancellor’s Office circulated an Aug. 30 memo to the state’s 116 community college chief executive officers in regard to new security measures used to combat the threat from bots posing as possible community college students to gain access to financial aid and COVID-19 relief grants.

Patrick Perry of the California Student Aid Commission told the Los Angeles Times that the number of suspected fake financial aid applications had surpassed 65,000. The story also identified a specific group — first-time community college applicants older than 30, who earned less than $40,000 a year and who were seeking a two-year degree.

Perry declined to comment further in an email to the Antelope Valley Press, saying the suspected fraud is now an ongoing investigation.

AV College was one of five California community colleges mentioned in the Times story as having a high number of these applicants.

AV College officials concluded this latest variant of potential fraud was different from past scenarios. They shared information with their peers and sought guidance from the chancellor’s office. They became aware of the latest fraud during the summer 2021 session, where officials saw unusual patterns in enrollment and drops for non-attendance. They put together a working group, reached out to peer institutions and built a new analytical tool to identify and evaluate potential fraudulent enrollment.

“Fraud detection and mitigation is a continual process for Antelope Valley College,” Executive Director of Information Technology Services Rick Shaw said in a statement. “When the offenders find new ways to try and exploit the system, we adjust our criteria to detect fraudulent information. We’ve been working with the Chancellor’s Office and their technology center for years to refine their application system in identifying and excluding fraudulent applications, and attempts to enroll.”

AV College officials attributed the bloated 65,000 number of suspected fraudulent applications to repeat efforts across multiple colleges/districts, attempting to leverage COVID Relief dollars for students.

Applying a wider age range to the California Student Aid Commission numbers, starting at 20 years old and up, shows 4,125 applications at the start of the fall 2021 term; an increase of almost 2,800 applications for AV College, officials said.

AV College officials identified 540 actual enrollments that were suspicious, using their new criteria.

The list was referred to the college’s Financial Aid and Admissions and Records Office, who put holds on their accounts and worked through their processes for eligibility verification.

Eleven of that number were actual students, or what officials labeled as a false positive based on their criteria. According to college officials, no money was awarded during Fall 20-21 to fraudulent enrollments.

As for the $5,000 awarded to the potentially nine fraudulent accounts, Rafael Chávez, a public information officer with the California Community College Chancellor’s Office, wrote in an email Tuesday, that AV College is responsible for recovering the lost money.

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