By CBSLA Staff

WOODLAND HILLS (CBSLA) —While teaching her criminal justice class at Pierce College Kim Rich noticed something a bit off with some of her students. 

“It was very unusual how everything was being done,” said Rich. “The discussions were identical. The assignments were identical and I just felt something was off.”

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With her law enforcement background, Rich discovered that at least 30% of her students were fake and possibly stealing financial aid money. After looking at a class roster, Rich believes 40 of her students were fake, one of whom, listed their name as “5100,” and another using a fake identity. 

According to the class roster, unbeknownst to her, Quiannia Wilson was enrolled at Pierce College for the fall semester. However, the individual who stole the St. Louis woman’s identity used a photo of her sister Latasha Wilson — who died in 2012. Rich is also concerned that with these fake students stealing financial aid and spots in class, other students are being left behind. 

“There are students out there who do need financial aid,” she said. There are students who cannot get into our classes because they’re full of fake students.”

Joe Moreau, vice-chancellor of technology at the Foothill DeAnza Community College, believes that this was a plot to steal some of the billions of dollars in federal financial aid that was meant for students affected by the pandemic.

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“Yeah they are crooks,” said Moreau. “They have no interest in education. They’re here to steal money.”

After scammers hit DeAnza, Moreau studied their tactics and hopes to prevent it from happening at other schools. 

“They pose as a legitimate student,” he said. “They register for classes and apply for financial aid. If they do it right…A college or district will pay them financial aid funds and then they disappear.”

The fake students have hit community colleges all over the state. A spokesperson for the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s office said they’re committed to preventing and identifying fraud but don’t have a comprehensive picture of what may be occurring. They said they have identified about 20% of their online application traffic is malicious and bot-related. 

The Los Angeles Community College District which Pierce College is a part of said they are aggressively reviewing and pursuing all issues related to questionable, suspicious and/or fraudulent enrollments and financial aid applications.

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The full statements of the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s office and Los Angeles Community College District can be read here.