Application, Enrollment and Financial Aid Fraud Mitigation Efforts

Application, Enrollment and Financial Aid Fraud Mitigation Efforts

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Fraud attempts against public sector entities have seen a dramatic increase since government initiatives began helping people struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic. This past summer, the California community colleges noticed an increase in frequency and sophistication of fraud attempts.

In light of this activity, a half-day virtual workshop was held on October 20 to provide a systemic  perspective on fraud and review the various strategies being put in place to confront  the issue.

Hosted by the Chancellor’s Office, in partnership with the CCC Technology Center and CCC Information Security Center, the workshop addressed the three distinct types of fraud California community colleges are encountering - application, enrollment, and financial aid. The workshop was attended by approximately 700 stakeholders throughout the state, including representatives from all 73 districts of the California Community Colleges.

As part of the day’s proceedings, there was a discussion of systemwide efforts to fully characterize and mitigate fraud holistically at the system and local levels while attending to equitable student access and institutional capacity. There was also a discussion about national trends on fraud from the U.S. Department of Education Office of the Inspector General (OIG). The agent provided a global perspective on fraud and an inside look at cases that have been successfully prosecuted. The OIG is currently investigating attacks on California community colleges, working with both the Chancellor’s Office and Tech Center, as well as colleges/districts.

Discussions included a look at what’s driving application fraud, current anti-fraud efforts by the CCC Technology Center and by individual colleges, as well as additional technology measures that are being studied for future deployment.

Demonstrating how one large district is dealing with the problem of student fraud, Chien Shih, Associate Vice Chancellor of IT and Operations at Foothill-De Anza Community College District, discussed a complex automated model that analyzes data from CCCApply and FAFSA submissions to generate “fraud scores” based on certain markers of suspicious activity. The data are further measured against registration patterns and Canvas activity, with built-in mechanisms to trigger student holds and restrict access to Canvas as necessary.

The Chancellor’s Office funds the CCC Information Security Center and supports a variety of centralized resources that can help colleges in the fight against fraud. An example of this support is the recent implementation of advanced bot protection software within CCCApply. Activated in July, the protection software immediately began detecting automated or “bot” bad actors who were trying to submit fraudulent applications and was able to automatically block the malicious activity . Additionally, two-factor authentication at the point of  account creation and recovery is part of the upcoming Student Success Suite release. This was discussed more in-depth during a follow-up on November 1, 2021. These sessions were not recorded due to the sensitive nature of the material, as such any system stakeholders requesting follow-up information should follow-up with Omer Usmani at the Security Center at ousmani@ccctechcenter.org.