Financial aid fraud hits close to home

College of Marin recently became the latest victim of financial aid fraud, which has been a continuing problem both locally and nationally.

“Across the country, colleges face students attempting to get aid (typically Pell grants) without actually attending,” College of Marin’s Vice President of Student Services, Jonathan Eldridge, said. “This often happens with online courses, where students will register, get the aid, and then either walk away or drop the course—and then move on to another institution. Sometimes there are “ringleaders” who steal or otherwise obtain a number of individuals’ information and register them in the course so as to get more aid. In our specific instance, two faculty members noticed that a number of their students shared the same contact information. This led to further investigation, which is still ongoing.”

Financial aid fraud can occur for multiple reasons and students can access each other’s personal information in a variety of different ways. Director of Financial Aid services, Regina Morrison, recommends the website, which lists various ways that students’ personal information can be obtained by criminals, such as through mail theft and internet scams. The website also gave advice on how students can protect themselves from identity theft in general.

To prevent financial aid fraud on campus the financial aid office started enforcing stricter policies last year.

“Any student that comes to the Financial Aid window must have a valid picture ID before information will be given or documents accepted,” Morrison said. “No faxed documents will be accepted to complete a student’s file, all documents must be submitted in person, or if documents are mailed to the FAO, the student must attach a photo copy of a valid picture ID.“

Many students benefit from financial aid, both at Skyline and nationwide, making fraud a large problem for schools. Students often require financial assistance for school supplies, textbooks and class registration fees. For some students, college would not be an option otherwise.

“I think we benefit, especially those of us who are low income like myself, greatly,” Skyline student Megan Mather said. “Personally I get the full amount, so that’s helping me with my books and registration and everything like that. It would be cost prohibitive if we didn’t get it. I would not be able to go to school without financial aid.”

Although financial aid is taken advantage of at times, it can be critical to students who actually need it.

“Not only can I use the money for books, but anything in regards to school, like transportation fees,” student Ricardo Buzo said. “It’s not just set only on just books, you know, because there’s other necessities that one has to really take in mind.”