Ghost students invade online classes

Scammers enroll for the purpose of getting financial aid.

A+huge+amount+of+canvas+courses+show+signs+of+fraudulent+students.

Photoillustration by Michael Benedian

A huge amount of canvas courses show signs of fraudulent students.

Michael Benedian, Editor-in-Chief

A scheme involving fake students and financial aid disbursements affected many of the colleges in California last year and now Los Medanos College is facing this issue this semester. In an email sent out by Natalie Hannum, Vice President of Instruction, said that a recent survey indicated 530 sections which have students that are enrolled in but have never logged in or engaged with the course. This is being seen as a potential sign of fraudulent enrollment and professors are being asked to drop those students as they could be involved in this scam.

Ghost students is a term that describes these scammers that are enrolling into online courses just for financial aid. Most of these scammers use information like phone numbers and the names of unsuspecting victims and even the information of people who have died to seem more legitimate. By doing so, they’re able to pass as a student and enroll into asynchronous classes, making it more difficult for them to be caught.

This is an issue that has cost taxpayers millions of dollars and during the pandemic has taken COVID-19 relief funds from people who really needed it. This not only affects them but also students too who may have not been able to sign up for a section they needed because it was filled. Not only that, but ghost students who enroll into online courses mess up the data that is gathered which could lead to colleges making the wrong decisions on the curriculum taught based on false information.

Depending on the section affected and just how many ghost students enrolled into them, online courses might even find themselves at risk of cancellation due to the amount of actual students enrolled, but this is not a cause for concern. Tanisha Maxwell, Vice President of Student Services, has said that LMC is past the point in the semester where full-term classes would be canceled so courses that were affected, even small ones, are not currently at risk.

“The goal for future sections will be to drop no shows early enough so that the perpetrator cannot get financial aid and the seats in the classes are left open for real students who want to learn and truly need the financial aid resources,” Maxwell said.

Tammy Oranje, Acting Financial Aid Director, has said this situation shouldn’t have any effects on students who rely on financial aid for classes. To help further fight against fraud in online courses, Hannum has urged professors to see the Districtwide Guidance on Online Attendance for tips on ensuring engagement and attendance in their course.

“As a college, we take the responsibility of protecting the program’s integrity seriously and work together to ensure we do all we can to prevent financial aid fraud, including collaborating with outside agencies such as the Chancellor’s Office and the Office of Inspector General,” said Oranje. “Financial aid fraud is considered a crime, and anyone who provides false information to receive grants or loans could face up to one year in prison and/or a maximum fine of $10,000.”