As if dealing with massive budget cuts and a growing number of students weren’t enough, the College of the Canyons Financial Aid and Scholarships Office has a new problem to tackle.
Financial aid fraud has increased dramatically over the last year, prompting the office to change certain policies and learn the trademarks of specific scams.
“With the increase of students that are applying for financial aid, obviously there are areas that would increase as well,” said Tom Bilbruck, director of the COC financial aid office. In just three years, the college has gone from having 4,000 students applying for financial aid to 12,000.
One common scheme is when scammers show up to the first day of classes, knowing they can no longer be dropped, and never returning to class again. Other methods include identity theft and false information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), with both fabrications leading to thousands of dollars in grants and loans for scammers.
“We’ve seen an increase in all of those areas,” Bilbruck said, adding that the college is liable for every penny that is given to scammers. “It costs a significant amount of money to the college.”
Six figures is how much the school lost in 2010, according to Bilbruck, which is still just a chunk compared to the $22 million in grants and loans it dished out. But now in 2011, the office is working with faculty and law enforcement to curb the number of fraud cases, which are also felonies.
“If a student is not attending their class or a student never showed up to the class, we want them to drop them from the roster,” Bilbruck said. That’s because all enrolled students are automatically dispersed the funds that they applied for.
The office also uses both federal and local law enforcement agencies like the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, both of which Bilbruck said are very useful, considering his lack of a large staff.
“If your intent is to not go to school, this is not a place to come looking for handouts,” Bilbruck said, “and we do actively pursue any cases of federal financial aid fraud.”