Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Online Application Fees

As global trade increases, fraudsters are presented with new opportunities to make money.  The influx of international students to US institutions of higher education has apparently created one such opportunity to commit fraud.  Want to create a fake school to scam international students out of application fees?  Simple--copy an existing school's web site, change the name of the institution and some other minor details, promote your school on international forums and blogs, and sit back and watch the application fees roll in.  Finally, send applicants a rejection letter/email after a few weeks and your bank account has suddenly gotten bigger with little concern that your victims will ever know they were scammed.

Except, you forgot one minor detail: google.  Imagine the surprise of administrators and faculty members at Reed College when they googled themselves and found that in addition to their positions at Reed, they also held positions at the prestigious University of Redwood.  Yes, the University of Redwood, "one of the nation's prominent institutions of the liberal arts and sciences."  Except for one minor detail--the University of Redwood doesn't exist.  Apparently, administrators at Reed College are working hard to get the University of Redwood web site taken down.  In the meantime, however, the web site likely continues to receive applications from unsuspecting victims.  Given the quality of the forgery, I can't say I blame applicants for thinking that the University of Redwood is a real school--especially international applicants who are much less likely to want to visit campus when considering prospective schools.  The WSJ notes:
Even Reed's history was stolen. "Redwood is named after the Oregon pioneers Simeon and Amanda Redwood," says the Redwood site. Reed is named after Oregon pioneers Simeon and Amanda Reed.
Given that the web site will likely be shut down soon, I wouldn't be surprised if those running the scam tried something more bold in a final attempt to extract money from victims of the fraud.  It wouldn't be difficult for the fraudsters to send out a few acceptances, asking for some upfront tuition payment as a condition of acceptance, or something of the sort.  Let's hope that word of the scam spreads quickly to those considering the University of Redwood as an institution of higher education.


  1. Is it at all possible to follow the money trail to the people who set up the fraudulent website? I would hope it would be possible to at least freeze the bank account where the money was being deposited.

  2. Ryan, the FBI could do what you suggest but normally they won't get involved in fraud cases until a large group of people are complaining about significant losses. With all the other things they are fighting, including the war on terror, this fraud is likely not even on their radar screen.