5 ways to protect against escalating tuition fraud

By Peter Butterfield
October 13th, 2016

Tips for institutions and students on how to protect against higher ed cyber crime via international tuition fraud.


It’s college tuition payment season—a stressful time for families, students and institutions.This year, that process has been especially stressful for international students who have been the targets of some unfortunate financial scams.

Like any form of payment, tuition is subject to cyber-crime. And because of the large size of tuition payments, they can be appealing targets for hackers. Foreign students are popular targets because they might be making a cross-border international tuition payment for the first time and are dealing with lots of unknowns as they prepare to attend school in a new country, adjust to a different culture away from home (possibly for the first time), and possibly converse in a non-native language.

And the US, Europe and Australia are the leading destinations for international higher education. There are approximately 975,000 international students in the US alone paying over $14 billion in tuition. Another 600,000 + spend $9.5 billion in Europe and Australia. Most of these students pay full fare making them even more attractive to schools–and to scammers.

All-Too-Real Examples

A recent scam targeting Chinese students was revealed at the University of Washington in Seattle. According to authorities, between 80 to 90 students were defrauded of tuition funds with losses potentially totaling approximately $1 million. A similar scam targeting Asian students happened at Michigan State University around the same time.

Posing as payment company representatives, the scammers offer students a 5 percent discount on their tuition and get students to provide their school login credentials. The scammers then make the tuition payment to the student’s account using a stolen credit card number. When the student receives confirmation from the school that his or her tuition has been paid, the scammer requests reimbursement from the student for the discounted amount by check or wire transfer. By the time the fraudulent tuition payment gets rejected and reversed, the scammers are long gone with the student’s money.

(Next page: More tuition fraud examples and how colleges, universities, and students can stop it)

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