January 28, 2015 • Jerod Gunsberg, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer
With the rise in popularity of distance education and online colleges and universities, federal authorities have turned their attention to investigation and prosecuting student loan fraud. Under 20 USC 1097, if $200 or more of funds are disbursed through any fraudulent activity you will likely be charged with a federal felony (less than $200 in loss is a federal misdemeanor). The felony charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $20,000.
If you are approached by an Inspector General from the Department of Education about your role in any suspected student loan fraud, you should contact a qualified criminal defense attorney immediately. Make no mistake, talking to an investigator from the Department of Education is no different than talking to a special agent from the FBI, DEA, Secret Service, or any other federal agency. They are federal law enforcement officers and they are investigating a crime.
The main focus of investigations of distance learning student loan fraud involve allegations of “straw person” students. These straw students are asked to provide their personal information to a third party or fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid in exchange for a percentage of the financial aid received. The third party then enrolls the person in an online university and receives the money. If the straw student does not actually participate in the online education program, then both the third party and the straw student could be charged with a student loan fraud.
You’re probably wondering how the government can even figure this out. After all, it’s online education. The enrollment is unlimited and it’s not like anyone knows who is actually doing or not doing the work, right? Well, online colleges and universities have put in safeguards and fraud detection systems. According to the Office of the Inspector General, indicators of fraud include increased activity in:
- Use of the same Internet Protocol (lP) address to complete and submit an admissions application
- Use of the same IP address to participate in the on-line academic program
- Use of the same e-mail address to submit an admissions application
- Use of the same e -mail address to participate in the on-line academic program
- Appear to reside in a geographic location that is anomalous to the locations of most students in the program.
(Source: Office of the Inspector General)
Many schools now have automated systems in place that automatically report any suspected fraud activities to school administrators. If they believe fraud has occurred, the administrators will then inform the Department of Education who will then put an Inspector General on the case.
Bottom line: If you or a loved one is being investigated for student loan fraud, you should contact a qualified criminal defense attorney immediately. You can contact the Law Offices of Jerod Gunsberg at (323) 633-3423 or by via the secure contact form on this page to for a free and confidential consultation.