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Last Updated: Saturday, 5 May 2007, 01:54 GMT 02:54 UK
Fake students net loan millions
By Matthew Chapman
Five Live Report

Student Loans Company HQ
Student Loans Company accepted birth ceriticates as identity proof
Criminal gangs have obtained millions of pounds in student loans by enrolling "ghost students" in universities, a BBC investigation has found.

The University admissions body, Ucas, has recorded a large increase in suspected fraud to 1,500 cases in 2006.

One fraudster enrolled himself on five different degree courses at the same university and had 17 fake identities.

He collected student loans worth 65,595. His conviction has highlighted flaws in the loans system.

Ucas is to double the size of its anti-fraud team to cope with the rise in financial fraud.

It has also identified a further 1,000 applications as being suspicious and has alerted universities.

Warning

For years the Student Loans Company has accepted a birth certificate as a proof of identity to obtain annual loans of up to 6,000 per student.

This was despite a warning written on all birth certificates that they should not be accepted as proof of identity.

We are talking about a criminal industry, a large scale criminal industry
Paul Taylor
Council investigator
In the light of a recent court case, the Department for Education and Skills now requires applicants to provide details of a character witness as well.

"We strive to make it as straightforward as possible for genuine students to access the funds they need to pursue their studies," said Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell.

"But we will be vigilant in preventing and detecting fraud, and will vigorously pursue those who try to defraud us."

Fake identities

One of the largest frauds so far perpetrated against the Student Loans Company began with the theft of 850 blank birth certificates from a register office in Erewash in Derbyshire in 2005.

So far the Metropolitan Police says more than 200 of these certificates have been used to create fake identities and claim student loans.

The government-owned Student Loans Company will not say how much money it has lost in this single fraud but investigators say the figure could reach 1.2m.

The recent case of Adeleke Adebayo, dubbed "the fat man" by investigators, finally prompted the education department to introduce stricter rules for would-be students applying for loans.

Despite being 22 stone and 5ft 8in tall, Adebayo, 32, was able to walk around one of the UK's largest universities, London Metropolitan, and enrol for five different degree courses using five bogus identities.

Jailed

In total he created 17 separate identities and signed himself up for courses at universities across the UK.

He was allowed to enrol as a first year student and then again for a second year despite never attending lectures or taking an exam.

Adebayo lived in a council flat in Dagenham, East London and used part of his 65,000 of loans to buy himself a top-of-the-range BMW.

This March he was sentenced to four years in jail alongside his girlfriend who was sentenced to 18 months in jail for also creating bogus identities and fraudulently obtaining student loans.

London Metropolitan University said it did not comment on matters relating to individual students.

Several fraud cases have also highlighted the fact that some universities are breaking an agreement to pass all applications through Ucas and its anti-fraud computer program. To save time they are enrolling students directly.

Adebayo was one of these students and it has emerged that last year, London Metropolitan University bypassed Ucas and enrolled more than 2,000 students directly.

London Metropolitan said in a statement that it did not recognise the figures. It said it was aware of many identified fraudsters who had been through the Ucas system.

'Criminal industry'

A BBC investigation has uncovered a series of cases across the country.

In one operation, Luton Council raided eight addresses and broke up a gang attempting to obtain 100,000 in student loans.

"We are talking about a criminal industry, a large scale criminal industry," said the council's lead investigator, Paul Taylor.

The fraud cases have also highlighted how universities often have little idea who their students are, and whether they are even attending classes.

In one case currently under investigation a suspected fraudster was allowed to enrol for three successive years at a university - despite never attending lectures or taking exams.

The Five Live Report: The Phantom Students Fraud is broadcast at 11am on Sunday 6 May on the Julian Worricker Show on BBC Radio Five Live.




SEE ALSO
Student loan payment 'con' denied
24 Apr 07 |  Education
Adult students 'should get loans'
19 Mar 07 |  Education
Students 'need financial advice'
15 Jan 07 |  Education
Q&A: Student fees
14 Feb 07 |  Education

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