Education's 'Mystery Shoppers' Fraud Stoppers? $40,000 Laid out to Check College Aid

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 16, 2012 | Go to article overview

Education's 'Mystery Shoppers' Fraud Stoppers? $40,000 Laid out to Check College Aid


Byline: Jim McElhatton, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Department of Education has dispatched mystery shoppers posing as prospective students to various colleges and universities across the country - an anti-fraud initiative that came months after another agency dumped a similar plan amid criticism that it amounted to spying.

The undercover operation to root out student-aid fraud went unannounced by federal education officials, but spending records show it began last summer not long after the Department of Health and Human Services scrapped its own mystery shopper program.

Education Department officials declined to discuss the mystery shopping program, but an $18,300 task order paid out on a contract in September provides more detail about the hiring.

"The issuance of this task order will help the department identify misrepresentation and fraud .. the department has instituted a mystery shopping program that will potentially expose deceptive practices and misrepresentations by higher

education institutions," the task order states

The department awarded the contract in August to Second to None Inc. and Confero Inc. While contract records say it has a maximum value of $1 million, only a fraction of that amount has paid out with about $40,000 in task orders issued so far, according to spending records reviewed by The Washington Times. The documents don't say which schools the mystery shoppers visited.

Mystery shopping represents a new form of oversight conducted by the Education Department, which had conducted program reviews and relied on tips from school employees and whistleblower lawsuits to uncover fraud.

In addition, the department has its own office of inspector general, an independent agency with a budget of more than $60 million that is tasked with uncovering fraud. Undercover techniques aren't new to the inspector general's office, either. In a 2007 investigation into federal student-aid fraud, the office used an undercover agent to buy a high school diploma.

Education Department officials, in the mystery shopper contract solicitation issued last summer, noted that programmatic reviews are not necessarily well-suited to ferret out possible fraud or misrepresentation, and program reviewers cannot always look extensively behind a paper trail to discover improprieties.

The contract records don't specify whether for-profit colleges are being targeted. But the hiring also came around the same time that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a sharply critical report based on surveys by undercover investigators posing as students who visited for-profit college financial-aid offices.

Undercover tests at 15 for-profit colleges found that 4 colleges encouraged fraudulent practices and that all 15 made deceptive or otherwise questionable statements to GAO's undercover applicants, the report concluded, adding that the results cannot be projected across the industry.

The highly publicized report, which sent stock prices at for-profit education companies tumbling, later underwent significant revisions that prompted criticism about the reliability of the GAO's findings. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Education's 'Mystery Shoppers' Fraud Stoppers? $40,000 Laid out to Check College Aid
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.