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The California Community Colleges system is investigating potentially widespread fraud involving fake “bot students” enrolled in active courses in what officials suspect is a scam to obtain financial aid or COVID-19 relief grants.

The 116-campus system is beefing up internal reporting and security measures after finding that 20% of recent traffic on its main portal for online applications was “malicious and bot-related,” according to a memo issued Monday by Valerie Lundy-Wagner, interim vice chancellor of digital innovation and infrastructure.

Nearly 15% of that traffic was caught by new software called Imperva Advanced Bot Detection, which was installed last month, and the matter remained of “grave concern,” she said. The memo follows a previous warning that Lundy-Wagner issued in June.

California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley said at least six campuses have reported an unusual spike in enrollment attempts involving possibly fake students. But officials have not yet been able to identify where the “pings” are coming from or how many colleges are involved.

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