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U.S. education officials issued a warning Thursday to thousands of colleges and universities across the nation to be on alert for fraud after California authorities uncovered a massive scam attempt involving 65,000 federal financial aid applications filed by fake community college students.

The Times reported this week that the California Student Aid Commission found 105 of 116 colleges in the California Community Colleges system had been targeted by questionable financial aid applications — including Cerritos, Pasadena, Chaffey and eight of the nine campuses in the Los Angeles Community College District.

The surge of applications began in May through mid-August and bore similar characteristics: first-time applicants to community college who were older than 30, earned less than $40,000 annually and were seeking a two-year degree rather than a vocational certificate.

Student aid officials and colleges found similar red flags in both applications for enrollment and financial aid, including the same phone number or address for multiple students. The state community college system implemented a new bot detection software program in July and stricter security measures beginning this month. Colleges are now required to report monthly the number of incidents of suspected and confirmed registration fraud, confirmed number of incidents of financial aid fraud, and its dollar value.

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