Student Arrested, Deported in Academic Fraud Case

Late last month, WPVI-TV in Philadelphia reported the story for Aryan Anand, a 19-year-old former student of nearby Lehigh University.

According to the report, Anand was arrested in April on suspicion of committing forgery and theft of services by defrauding his way to a full scholarship at the school. He faced between 10 and 20 years in prison.

However, he reached a plea agreement that saw him serve no jail time. His only punishment was expulsion from the school and deportation back to India.

Though Anand’s story may be over, it’s still worth examining. What he did was nothing short of a massive and complete fraud. It combined forgery, plagiarism and cheating to land not just admission to a respected school but a full scholarship.

As such, it’s crucial to understand how he did it, how he was caught and how schools can prevent similar cases.

The Story of Aryan Anand

The story of Aryan Anand is largely self-told. This presents a problem as Anand, by his admission, has committed a great deal of fraud. Anything he says needs to be taken with skepticism.

That said, he shared his story in an anonymous Reddit confession, which you can read in the tweets embedded below, and many of the facts have been verified by the school and/or police.

Note: The original post on Reddit, entitled “I have built my life and career on LIES and FRAUD,” has been taken down.

According to Anand, his story began while he was in India. He struggled to get good enough marks on exams to guarantee access to a good university. He admitted that he didn’t study much, but he said he still struggled after applying himself.

As such, he launched a “very very structured fraud plan.” He edited his earlier exam results and created a fake predicted result for his upcoming exam. Then, he acquired a domain similar to his school’s, so he would have an official-sounding email address.

He then used ChatGPT to write admissions essays for him and began applying to schools that could offer him a full scholarship. He faked income documents to make his family seem like they were making less money and received an acceptance letter from one school. We now know that school to be Lehigh University.

However, Lehigh’s scholarship wasn’t complete. The school said he would have to pay for his meal plan, which would be about $5,000 per year. Not wanting to spend that (to reduce the control his parents had over him), he forged a death certificate for his father.

As a result, the school covered all his expenses, including his travel to and from India.

However, in a predictable twist, he struggled as a student due to poor study habits and a lack of needed skills. So, he continued plagiarizing his papers and cheating on exams by sneaking out in the middle of them.

When he published his confession on Reddit, he was in the middle of his second semester and had just secured an internship using forged credentials. Others on Reddit claimed that the story was fake, but one of the moderators in a different subreddit decided to investigate.

That moderator of a different subreddit discovered that, while Anand had not named the school, the only school he followed on Reddit was Lehigh University. The moderator notified the university, who investigated and discovered what had happened.

Anand was later arrested and then deported.

Key Takeaways

The story, to put it mildly, is a wild one.

The depth of the forgery and deceit is incredible. From registering a fake domain to forging a death certificate for his father, the lengths that Anand went to are nothing short of astounding.

However, the fact that this was possible at all points to severe issues regarding vetting international students. Unfortunately, those systemic problems go well beyond Anand and Lehigh University.

He was able to exploit a flawed system. However, he had to go to extreme lengths to do so.

That said, several takeaways from Anand’s post are worth highlighting.

  1. His Use of ChatGPT: Anand used ChatGPT to craft his admissions essays. However, he acknowledged that ChatGPT does a lousy job of writing essays. Instead, he found successful essays online and had ChatGPT rewrite them. This is not new or novel, but a rare admission of how AI is by students to cheat.
  2. This Kind of Forgery is Likely Rare: Anand applied to many schools and only received one acceptance. As such, it seems likely that Lehigh was the most vulnerable, at least at this level. However, he described the other international students as “geniuses.” This means they likely earned their place at the school rather than following Anand’s path of forgery.
  3. Similarities to Other Online Scams: Anand’s forgery involved purchasing a domain name similar to his school’s, forging documents sent electronically, and using that to receive goods and services he didn’t earn. If that sounds familiar, it’s remarkably similar to phishing and other online scams we see daily.
  4. Physical Exam Security: If Anand’s explanation about how he passed his in-person exams is true, there’s a real need to improve physical exam security at the school. Being able to slip in and out should not be possible, especially at a modern university.
  5. The Luck Requirement: I find it difficult to believe Anand would have made it through all four years. No matter how skilled his forgery and cheating were, every shortcut comes with a risk of being caught. That risk would have only increased as he advanced and his courses became smaller and more challenging. At some point, his luck would have run out. Still, it’s worrisome that he made it as far as he did.

All in all, Anand’s story is a warning for universities: Some students will go to incredible lengths to scam their way into and through school. This problem is only going to grow as college becomes increasingly expensive and competition for scholarships grows.

According to the university, Anand’s fraud cost the school roughly $85,000. That value is only going to go up, and it will become a very tempting target for would-be students all over the world.

Bottom Line

While extreme, Anand’s case does point to serious challenges when it comes to vetting international students. The question isn’t “How many students are doing what Anand did?” but “How many students are using the same tactics in more subtle ways?”

Ultimately, it is worrisome that Anand was only caught because of his ill-advised Reddit post. Though we’ll never know if he would have made it through if he hadn’t posted it, it’s clear he would have gotten farther. He had already made it too far.

Schools need to consider and prepare for cases like this one. While it’s a worst-case scenario, preparing for outliers helps prevent more minor and common issues.

Sometimes, a case like this is the reminder we need to address challenges we’ve not paid enough attention to.

Hopefully, Anand’s story can be a lesson not just for Lehigh University, but schools everywhere.

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