Fraud and data tampering in schools

By: Tonya Mead, CFE, PI, MBA, MA Educational Psychology

The Maryland State Board of Education is investigating a whistleblower complaint alleging the alteration of student grades and credits for the purpose of misrepresenting graduation rates. This is not a new  phenomenon. School employees as well as students manipulate grades to increase GPAs, graduate,  pass a class, or show proof of enrollment for financial aid fraud.

Let’s talk about the ease of access. How is it possible that data stored by universities and schools are so readily accessible for unauthorized use by students and staff? Where are the internal controls?

In 2007, the Data Quality Campaign reported of the 50 states, just  “twenty-six states have designed and built or upgraded their data warehouses, or are in the process of doing so” [1, p. 1] and referenced in my book.

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Insider fraud to manipulate data appears small fry and may be perceived as harmless. But where the risks of an insider data breach are present, so too are the threat of outsider fraud perpetrated by professional criminals.

According to Judy Wright, Plante Moran, “breaches can run the gamut from students hacking into school databases and changing their grades to instigating a denial of service attack to stop electronic testing to a major infiltration by cybercriminals who steal personally identifiable information such as Social Security and credit card numbers…Their multiple buildings are at times open to the public, allowing anyone to connect a device to their network, which makes the network incredibly difficult to secure” (para 2).

So the next time you read an article about grade tampering and data manipulation carried out by a student, faculty member, teacher or staff at your school or university;  so too is this institution a likely target  for cyber and financial crimes by hardened criminals and syndicates.


1. T. Bergner and N.J. Smith, “How Can My State Benefit from an Educational Data Warehouse?” Data Quality Campaign. Washington, DC. September 2007. Available:

Tonya J. Mead, CFE, PI, MBA, MA, Certified K-12 Administrator and School Psychologist is author of Fraud in Education: Beyond the Wrong Answer and president of Shared Knowledge, LLC