Police check on poly fraud attempt

Detectives are investigating an attempted fraud involving more than 60 bogus application forms sent to the Polytechnic Central Admissions System (PCAS), which handles applications for polytechnics and some universities.

It is thought that offers of a place in higher education were to have been used to gain illegal entry to the United Kingdom. But the attempted fraud has also revealed that the higher education system is vulnerable to similar false applications, which can be used for many purposes.

Sixty bogus applications were found, all purporting to be from people of Nigerian origin but claiming to be British. They were discovered when six arrived together. Sharp-eyed checkers at the PCAS centre in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, noticed that the wording of references was identical in some cases. A search revealed more than 60 similar forms, all posted in the Manchester and London areas. Others may have slipped through.

Any offer of a place at a university or polytechnic would not be taken up. Rather, the documentation offering the place could be used to obtain a visa, secure entry to Britain, open a bank account, claim social security benefits and generally help establish an identity. But a crime only occurs when a falsely-obtained offer of a place is fraudulently used.

Mike Scott, deputy chief executive of PCAS, said the references and qualifications on some forms were false and, probably, the names and addresses were also fake.

He said that the applicants - or, as was thought more likely, applicant - were offering reasonable academic qualifications which would be acceptable to higher education institutions. The references were professionally done, including one with a Barclays Bank stamp.

PCAS is handling 350,000 applications from A-level students, so checking for fraudulent forms would be a huge task. Introducing a check to prevent similar frauds in future is considered impossible. PCAS relies on universities and polytechnics carrying out a second check.

Chief Inspector Colin Handy, of Gloucestershire police, said the applications had been sent to a forensic science laboratory for study by handwriting experts.