Undercover operation aims to root out student aid fraud

The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) has deployed mystery shoppers at college campuses across the country to detect whether fraudulent practices for student aid are being encouraged, The Washington Post reports.

The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) has deployed mystery shoppers at college campuses across the country to detect whether fraudulent practices for student aid are being encouraged, The Washington Post reports.

Details of the initiative have been kept highly secretive by the DOE, although spending records show that a task order of more than $18,000 was dispatched last summer.

"The issuance of this task order will help the department identify misrepresentation and fraud … the department has instituted a mystery shopping program that will potentially expose deceptive practices and misrepresentations by higher education institutions," the task order states, as quoted by the media outlet.

However, it's still unknown which schools the shoppers will be visiting.

The DOE had previously relied on program reviews, tips from school employees and whistleblowers to uncover fraud, and believes this method represents a viable alternative.

There are critics, though, who feel the move is equivalent to spying. The news source notes in a separate article that the Department of Health and Human Services attempted a similar project last year to gauge Medicaid and Medicare patients' access to primary care physicians, but pressure from government representatives shut the initiative down after two months.