In the fall of 2013, Yue Zou decided that she wanted to leave Hegang, the city where she lived in the Heilongjiang province of China, and attend college in the United States. Her boyfriend, already a student at the University of Pittsburgh, was eager to help her get admitted to a competitive university.
He didn’t help to edit her essay or arrange for her to be tutored for the SAT. Instead he contacted a Chinese company that specializes in finding American-based test-taking proxies who, for a fee, obtain high scores on the SAT, the graduate school admission test called the GRE, and English-proficiency exams like the TOEFL for their wealthy Chinese clients. According to court documents, Zou’s boyfriend negotiated a deal with the test broker. Zou then paid the broker $6,000 for the TOEFL and $2,000 for the SAT. The broker then arranged for a graduate student to take Zou’s college-entrance exams in Pennsylvania, the court documents say.
The scheme succeeded, at least for a time. Zou applied to and was accepted at Virginia Tech, where the average SAT score range for the math and reading sections is between 1160 and 1340. She enrolled there in the fall of 2014.
Law-enforcement officials in this country say that highly organized rings of college-admission-exams imposters—once considered a unique artifact of the high-stakes, test-driven Chinese education system—have arrived on U.S. shores. The scam is probably as old as college-entrance exams themselves and periodically, test fakers get snared. Five years ago, 20 teenagers from Nassau County in suburban New York made headlines when they were arrested for being paid to take—or paying others to take—their SATs. The networks like the one Zou used are far more sophisticated. In these schemes, brokers in China are using computer-enhanced photography to create nearly undetectable fake passports for schemes that allow imposters to take a range of tests—including the SAT, the GRE, and the TOEFL for students across the globe.