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Fake Facebook college class groups uncovered

A college recruitment specialist stumbles on fake students starting groups for the incoming class of 2013 in the name of data collection.

This was originally posted at ZDNet's Between the Lines.

We may be about to see the latest frontier of viral marketing--fake students starting groups for the incoming class of 2013 in the name of data collection.

Brad Ward, a recruitment specialist at Butler University, outlined the details on his blog. He became suspicious after talking to a colleague at Winthrop University. Here are the common links:

Class of 2013 groups are being started at a bunch of universities.
The people that start the groups aren't registered at those schools.
Those same names--Patrick Kelly, Justin Gaither, James Gaither among others--pop up repeatedly.

The game: Get admin rights to groups that collectively add up to about 1,000,000 freshmen. Ward concludes:

Think of it: Sitting back for 8-10 months, (even a few years), maybe friending everyone and posing as an incoming student. Think of the data collection. The opportunities down the road to push affiliate links. The opportunity to appear to be an 'Admin' of Your School Class of 2013. The chance to message alumni down the road. The list of possibilities goes on and on and on.

The Chronicle of Higher Education is now on the case and has further details about a company called College Prowler that appears to have a common bond with these groups.Most of the Chronicle's information revolves around a message aimed at Ward. The Chronicle reports:

Later today, Luke Skurman, College Prowler's chief executive, confirmed in a message on Mr. Ward's blog that his company had been "directly or indirectly involved" in creating the 2013 groups. "The original purpose was to use these groups as a way to inform students that they can access a free guide about their new college on our site," he wrote. "No employee or anyone else associated with College Prowler has used these groups to send out messages or wall posts." He provided a list of names "associated with" College Prowler and said they would be removed from the 2013 groups immediately.

Yet Mr. Skurman also wrote that he learned "about an hour ago" that College Prowler had been working with an unnamed company "that may have been using fake aliases to create these groups." Mr. Skurman did not respond to The Chronicle's requests for an interview, so The Chronicle could not confirm that he had written the message on Mr. Ward's blog.

The solution here seems pretty obvious. Universities need to start their official groups on Facebook before some spam happy affiliate marketing type does. There may also be a verification hook for Facebook too. Should it verify who you really are?