College Admissions Scammers: Scumbags or Science?

Scandal! Cheating! Pay to play! Bribery!

These words, which were once ominous and held such weight and gravity, are now in our faces seemingly every minute in curated news feeds. Does anyone feel shocked anymore when they see them? I may have been slightly shocked for a minute or two by these words in the story that just broke about the investigation into rigging college admissions and cheating on the SAT and ACT.

The FBI investigation into racketeering, among other crimes, has involved some folks who would typically not have their names found in stories like this. As of this writing, the story broke yesterday, and I’ve already read enough about it to have lost the initial shock. I have entered the numb stage I like to call “Meh.”

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After all, can you really be shocked that people cheat and try to finagle a system to get what they want? Some of these people remind me of helicopter parents on steroids, like an Apache or a Blackhawk, ready to swoop in and do battle so little Suzy can get into an Ivy League school without actually putting in the effort.

Ten thousand dollars? A hundred and fifty thousand dollars? Pictures of my kid rowing in a racing boat? No problem! Whoosh, let the helicopter fly to the rescue! From my tone here, I may sound a little jaded. I have worked in loss prevention for a long time and have entered the cynical phase. I’ve come to understand that whenever a system has been put in place to regulate access to something people want, people will always find a way to get around these rules.

From the beginning of time, people (and animals) have stolen and taken shortcuts. Once an object gains intrinsic value, like Eve’s apple did once it was deemed forbidden, people will attempt to procure it by any means necessary. Has this been part of our evolution from primate to human being? Was this a way for primitive humans to save energy? It was probably a lot easier for Grog the caveman to wait until Gronk killed a gazelle, bash him on the head with a rock and steal the tasty gazelle, rather than spend the time and energy to hunt it himself.

We have spent eons perfecting our cheating ways. Just listen to any song by Loretta Lynn, and she’ll fill you in. If you’ve raised kids, you get the picture: it’s like they’re born with these innate abilities, or at least, they learn them quickly. According to Quartz, in a study on why children lie, the qualities we want our kids to have, like higher levels of executive functioning, are actually correlated with being a good liar. I’m not making excuses for this behavior. I’m just saying it doesn’t shock me.

Something I have struggled with over the years is how to not be jaded. It’s hard to spend years catching bad guys, observing behavior, doing interviews, and therefore being lied to, and not be a little cynical. When you work case after case and become invested in the time and effort you’ve put in, it’s easy to let it affect your view of the suspect.

I have to remember that we are all human and that humans have evolved to take the shortest route to what it is they want. Maybe it’s economy of scale, an evolutionary adaptation, or just laziness: whatever you want to call it, all humans engage in some form of lying, cheating or stealing.

During my career, I would catch myself feeling particularly fed up with this side of humanity, so I had to do things to give myself a break and restore some faith. I’d talk to other LP folks or to my husband, I’d volunteer or do a stretch assignment that took me out of that mindset and helped me hit the restart button.

Training and focusing on helping someone else can really help renew our belief in human beings as essentially good people.

We can’t let ourselves as loss prevention professionals become numb to what the person in front of us is going through. If you find yourself at that point, maybe it’s time for you to take a little time out. Watch some cat videos or read about people giving back—or go give back yourself.

I find the idea of scamming to get your kids into college reprehensible: it undermines all the hard work that legitimate candidates put in and takes a spot away from someone who deserves it. If you can’t get into USC or Stanford on your own merit, go someplace you actually can get into. Hopefully those involved are punished appropriately.

That said, even when the actress from Full House gets caught for (allegedly) committing fraud, it can be hard to stay positive about humanity. Just remember it might be due to human evolution, and then try to hit your own restart button. I know I find myself hitting “restart” a lot lately.

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