It has all the makings of a summer blockbuster....intellectual property theft, suspects fleeing the country, the FBI. But this is not the latest Dan Brown novel, but a tale of educational testing; to be more precise, the story of a gang who sat the GMAT test, the entry test for business school, in order to steal the questions and then sell them on to others.
The culprits in question worked for Scoretop.com, based in Ohio, which published the “live” questions on its website, a GMAT preparation site. It charged prospective MBA students $30 a month to have access to its VIP service. Those that took them up on the offer were then encouraged to memorise GMAT questions themselves so that they could be posted on the site.
In June GMAC - the Graduate Management Admissions Council, which administers the GMAT test - successfully completed a civil case against Lei Shi, founder of the site, and received $2.3m in damages. But the culprit, a Chinese national, appears to have fled the US altogether. The FBI has now to decide whether to follow up with a criminal prosecution.
Dave Wilson, president of GMAC, says the GMAT test incorporates “live forensics”, which enables the test centres to spot a potential fraudsters while they are sitting the test. An applicant interested in memorising the numeric questions, for example, will often skip through the verbal tests.
Mr Wilson believes that between 5,000 and 10,000 potential MBA students have visited the Scoretop.com site, many of whom will have been casual browsers who found the site through an internet search engine. GMAC is now evaluating the data on the hard drive taken from the company to assess the full damage. Just what will happen to the test scores of those who visited the site is still undecided, but Mr Wilson says he will discuss this with the business schools before taking action.
This is not the first time would-be MBAs have demonstrated that they are prepared to do whatever it takes to get a high GMAT score and so get into a highly-ranked MBA programme. In June 2005, the FT reported on professional impersonators sitting the GMAT to get high scores for their clients (Students hire impersonators).
The prison sentences served by five of the six impersonators in the 2005 scam does not seem to have entirely deterred others. In Los Angeles this year one female student tried to sit the test for a client who had received a low score on a previous test. The administrators at the test centre, where photographs are taken of all test-takers, realised that the two images of the candidate did not match and the impersonator fled.