American colleges sorting through a record number of applications from China are increasingly turning to video interviewing services to assess students’ language skills, get a feel for their personality — and weed out fraudsters.

The recorded interviews emerged several years ago as a way to address cheating concerns highlighted by a breach that forced the cancellation of SAT exams in China last weekend. The interviews are recommended by dozens of schools.

“If you believe in all the fraudulent claims, and there certainly has been some documentation out there, then the one true equalizer is getting an unscripted interview with a limited English speaker,” said Kregg Strehorn, an assistant provost at the University of Massachusetts. “That will put anyone’s mind to rest.”

Admissions officers are wary of fraud in applications from all countries, but attention has focused on China with the huge rise in applications. More than 300,000 people from China studied in the U.S. last year, up from roughly 60,000 only a decade ago.

College officials and industry consultants describe a range of issues including plagiarism, purchased transcripts and surrogate test-takers. Evidence is largely anecdotal and the topic can be a delicate one for colleges, which receive a boost by enrolling international students who often pay full tuition.

“It’s the kryptonite of international education,” said Daniel Ghur, who has studied fraud as the director of the Illuminate Consulting Group in California.

One service provider, InitialView, was launched in Beijing by an American couple. While many colleges have interviewed students themselves on the Internet, the company offers verification of student identities. InitialView conducts interviews in 14 cities across China and has begun operating in other countries. The company charges a one-time fee of $220 and will send a recording of the interview to as many schools as the student wants.

“The schools that use us, they just want to have integrity in their process,” said Terry Crawford, founder of the company.

A student of Wellesley College, Linda Lui, was advised to sit for an InitialView interview by a counselling agency that helped her with college applications. Lui, 18, claims the service has grown in popularity among students at her Beijing high school, and she leapt at the opportunity to show American schools what sort of person she was.

Linda Liu poses on campus, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016, in Wellesley, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

“It’s a way to show yourself, showing actually who you are, in a very direct way instead of just showing it in on paper or in essays,” she said.

Admissions officers say suspected fraud has turned up in applications from many countries. One challenge in vetting applications from China, they say, is separating out the work of the many third-party agents and consultants who promise to help students win admission to American universities.

At the University of Oregon, which recommends the interview services, admissions director Jim Rawlins said he worries more about Chinese students becoming victims themselves than about them committing fraud. When discrepancies are found in Chinese applications he said the university often suspects consultants or agents who submit fake documents, possibly without students’ knowledge.

“Every now and then a student gets turned down and, when told why, is very surprised to hear what was done on their behalf,” he said.

Associated Press

Image via AP Images.

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