Facebook phonies? Unofficial school Facebook pages fool incoming freshmen

- Several Facebook Class of 2022 sites associated with more than a dozen Minnesota universities and colleges, are unaffiliated with the schools and part of a guerrilla marketing campaign, Fox 9 has learned.  

“The original site my daughter joined, I told her to join, I said that’s what the universities do,” said Tara Halvorson, a college and career counselor at Chaska High School, whose daughter is a graduating high school senior.  

But she soon discovered the site wasn't affiliated with the school. And there were dozens more just like it.  

“Honestly, every single site I went on looked like it was run by the university,” said Halvorson.

Appearances, especially on Facebook, can be deceiving.  

Consider the real, officially approved Facebook page for the University of Minnesota Class of 2022.  It has 200 accepted students who are members.  

But at least initially, it looks just as legitimate as another page for the University of Minnesota Class of 2022, with more than four thousand members. This page, however, has no connection with the University of Minnesota, as it discloses in the ‘About’ section.  

There are nearly identical ‘unaffiliated’ sites for St. Cloud State, St. Catherine, Bemidji State, and a dozen other Minnesota colleges and universities, some even claiming to be “official” groups, or only allowing “accepted” students to join. There are dozens of similar sites for schools across the nation.

Halvorson’s daughter began tracking the administrators for these Facebook Class of 2022 pages and discovered the same administrators control dozens of pages. They appear to be fake accounts.  

It appears the company behind all these sites is RoomSurf. The company offers a paid service that claims it will match up students with compatible roommates.  

Fox 9 joined several of these groups and were immediately solicited with ads for RoomSurf, and asked to take a survey. It is unclear what the company does with the information it collects. 

Fox 9 contacted RoomSurf, which is based in Miami, and got no reply. The company has been criticized previously for its deceptive advertising on Facebook.  

A spokeswoman for the University of Minnesota told Fox 9 that its “actions are limited what a page clearly identifies itself as unofficial, independently run and unaffiliated with the University.”

A spokesman for Hamline University said they were recently made aware of the group and reported it to Facebook.

Several schools told us they link to their official Facebook group in emails with admitted students.  

Halvorson, the college counselor from Chaska, doesn’t believe prospective freshman bother to read the ‘About’ section of the page to see if it’s an official site.  

“From what I see, they (students) go to the one with the most people,” she said.

STATEMENT FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA

Each year as students confirm their enrollment to the University of Minnesota, they receive an official Welcome email that lists next steps—such as reminders to apply for financial aid and housing—and other options to consider before their New Student Orientation in the summer. 

Included in that email is information about a closed Facebook group created by the University of Minnesota that is just for students in the incoming class. The University works to verify that only confirmed freshmen are accepted to the group so that these students can connect with others in their cohort without the distraction of marketing efforts or misrepresentation. 

Students should be aware that an official University of Minnesota Facebook page or group would never:
•    endorse or promote the purchase of commercial products or services that are unaffiliated with the University of Minnesota;
•    ask for personal or student data, such as a student ID, social security number or other personal identification data;
•    solicit payment or purchasing information for any reason through these channels.

As for outside entities, actions are limited when a page clearly identifies itself as unofficial, independently run and unaffiliated with the University. In some circumstances, Off-Campus Living - a unit of the Office for Student Affairs - will join unofficial groups to monitor for and respond to questions within the unit's area of focus. If an applicant has questions about a particular page or group, they are encouraged to contact Orientation & Transition Experiences.
 

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