By Sophia Salamanca

The Strange History of Fake Harvard Students

Although social media was set ablaze this year with rumors of an impostor, there are records of people pretending to be Harvard freshman as far back as the 1960s.
By Alia S. Al-Wir and Vivian W. Rong

FAKE FROSH IS IN SMITH RN,” reads the top comment on Sidechat’s Harvard channel. For the first week of September, social media has been alive with rumors of someone posing as a freshman. First-years see their supposed classmate eating at Annenberg and posting in several Harvard group chats. But whispers have started circulating that the “student” is only pretending to be enrolled in the Class of 2027.

Although Harvard does not have official records of them, there have been reports of fake students in The Crimson as early as the 1960s. Suspicions arose quickly about this year’s fake freshman, facilitated mainly by social media. News spread like wildfire on apps like Discord when students discovered that they didn’t have a profile in the Harvard directory. Amid this overwhelming attention, the fake freshman gradually spent less and less time on campus and removed mentions of Harvard from their Instagram account.

A similar situation occurred in 2011. In December of that year, The Crimson reported that Abe Liu, a 27-year-old Harvard Extension School student, was pretending to be a freshman living in Weld Hall. Liu joined the Harvard University Class of 2015 Facebook group and began posing as a freshman. Although he initially “took to ‘trolling’” the group for fun, he told The Crimson that it became addicting.

Liu wanted to meet some of the students he had befriended through the Facebook group. By the time October rolled around, he had started lying about living in Weld. Some students noticed he was not in the Freshman Register, and others grew suspicious of him when he needed people to swipe him into buildings.

Despite these red flags, Liu maintained the act until the end of the fall semester. Murmurs about him persisted for months after he was discovered. In November 2012, about a year later, rumors started that Liu was running for the Harvard Undergraduate Council. Fake Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter accounts were created claiming to be him.

“Social space that is under-utilized: your common room. Are you sure I can't come in?” reads one post, ribbing Liu for piggybacking in dorm buildings where he didn’t have swipe.

Almost 50 years earlier, from the fall of 1962 to the spring of 1963, a student attended Harvard College using a high school acquaintance’s name, unbeknownst to the latter.

The acquaintance had been accepted to Harvard, but ultimately enrolled in a different school. The fake student sent a letter to Harvard under his acquaintance’s name, claiming he had changed his mind, even forging a letter of recommendation. After becoming aware of the fraud in April 1963, administrators voted to expunge his name from University records.

In an era before social media, and before community members needed a Harvard University Identification card to scan into most buildings, the expunged student maintained his false identity for much longer than Liu or this semester’s impostor — attending for nearly a full academic year.

These three would-be students, across the decades, build on a strange vein of Harvard history. As @harvard_sidechat put it in their Instagram post about the events of this fall: “So the fake frosh lore continues...”