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By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) - U.S. authorities said on Thursday they arrested four Chinese nationals who were involved in a scheme to falsely take college entrance exams.

Yue Wang, a Chinese student at Hult International Business School in Cambridge, agreed to sit for the TOEFL, the English-language exam widely used to assess foreign applicants, for the trio, federal prosecutors in Boston said.

Shikun Zhang, 24, Leyi Huang, 21, and Xiaomeng Cheng, 21, used the exam scores to gain admission to Northeastern University, Penn State University and Arizona State University, respectively, according to prosecutors.

Zhang, Huang and Cheng paid Wang, 25, nearly $7,000 take the test after they had failed to meet the universities' minimum scores, according to charging documents.

After they were admitted, the three were issued student visas by the U.S. State Department. They face immigration-related charges of conspiring to defraud the United States, prosecutors said.

"By effectively purchasing passing scores, they violated the rules and regulations of the exam, taking spots at U.S. colleges and universities that could have gone to others," William Weinreb, acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said in a statement.

Wang, who was also in the United States on a student visa, was arrested in New Jersey, while Zhang, Huang and Cheng were arrested in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Arizona, respectively, authorities said.

A lawyer for Zheng did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Lawyers for the other defendants could not be immediately determined.

Amid a growing affluent population, more Chinese students are enrolling in U.S. colleges and universities, attracted by the prospect of a prestigious American education and good jobs.

Their numbers grew by 9 percent to 135,629 students in the 2015-2016 school year, according to the Institute of International Education.

The latest case followed a similar one in 2015 when the U.S. Justice Department charged 15 Chinese nationals in a scheme to pay others to take college entrance exams.

That case stemmed from an investigation by U.S. Homeland Security in Philadelphia. According to court papers, the Boston-based probe stemmed from information developed by that office.

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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