An indictment handed up Thursday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore charges five men and a woman with defrauding university admissions exams at testing sites in Bethesda, Lanham and Columbia.

The defendants, from New York and New Jersey, are accused of taking money from clients from several states and posing as them, sitting for 590 exams over two years -- including the Graduate Management Admissions Test, required to get into most business schools, and the Test of English as a Foreign Language, which foreign students often must take to be accepted to college or graduate school.

If convicted, the defendants -- Ping Shen, 56, Lu Xu, 34, Zhigang Cao, 38, Qian Wang, 26, Feng Wang, 26, and Gang Yang, 36 -- would face one count of conspiring to commit mail and wire fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Yang is from Plainfield, N.J. The others live in New York City.

The case goes far beyond Maryland. Shen, Cao and Xu pleaded guilty recently to identity theft and forgery charges issued last year by the Manhattan district attorney's office, which also charged several New York students who paid for the exams. Cao and Xu were sentenced this spring to prison terms; Shen faces a prison term at his upcoming sentencing, said Jeremy Saland, the assistant district attorney handling the case.

The Maryland case alleges that the group defrauded Educational Testing Service, which administers the English exam; the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the business exam; and Baltimore-based Thomson Prometric, which gives the exams at testing sites for the two companies.

From at least January 2001 until July 2003, according to the indictment, some people arranged the scheme and others carried it out by taking the exams in clients' names.

Students must provide photo identification at the testing site, said Ray Nicosia, director of test security for Educational Testing Service. At the testings, the impersonators allegedly used fake IDs that had their own photos, as well as the names and addresses of the students who were signed up to take the tests.

For added security with the English test, a photo is taken at the testing site and included on the score report that is sent to colleges and graduate schools. The test-takers charged this week allegedly had test results mailed to themselves, replaced the photos with ones of the students who hired them and mailed the altered reports to the schools in a way that looked as if they came directly from ETS.

Nicosia said Educational Testing Service became suspicious two years ago because of big boosts in scores for the students involved and because it was tipped off. After one test-taker was confronted, officials confirmed that a bigger ring was involved and turned the case over to the FBI.

"We have canceled most of the scores that were involved," Nicosia said. When schools were notified last September, he said, "some students were denied admission and some were kicked out of school."

In the Manhattan case, the district attorney alleged that Shen placed ads in a Chinese-language New York daily, offering test coaching services.

Interested parties would be told that instead of test preparation, they could pay as much as $3,000 to have someone take the exam for them, the district attorney's office said.

Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.