Today is the 5th Annual International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating. We join with the International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI) to participate and encourage other organizations, college’s and universities to sign up and participate in ICAI’s website.

As we discussed last week, one of the priorities identified this year by WCET’s Steering Committee was to shed light on the unscrupulous practice of third party sites that entice students to cheat. Today we continue our three-part blog series on academic integrity and welcome Tessa Holst, Assistant Dean of Students in the College of Social and Behavior Sciences with Purdue University Global. Tessa joins us to discuss the practices these cheating sites use to entice students.

Enjoy the read and enjoy your day,

Lindsey Downs, WCET

Unfortunately, cheating is not anything new to higher education. Whether students are in classes that are on-campus, blended, emergency remote, or fully online, the internet has made it possible to find information and on anything, including answers to assessment questions and other information and opportunities found on third-party cheating sites. And, as pointed out in the first blog in this three-part series, the internet has also increased the prevalence and scale in terms of how these cheating sites operate.

When considering the issues of student cheating and academic integrity, one of the first questions becomes why do students cheat? Most in higher education are familiar with traditional pitfalls and reasons, such as students feeling pressured by time constraints, feeling unprepared to succeed in some courses, and simply needing more education about how to properly use and cite sources.

a woman holds her head while looking at a laptop
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Perhaps a more concerning reason in the current cheating economy, however, is that some students inadvertently fall prey to predatory cheating sites. In other words, students who do not intend to cheat are tricked into doing so, for the profit of these dishonest business-people. Without intending to, these students commit academic integrity violations that threaten their educational experiences and ultimately, the value of their degrees. Sometimes they even incur significant financial expenses in the process.

Studies about the prevalence of academic dishonesty vary. Several show that rates are similar across all modalities and debunk the perception that students in online courses are more likely to cheat. Some show that the use of proctoring plays a role. Most show rates that are higher than most of us are comfortable with. Additional studies that account for the effects of emergency remote teaching and learning on academic integrity will definitely be needed, as will analysis of how to balance assuring integrity with privacy concerns. What we can say for sure is that there’s a learning curve for many faculty who are trying to figure out how to ensure academic integrity in new teaching environments. Part of that learning curve is understanding how some businesses have evolved to profit from enticing students to cheat.

How are students enticed into using syndicate-cheating sites?

The methods used to attract potential new students are clever, sneaky, and often predatory. While some cheating sites are surprisingly direct about offering services that clearly violate integrity standards, many aren’t as clear. In fact, many cheating sites portray themselves as upstanding organizations designed to help promote student success. They may advertise study materials, homework help, research assistance, free tutoring, essay review, and even the opportunity to earn money by “helping” other students. Other cheating sites feign respectability by offering scholarships, surveys, and conferences to draw the interest of even the most well-meaning students. Simply that cheating sites conduct themselves openly as a legitimate business can be misleading for unsuspecting, naive students.

With tag lines to solicit students like the ones in figure 1, it isn’t difficult to see how well-meaning, diligent students can be misled.

sample taglines from cheating sites: "Not enough time? Let us help."
"Study Materials"
"Homework Help"
"Earn Money"
"Essay Review"
"Free Tutoring"
"Research Help"

Figure 1 Sample tag lines from cheating websites

Students looking for legitimate study help end up being enticed or coerced into sharing or uploading course materials such as papers, assignments and exams under the pretense of helping other students, being part of a learning community, or unlocking advanced study materials. Sometimes the materials requested have increasingly higher stakes; for instance, students who first share a syllabus or lecture notes eventually find they are being pressured to share assignments and exam questions.

Some cheating sites offer a mixture of legitimate and illegitimate services. Other sites appeal to students’ desires to be helpful to fellow learners. Some have even been reported to threaten to report students for offenses already committed if they do not continue to supply course materials. Or, they attempt to charge ongoing fees to keep integrity violations quiet.

Yet another way cheating sites operate is through providing unethical tutoring services. Tutors are hired that do not respect academic integrity standards. Tutors may provide answers instead of helping students learn to find answers. Or, they may simply do the work for student customers. Tutors, who are often students or recent graduates themselves, earn more pay and student customers receive too much tutoring “help” – so much so that they fail to learn.

My practical advice:

  • Continue to remind students of the definitions of academic integrity and dishonestly. Be informed about how cheating sites operate and warn students against using them.
  • Remind students of the legitimate support services available. They need to hear about school resources such as free tutoring, free paper review services and the many other academic resources within the college. Faculty should remind students to use the college library. Faculty can incorporate web tours to learn how to utilize the librarians and library resources.
  • Invite students to talk to professors about assignment expectations instead of looking online for sample papers.
  • Most importantly, remind students to take pride in their own work. They need to take accountability for their work and not let other students use it. Students should store assignments in a secure location to avoid others obtaining access. If they share computers, they need to log out to avoid sharing usernames and passwords.

A simple reminder of these items at the start of each term may help a few students avoid the consequences of an academic violation. Be aware, be active, and be consistent.

Be Aware. Be Active.
Be Consistent.

We owe it to students, employers, and the university to uphold academic integrity. Whether students are missing out on learning experiences, being tricked into committing integrity violations and/or spending money on illegitimate services, we cannot ignore the signs and we need to work together to address this very serious issue.

Watch for the next blog in this series to learn about some exemplar tactics colleges and universities are using to address this overwhelming problem. In the meantime, for additional reading on the topic visit these sites:


Tessa Holst

Assistant Dean of Students College of Social and Behavior Sciences, Purdue University Global

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