Seven Concerning Ways Essay Mills Are Connecting With Vulnerable Students

Essay mills, contract cheating providers and individual academic ghost writers are becoming increasingly savvy regarding the money on offer. They know about the need to market their services to prospective students. They are finding new ways to connect with students, many of which have their basis in the same marketing techniques that legitimate businesses use to engage their customers.

This blog post discusses seven of the more unusual customer engagement techniques that essay mills are known to be using. The information from this post could be considered anecdotal, but is has been gathered from a variety of discussions with academics and ghost writers, research presentations, media stories and my own experience observing the continual fast pace of development within the contract cheating industry.

 

Method 1 – Using Students As Brand Ambassadors

For a long time, essay mills have been finding students willing to represent their brand on campus. This is exactly the same process legitimate businesses marketing to students, such as nightclubs, food services and recruiting employers, use to expand awareness of their brand.

Here, students take responsibility for getting the word out about the company they work with. There are all kind of ways that they can do this, but often this will involve making leaflets, flyers and posters visible to other students. The student may receive a bursary, or may get a commission for every sale, with trackable links. Essay mills can quickly set up a new variant site for their service, with a university name or location embedded in it. This makes sales easier to track and can make it look like the service is operating locally or is officially endorsed by a university. A variant of this technique has also seen students used as brand ambassadors to recruit other students as paid ghost writers.

 

Method 2 – Disguising Themselves As Tutoring Services

Contract cheating services have been observed presenting themselves as proof reading services, copy editing services or tutoring services to thinly disguise their real offer. The service may initial appear to be legit, but may then upsell their real offer to the student. Other apparent support services may not even go through this pretence, or may have chat windows that pop up on their website offering essay writing and assignment production services.

A particular concern has been raised with tutoring services. These can operate within a university, for example when a student’s individual requirements have indicated that they need to be provided with further access to a tutor. That tutor is often only paid for the hours directly worked. Some tutors have admitted that they will see what kind of support the student needs and, if this goes beyond that which can be provided in the time available, they will use the contact as a bridge to offer contract cheating services, subtly or otherwise. Since students can become dependent on contract cheating services, this university provided introduction can be lucrative for individual contract cheating providers who choose to promote themselves through this route.

 

Method 3 – Sponsoring Stalls At Welcome Events

Many universities hold events for new students during a Welcome Week or Freshers Week. One common event is a Welcome Fair, where different companies and student societies set up stalls to interact with the new students. Commercial stalls are often seen at these events since they bring in money for a university or its Student Union and help to subsidise the running costs.

Contract cheating companies have been observed becoming involved with these welcome events. Although they may not blatantly offer a stall themselves, they have more subtle ways to be involved, such as sponsoring a stall run by students. The stall can be encouraged to host flyers or other materials about the essay mill. A recent example of this from an Australian university saw the advertising materials being presented in Chinese, making them hard to spot by anyone not familiar with that language.

 

Method 4 – Offering Students Free Essays For Referring Their Friends

Rather like a pyramid marketing scheme, essay mills are always keen to increase the number of customers on their database. Even if they don’t directly make a sale, just the email address of a student is of value to each business. That gives the essay mill the option to keep targeting the potential customer, offering them discounts until they buy. A referral is much more powerful than a standard advert. It demonstrates to students that they are simply following in the footsteps of a trusted colleague.

As well as providing an incentive for a converting referral, such as credits towards a free essay or a discount code to use on a subsequent purchase, essay mills can present this to students as if they are doing their friends a favour. They are providing them with access to the same support service that they used.

 

Method 5 – Setting Up Fake University WhatsApp Groups

Contract cheating providers seem to be investing more time and effort to develop relationships before going in for the sale. Those relationships can be nurtured using cheap international labour. One way they’ve begun to do this is by setting up WhatsApp group which is aimed at students from a particular university and which may appear to be endorsed by that university. Students preparing to go to university are often looking for supportive communities and can easily sign up for unofficial groups (if their university or specific subject even offers an official group at all).

How these groups work is that they initially operate appearing to be like a legitimate group. Workers representing the contract cheating provider take their time to get to know students. They find out about the student, their life, their frustrations and deadlines. When the pressure ramps up, they then move in for the sale, often presenting themselves as a fellow student showing the service they used when they were stressed and which a student can use to. These are the same techniques used in all kinds of other scams, such as catfishing.

Contract cheating services are also finding ways to get access to existing student WhatsApp, Facebook and WeChat groups. Many of these groups require little in the way of verification to join and posts are not always closely monitored by universities. And, many of these groups are set up by students, so are not directly part of a university at all. I’ve heard, for example, of essay mills joining groups set up to support students in individual university halls.

 

Method 6 – Providing Free Online Resources In Exchange For An Email Address

In the world of online marketing, contact information is king. Advertising on essay related terms can be expensive. Instead, companies are finding alternative services that they can provide, in return for which they a valid student email address or mobile phone contact number.

Generally, access to free software seems to work well for essay mills. This can include software that they claim detects plagiarism, access to large databases of sample essays, or use of referencing software. Essay mills have also been observed offering a certain amount of custom writing for free, such as the first page on a longer essay. Although this may seem counter-intuitive, the cost of offering such a service is low, perhaps only a dollar or two per page, certainly lower than the cost of a pay-per-click advert against a popular search term. Having writers create free original essay samples also keeps them busy, useful if they are salaried. Even if the student does not go on to order the full essay, the service still has the sample page available to use, as well as details about an assignment that a real student is undertaking.

Students who have used a free service like this can also be at the risk of blackmail.

 

Method 7 – Signing Up For Courses To Get Direct Access To Students

Contract cheating services have become wise to the idea that their best mechanism for connecting with students is to be inside the same courses as the students are. They are signing up to those courses to get access, particularly MOOCS and other large online courses where the students are unlikely to be personally known by teaching staff and the number of potential contacts can run into the thousands.

Having such access, whether it is in the form of email addresses, or the option to set up an off-site community, can be of immense value to contract cheating providers. They can present themselves as specialist in a particular course. They can access all the same resources used by legitimate students, including lecture notes, tutor access and library resources. Some companies have been observed operating a second side-hustle, by selling materials from within the course through sites such as CourseHero.

A variant of this technique has also been observed where contract cheating services do not need to register as a student themselves at all. Instead, they wait until orders for essays and assignment solutions come in from students. They then get direct access to the site from their customer instead. This approach raises all kinds of cybersecurity issues and asks the question do universities really check if the correct people are accessing their servers.

 

Stay Alert To The Changing Contract Cheating Industry!

Shareable Infographic

As this blog post has indicated, contract cheating services and essay mills are able to get their message out to students on campus. Their techniques are developing all the time as bright new entrepreneurs choose to enter this lucrative space. There are all kinds of other techniques in use. Connecting with students through social media properties, for example, is common.

I’ve recently heard about essay mills becoming even more brazen, sending out sales people to go into university canteens and other areas popular with students to talk directly about the ways in which they can help them.

I share new contract cheating industry developments all the time in my academic integrity talks and training sessions. Click here to contact me if you’d like to discuss ways in which I can work with you or your staff and students.

Do stay alert to changes in the contract cheating industry. The past few years have seen continual developments. Such changes to essay mill and contract cheating provider operation are likely to continue and the pace of industry change may even accelerate.

Addressing Contract Cheating and Other Threats to Academic Integrity – Keynote Presentation at University of Wolverhampton

The world of contract cheating continues to progress. I was asked to speak about this for a keynote address at the University of Wolverhampton, which allowed me to bring together many of the latest findings in the contract cheating and academic integrity fields.

The slides I used are available on my SlideShare account. They are also included below.


During the presentation, I showed how easy how cheap and easy outsourcing is (you can see a video promoting the fictitious essay mill Werewolf Essays here). I also considered how contract cheating companies are now able to get their advertising out through university channels themselves, including university social media accounts.

The presentation was accompanied by lots of questions, including relating to the technology surrounding the academic cheating industry, which is becoming something of a trend at events like this now.

The Only Titles You Need For Your Lectures, Presentations, Blog Posts And Academic Papers

..and the blog post tile I’ve chosen here is just linkbait.

You can go ahead and use the ideas in this post for your next journal paper submission, but chances are it will be rejected.

But catchy titles mean something. It’s why in the era of fake news, we click on things that seem unbelievable or which we don’t think could be true, just to find out we’ve been tricked and we’ve not.

I shared a set of catchy titles relating to plagiarism and several people asked how I generated them.

My favourite title is the first one, which is aimed at getting students interested.

Make Your Parents Proud By Learning Plagiarism

And, I can so easily imagine someone running with just that title (but hopefully not delivering on the promise).

A lot of it is about turning plagiarism on its head from what students expect.

Template Titles

You could use almost all of those titles, with slight modifications, to talk about other subjects.

Many work for academic integrity just as well as plagiarism.

You could say:

Make Your Parents Proud By Learning Academic Integrity

But it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?

There’s Big Money In Academic Integrity” might do better.

But, the fact is, most of these titles are generated from templates. If you look at what’s trending on a site like Buzzfeed, you’ll see the same patterns appearing in titles again and again.

And, so many of them have a number in the title somewhere. You can base your own title on that and you’re already well-positioned to get attention.

(and no, I don’t consider putting your own subject into a standarised title format to be plagiarism)

Title Generators

You can go one-step further.

Many of the titles that work most cleanly across different subjects (or niches) have been developed into title generators.

You just plug your subject in there and watch the generator spit out a whole load of titles until you see one you like (or one you like enough to modify a bit).

My experience is, you’re not likely to get anything exactly perfect from a title generator, but it’s pretty easy to take something they make, change it up and tidy the grammar.

Different generators work better for different subject, so it’s worth trying a few. Here are some that have worked for me:

http://www.title-generator.com | https://seopressor.com/blog-title-generator | https://www.hubspot.com/blog-topic-generator | https://www.portent.com/tools/title-maker

If you get more advanced, you can start using headline analysis as well to work out the emotional impact of your title. But that’s a more advanced marketing technique, particularly for academic work.

And, if you don’t want to use these titles for your next academic paper, that’s fine. You can always use them for the blog post to promote the paper instead.

Contract Cheating – A Decade (Plus One) Of Contract Cheating

10 In 10 Contract Cheating Series – Year 11 Review

In 2016, I quietly published a series of blog posts looking back at 10 years of contract cheating. June 2016 marked the 10th anniversary of my research referring to contract cheating. This was first being published in June 2006 (although the data referred to in that study predates this, as it was collected from 2004 onwards).

The A Decade of Contract Cheating series looked back at previous developments, considered future work in the contract cheating and debuted some new elements of research prior to formal publication.

I didn’t heavily promote A Decade of Contract Cheating when the posts were originally published, although I’ve had some good feedback relating to the series. That means that many of the posts have become buried inside the blog.

June 2017 marks 11 years of contract cheating. This brings with it the perfect time to review the A Decade of Contract Cheating series and to look at how the field is continuing to progress. I’ve summarised the posts, with links to the original discussions, in the table below.

Post Number Post Title Post Details
Part 01 Examining The Changes That Have Been Made To The Marketplace For Bespoke Essays Slides This was the first talk I delivered that really drilled down into the marketing of essay mills and contract cheating services. This marketing is one of the main reasons that the essay industry has been able to become so big. I’ve since developed these ideas much further through other presentations.
Part 02 Examining The Changes That Have Been Made To The Marketplace For Bespoke Essays Video As part of the 10 in 10 series, I recorded a separate (34 minute) version of what I billed as my anniversary presentation. Conference presentations are always tight on time, so this video version allowed me to go into more detail about the examples. Marketing is such a fast moving field that there are new developments to add to how the essay industry works even from one year ago.
Part 03 The Demand For Essay Writing Jobs A little-spoken about challenge within contract cheating has been the set of academic writers who provide essays and assignments for students. This post identifies five types of ghostwriters along with examples and details of the market that buys and sells essay writing service accounts as these are in great demand. The post doesn’t discuss the fake academic writers who are also out there, collecting money from unsuspecting students.
Part 04 Eliminating The Successor To Plagiarism – Identifying The Usage Of Contract Cheating Sites 10 Years On Slides I developed this talk as an Internet exclusive, taking the set of slides from my first conference presentation on contract cheating and annotating them with how the field had developed in the past 10 years. The slides empathise the change in marketing techniques and how the success of similarity detection software has moved the essay industry away from selling the same essay multiple times. They also show the still valid finding, that students don’t just buy a single assignment, but students continue to habitually buy assignments throughout their course.
Part 05 Eliminating The Successor To Plagiarism – Identifying The Usage Of Contract Cheating Sites 10 Years On Video The video version of the 10 Years On talk (another Internet exclusive) runs to 27 minutes, allowing me to drill down much more into the differences between the essay writing industry in 2006 and 2016. This is a useful introduction video to anyone looking to see how the contract cheating field has developed.
Part 06 The Growth Of Essay Outsourcing To Fiverr.com As part of my publications, I’ve broken the news of different sites being used to facilitate contract cheating on many occasions. Fiverr.com is part of the gig economy for cheating, offering very low cost outsourcing opportunities for students thinking outside the box of the major essay mills. Students are using this an agency style website and cutting out the other links in the cheating chain to connect together directly with writers. The site provides over 800 advertised gigs for essay writing services. In a separate investigation of mine where I priced up one of my own assignments, a literature review, most writers asked for $20 USD to complete this 2000 word literature review (just 1c per word).
Part 07 What Shape Is The Bespoke Essay Industry In Today? How big is the essay industry is one of those difficult questions to answer. I tend to play safe when asked that question, pointing instead to the massive growth of essay site marketing and visibility as being suggestive on many more sites. There have also been suggestions that, although the number of orders has grown, the amount paid per assignment has dropped, so the financial growth of the industry has also slowed. Equating known facts about the industry and search traffic, I estimate an essay industry worth £50 million per year. This is below the figures suggested by the essay mills themselves. However, when smaller players such as individual writers and private tutors are included, as well as the market for work in languages other than English, the real figure could be much higher.
Part 08 The Impact Of Twitter On The Essay Industry I was an early adopter of social media use within teaching in the UK. In the world of 2017, it would be difficult to imagine a world where students weren’t digitally led and engaged through social media. The contract cheating industry also knows this, with advertising sent to students that can be both context aware and geotargeted. This post focuses on Twitter, but as my essay marketing work has shown, similar functionality is available through Facebook, LinkedIn, Snapchat and other sites. As well as examples of adverts and classifications of users, the post also identifies the essay companies who are tweeting details of all the assignments they complete – seemingly a great way of advertising the work that can be requested, but also a possible method that academics can use to check if a request for their assignment to be outsourced has been made.
Part 09 Ten Years Of Contract Cheating Keynote Presentation Slides and Video This keynote presentation traces the movement from contract cheating being kept under wraps to becoming a highly developed and sophisticated industry. This talk firmly sets the stage for the need for open discussions about contract cheating and looks at the challenges posed by new technologies. As well as the slides, a video version of the keynote is also available with my contribution lasting around one hour (for convenience, I’ve embedded this at the end of this blog post).
Part 10 10 Contract Cheating Research Observations From The Past Decade That Have Shaped What We Know About Student Cheating Behaviour What have we discovered about contract cheating that we didn’t know before (forgive me, this is one of those list type of blog posts). I’ve picked up 10 observations from across the contract cheating literature and collected knowledge base that I think are of importance and I’ve discussed each of these. The final observation holds particularly true and I heard very similar sentiments expressed in a different study just recently. That is, all assignments are cheatable when students are inclined to cheat. To me, student engagement is key, as is their ownership of their learning journey.

Looking back at the posts, I actually cheated a little as there are only really eight subjects (in two cases, I posted slides and a video as separate entitles), but there’s still a lot of information that I hope is of use there.

As several people have expressed to me recently, I’m bad at traditional academic publishing, so there are several components that could easily form the basis for a good academic paper (if only I had an unlimited conference budget). There’s also a huge amount of material I leave buried in the slides from talks, or worse still, in the verbal and video discussions.

There is a useful book bringing the developments in the contract cheating research field together that just needs to emerge.

If you have time to look at just one thing, I think that the keynote I gave on contract cheating at Curtin University balances well the need to review the past and look ahead to the potential future developments in the field.

I’ve also since worked out how to embed the video from the keynote presentation, which you can view below.

This only seems to be a screen capture with audio, but I know that cameras were filming, so that footage might be around somewhere.

The other presentations from the symposium are worth a look as well and there’s the complete recording of an internal contract cheating workshop that I delivered. There’s also audio from the closing discussion where I was part of the contract cheating panel.

Contract Cheating And The Essay Writing Industry – Where Does The Money Go

Some of the recent contract cheating work that I’ve been engaged with and have found to be the most interesting has been looking at the marketing funnels behind contract cheating services.

These funnels are increasingly elaborate. It’s no longer enough for an enterprising individual to set up a website offering to write essays for students. The successful sites now look closely at how students will find their website, they pay big commissions to the affiliates who send them traffic and they plug into existing services designed to write essays rather than need to employ their own writers.

I explored a lot of these issues in my talk about contract cheating at the International Center For Academic Integrity Inaugural Mediterranean Conference, held in Athens, Greece.

You can see the slides for the presentation on my SlideShare account. They are also embedded below.

It is really interesting to look at all of the different individuals who are getting a piece of the money paid by a student to a contract cheating service. In many cases, only a small proportion of this goes to a writer. There’s certainly much more work on contract cheating supplier, essay mills and marketing that I hope to complete (and more formally publish) in the future.

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