I remember a middle school history teacher stepping out of my classroom during an exam. It remained quiet for the first minute. But before long, students began peaking at crib notes, glancing at each other’s tests and eventually whispering back and forth. It’s human nature.
It’s not difficult to imagine the many ways online students might cheat – and all the smart reasons not to do it. Without the watchful eye of a professor or proctor, many online students might be tempted to have a friend take their exam or write their paper, or quickly search the internet to plagiarize assignments.
[Learn why to think twice before cheating in online courses.]
As more online programs employ technological countermeasures to curb and catch cheaters, the new black market of cheat-for-hire services has proliferated. These nefarious services offer to complete as little as one assignment and as much as an entire online course for a negotiated fee.
Online cheat-for-hire companies openly advertise online, including sites such as Craigslist, and social media. Professional-looking websites offer to partially or fully complete online classes, including writing posts for discussion boards, submitting assignments, taking exams and emailing faculty posing as the student. Some companies boast earning clients an A or B with a money-back guarantee. And many contain convincing testimonials from other satisfied customers and live chat features. What could possibly go wrong?
Plenty. Withdrawing from a hard class, choosing a slower completion pace or asking a professor, adviser, librarian or mentor for virtual assistance are all much wiser options for online students in a time management crunch.
Here are four dangers of using a cheating service for an online course.
1. They require a lot of personal information. It’s difficult to predict what cheat-for-hire services might do with students’ personal information, which many require to fully assume their online identity. Most cheating services will ask for birthdate, Social Security numbers, home or campus address, usernames, email passwords, mother’s maiden name and other common security questions – basically the keys to one’s personal information security kingdom.
2. Identity thieves might apply for or collect students’ financial aid. The Department of Education estimated that from 2009 to 2012, there was a $187 million loss in federal student aid funds due to identity thieves collecting aid while posing as online students, according to 2013 Congressional testimony of the U.S. Department of Education Inspector General Kathleen S. Tighe.
An online student’s personal information could be used to apply for financial aid at an institution under the student’s name, withdraw from classes or receive a refund check. The victim would be responsible for serving the loan.
[Explore what to know about financial aid in online degree programs.]
3. They might threaten you for payment. In a recent phone conversation, my colleague Meghan Pereira, senior instructional designer at SUNY Buffalo State, said she’s aware of instances where cheating services took online courses and subsequently threatened to report the student for academic dishonesty unless the student paid an additional fee.
4. If caught, the consequences could be severe. Pereira also warned that students risk penalties such as failure, expulsion and tuition repayment if caught. Students should plan ahead and consult support services available at the institution.
The takeaway: Online students considering using these services seldom consider the additional nightmares of identity theft, financial aid fraud, extortion, failure or expulsion. It’s understandable that busy online students can feel cheating is the only way out of a tough semester. It isn’t.