21st Century Cheating


Imagine a time before the internet – having to decode that Dewey Decimal thing you learnt about back in primary school (and quickly forgot about because duh, internet!) to find one singular book. Next, you’d have to read the book to find the good bits (“control-S” was not a thing yet), hand write notes (copy and pasting was also not a thing yet), and then remember exactly where you put said notes, and finally – probably the hardest bit for a ditz like me – not losing the notes!

That sounds like such a mission to write one essay, doesn’t it?! We are so lucky that in 2017 we have so much information ready for us to explore literally at our fingertips, it makes us wonder how the hell people got through university in 1995.  

My half-sister completed her degree back in 1995, and is always on my case when I start complaining about my work load, reminding me of how easy we have it nowadays. 

On one hand, back in 1995 they didn’t have the internet, so researching information for assessments would’ve been immensely annoying, but they also didn’t have “Turnitin”. This baby didn’t exist back in 1995 so unless the assessor had an amazing memory, you’re must have been in the clear! Basically… you could totally bull$h!t your way through an entire degree if your goal was to get the piece of paper, and not to actually learn.

On the other hand, us Gen-Z babes have it easy when it comes to accessing information, but as our reference list grew, so did our assessor’s expectations. Top quality essays filled with multiple sources and deep research is what is expected of us these days, and good luck trying to bull$h!t your way through your entire degree with technology like “Turnitin” scouring our submissions.   

It would be great to say that cheating no longer exists in Australian Universities because of advancements in technology, however nothing is 100% fool proof and it seems ways of cheating have also turned tech.  

There’s websites like ThinkSwap, which is advertised as a “student community where comprehensive study notes and study guides can be downloaded and shared with other students” (ThinkSwap.com), but basically you can obtain other people’s assessments by swapping your own documents, or by forking out about $20 a pop, which is way too reasonable a price! 

Thousands of Aussie students have already posted their work on this site, hoping that some desperate soul will pay them for it and universities can’t stop them, because the copyright belongs to the author – i.e. the original student who wrote the work. Turnitin can spot similarities between works from students in different year groups or even universities. But only the buyer – the cheater – will get punished if found. The seller can’t be punished because they own the copyright of their work. A real case of buyer beware!


The older option for cheaters is hiring a “ghostwriter”. Ghostwriters committing academic fraud was a thing back in 1995, and it’s still a thing in 2017, but nowadays ghostwriting has gone online. With no face to face contact, these modern-day ghostwriters are at minimal risk of getting caught!

“John Smith” (name withheld for privacy purposes), is a 25-year-old ghostwriter operating at two universities in Melbourne. Graduating from a prestigious Melbourne school and going on to complete his business degree with admirable results, Smith decided he wanted to spend the next few years post-uni travelling, and saved the money to do so by ghostwriting.

Initially joining a large online ghostwriting service that took 40% of the profits but guaranteed anonymity, he decided to take the chance and freelance so 100% of the profits were heading straight to his back pocket.  

Smith has been travelling on and off now for four years, and he says the money he makes from ghostwriting has been his main source of savings.

“I make between $50 and $800 per assignment, depending on how many words, how complex, how much time I’ve been given, how many notes I’ve been given… things like that”.

Smith relies on word of mouth for his service, with all communications done online or via phone to ensure anonymity, as his main concern with his shady activities is the possibility of it tarnishing his reputation and jeopardising his future career.

Back in November 2014, there was a Sydney cheating scandal involving a ghostwriting service called “MyMaster” operated by Yingying Dou, a 30-year-old Chinese businesswoman. More than 70 students faced severe penalties including expulsion, with over 1000 students using the service, turning in a profit of over $160,000 for Miss Dou. 

Again in the case of Miss Dou or other ghostwriters, universities can’t act against them, but they can punish students who use them. Ghostwriters make money by selling slightly tweaked versions of the same essay several times – which means it can get picked up by Turnitin. 

The ghosts may disappear, but students who use them face the consequences.


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