Woman in blue shirt sits at desk writing an exam

Don't cheat yourself

24 May 2022
Protect yourself from contract cheating.
Engaging in contract cheating is risky, both for you and others. Here's how to protect yourself from contract cheating services and avoid engaging in risky contract cheating behaviours.

We know that contract cheating is wrong. But what constitutes contract cheating and what behaviours are associated with this term can be confusing at times, particularly in an online learning environment. What may seem like the easy way out can have severe consequences for both you and your classmates. You may even be engaging in behaviour that constitutes contract cheating and not even know it yet. 

It can be tempting to take what seems like the easy way out, especially if you have run out of time to get your assignment in, or if a friend has offered to help write your assignment for you. What if other students in your class have signed up for online assignment tutoring? With assessment deadlines looming and the combined stresses of remote learning and family and work commitments, various forms of cheating might begin to sound like a good idea. But what may seem like a shortcut to make life easier right now can have ongoing serious consequences both for the person that cheats and the people around them.

What is contract cheating?

Contract cheating involves engaging a third party to complete part or all of your work and then submitting the work as if you had completed it yourself. This could be a friend, a family member, a private tutor or a ghostwriter. There does not need to have been any payment involved for something to be considered contract cheating.

Contract cheating includes, but is not limited to:

  • asking a partner, friend or family member to write an assignment for you
  • asking someone to sit an exam for you
  • paying an external tutoring company to coach you in how to complete an assignment
  • paying an external company or ghostwriter to write an essay for you
  • posting or searching for answers on help sites
  • sharing answers to assignment questions, exams and quizzes

With the transition to remote learning, contract cheating companies have found new opportunities and more sinister ways to target students across multiple different online platforms. These companies often present themselves as providing a legitimate, honest service. They may even pose as a student joining an online unit of study group, or an online tutorial, where they share links with other students to sign up for “tutoring”, which is in fact illegitimate assignment coaching. More and more students are getting caught up in situations that lead them to breach academic integrity requirements – sometimes without even realising it. It’s important to know how to protect yourself from contract cheating services and be aware of the serious consequences of being involved in contract cheating, not only for the students who engage in it, but for everyone else too.

What are contract cheating behaviours?

Even if you don’t directly ask someone else to sit your exam or write your assignment, you may still be engaging in risky contract cheating behaviours. It is important to protect yourself and your own work in an online environment by avoiding these behaviours, which increase your risk of engaging in contract cheating.

Examples of contract cheating behaviours:

  • Engaging with private services, tutoring, or assignment help services that aren’t affiliated with the University. If you think you can benefit from some tutoring, it’s far better to reach out for academic support or University teachers for advice before you find yourself in a situation that could land you in trouble.
  • Using online plagiarism checker services to check your Turnitin score before submitting your work to the University. These services often claim that your work won’t be saved to Turnitin, however students face integrity issues once they submit to the University and the work matches. These services may also share or sell your work to other students
  • Uploading the University's copyright teaching materials such as unit of study outlines, lecture slides and assignment questions to 'study notes' sharing websites so that you can access documents uploaded by other students.
  • Selling or sharing the University's teaching materials with private tutoring or ghostwriting companies.
  • Booking University venues on behalf of private tutoring companies who illegally use the University's teaching materials to provide their own services to students for payment.
  • Providing your University login details to private tutoring and ghostwriting companies so that they can access online tutorials and/or teaching materials hosted in Canvas.

What are the consequences of being involved in contract cheating?

If you get caught participating in contract cheating, you’ll face serious academic consequences under the University’s policies. This could range from failing an assignment or the unit of study, to exclusion from your course. If you are an international student, the risk is even greater, as your study visa may be affected. Most importantly, by engaging in risky behaviours– you're cheating yourself. Not only are you risking your degree, you also won’t learn the knowledge and skills you need to succeed in your chosen career.

But the consequences of contract cheating aren’t simply limited to academic misconduct. Cheating on assessments negatively impacts your fellow students as it gives individuals that engage in it an unfair advantage and can result in the entire cohort facing the consequences. Contract cheating also undermines the trust employers and the general public have in universities, the value of degrees and graduates, and the students. Not only this, but contract cheating is also considered a criminal offence in Australia.

While the legislation targets the activities of commercial contract cheating companies in providing or advertising their paid services to students, it also creates a civil offence for individuals providing illegitimate assistance, whether for payment or not. This would cover situations, for example, where a friend or family member writes or contributes to a substantial part of a student’s work.

Engaging in this form of cheating also carries significant personal risks. Providing sensitive personal and financial information to contract cheating companies, including your University login details, puts you at risk of theft, identity fraud and blackmail. Some providers will threaten to tell the University and hold students to ransom unless they pay money to the blackmailers.

Where to get support

If you become aware that contract cheating has occurred, you can report it to your lecturer, tutor or to educational.integrity@sydney.edu.au. We treat all reports of academic dishonesty made by students as confidential.

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