International students in Australia are being targeted by ghostwriting scams
A growing number of international students are being contacted by ghostwriting agencies. Source: Shutterstock

Ghostwriting services that offer to write students’ essays for them are becoming more aggressive in targeting international students in Australia, ABC reported.

These services are specifically targeting international students, mainly from China, who do not have high levels of proficiency in English.

International student Sally Zhang (not her real name) told ABC that she recently bought an essay from a ghostwriter so she could enjoy an early holiday.

“Ms Zhang, a Chinese international student who is undertaking a postgraduate degree at the University of Western Australia, took up the service on WeChat last month after being bombarded with offers from various ghostwriting agencies under the guise of friend requests.”

According to Zhang, they lure students in with tempting words such as “It’s almost time for holiday. Throw us your assignments, go and enjoy yourself.”

There are many agencies that offer ‘contract cheating’, where they charge hundreds of dollars to write a student’s essay.

Contract cheating is when someone asks someone else to do their assignment or take an exam for them, typically for a fee. It’s a booming industry worldwide.

But what’s even more troubling is that there are some in particular, like the one Zhang contacted, that scam students out of their money.

She told the ABC that she forked out AU$600 for a 3,000-word project proposal that she still has not received.

Tracey Bretag, an Associate Professor at the University of South Australia, told ABC that students have reported receiving e-mails from these ghostwriting agencies to their university e-mail inboxes, which makes it hard for some international students to realise they are actually illegitimate.

Since the e-mails look like they are really coming from the university, they can confuse students with poor English.

She said, “Our Chinese students told me that sometimes three times a day they get advertising about [these] commercial sites.”

Professor Bretag has conducted research on academic integrity and published her findings last year, based on a survey given to 14,000 students and 1,100 staff across eight Australian universities.

“The results showed that while only 6 percent of students self-reported engaging in at least one of the cheating behaviours investigated in the study, 15 percent of students had bought, sold or traded notes.”

Other research conducted by Phil Newton from Swansea University in Wales in 2018 found a “global increase in the percentage of students admitting to using contract cheating services — increasing from an historic average of 3.52 percent to 15.7 percent by 2014.”

This shows that contract cheating is on the rise and prevalent among international students. Therefore, the federal government in Australia recently proposed a legislation to make contract cheating and ghostwriting services illegal.

As ABC reported, “People found guilty under the proposed law — which will make it an offence to provide or advertise so-called “contract cheating” services — could face up to two years in prison or a fine of up to $210,000.”

According to 10 Daily, Universities Australia Chief Executive, Catriona Jackson, said that the legislation sends a powerful signal to deter contract cheating service providers, and that universities in the country  “utterly condemn contract cheating”.

However, she has some concerns. “Jackson has stressed the importance of getting the legislation right before it goes to parliament later this year. She’s concerned it could affect students who have simply sought help from friends or family.”

Jackson said, “We would not want someone’s Mum who proofreads an essay and suggests an addition to be inadvertently captured by these laws.”

National Union of Students President, Desiree Cai, has similar feelings, concerned that innocent students could get wrongfully caught up if the legislation isn’t clear enough.

She told 10 Daily, “As long as it isn’t so broad that it affects friends helping out classmates or family members giving students a hand.”

Cai also said that there needs to be more support by universities to help students and protect the ones who are most vulnerable, especially those who face academic pressures and feel they have no other choice but to cheat.

She said, “It’s vital that there is heavy investment in support like counselling and other academic support.

“In some cases, there are students waiting up to two weeks to get the help they need through their university and if this student is vulnerable, they could fall into that trap.”

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