Contract cheating

What is it?

Contract cheating is the form of academic misconduct where students have academic work (coursework, tests or exams) completed on their behalf, which they then submit as if they had created it themselves.  Contract cheating can involved the payment of a fee to a third party, but does not have to - it could be a paid company that does the work, or family or friends. Contract cheating is a very serious breach of academic integrity expectations.

Is it against the law?

In New Zealand it is an offence under the Section 292E of the New Zealand Education Act (1989) to 'provide or advertise cheating services', however many essay writing or homework help sites can be found easily on the web.  It is not always clear to students and staff if a website is a contract cheating website or not.

Should I talk to students about contract cheating?

It is important to talk to students about contract cheating - in all of its forms.  Students may not realise that asking a family member or friend to write part or all of their assignment is a form of contract cheating.  Research undertaken overseas has uncovered some predatory forms of behaviour among contract cheating companies in the way they promote or advertise their services to students, and there is evidence that some companies resort to blackmailing students.

Staff are asked to familiarise themselves with ways to help detect student work that has been obtained in this way.  One of the challenges with contract cheating is that many services advertise 'plagiarism free' content, that is, original content written by contract writers that will not be picked up by a text-matching service such as Turnitin. Some resource links are below. 

Resources on contract cheating

  • A one-page guide containing recommendations for academic staff to improve the detection of contract cheating from Deakin University's Centre for Research in Assessment and Digital Learning. How to detect contract cheating
  • Detailed guide from TEQSA (Australia's Tertiary Education Quality and Standards on Association) on detecting and investigating contract cheating cases Guide to Substantiating Contract Cheating
  • An article from Studies in Higher Education about the risks to students of contract cheating by Jonathan Yorke, Lesley Sefcik and Terisha Veeran-Coltan (2020). Contract cheating and blackmail: a risky business?

How can I tell if a website is for contract cheating or study help?

Telltale signs you are looking at an illegal cheating site:

  1. Asking for payment to complete assignment work for you.
  2. Assurances that they offer good quality writers/writing.
  3. An “Order” button.
  4. Prices linked to assignment length and completion times.
  5. Attempts to justify why buying assignments might be “ok”.
  6. Testimonials from “customers”, often accompanied by stock photos of people who aren’t real students.
  7. Guarantees of “plagiarism-free” work.
  8. The need to create a personal account and login.
  9. “Terms of service” that disclaim responsibility if students are caught submitting work from the site.
  10. Various service guarantees such as 24/7 support, live chat, feedback, money-back if unsatisfied (research shows they don’t always deliver on these).

List created by Guy Curtis, UWA School of Psychological Science.