Mustakim Hasnath is Gair Rhydd's Feature Editor and went undercover to find out more about Essay Mills.
Features

Gair Rhydd Investigates: ‘Essay Mills’

by Mustakim Hasnath

In this week’s feature, Gair Rhydd investigates the rising popularity amongst students to purchase essays and submit them as their own work. Recent studies conducted by Swansea University found that one in every seven recent graduates may have paid someone to write assignments for them.

Many such services are advertised on social media platforms including the likes of WhatsApp, Facebook, Google and YouTube. Whilst some providers such as Google have removed thousands of advertisements for essay writing companies, our findings suggest that more intervention is needed if these services are to be completely discouraged. 

Students wishing to purchase tailor-made work currently have a number of options available to them. From contacting local, independent writers, who may be recent graduates to contacting larger companies, with freelancers taking on board the work from affiliated online auction-style freelance distribution platforms, our investigation has uncovered the ease of accessing content such as this. In most cases, the work is advertised as tailor made, with students being able to specify the grade they want (although there is no guarantee this will be delivered), request drafts, specify reference styles and almost any other customisation. 

Whilst legislative measures make ‘Essay Mills’ illegal in countries like New Zealand and 17 states of the US, with countries like Ireland and Australia to follow, in the UK such services still remain legal.

A UK Government petition to “Ban the provision and advertising of ‘essay mill’ cheating services” was put forward in September 2018, but after 6 months did not meet the required amount of signatures to be considered in a debate.

In the same month, leaders of the Russel Group of Universities wrote to the then Secretary of State Damian Hinds to “take action against the increasing problem of so-called essay mills companies that facilitate contract cheating by producing assignments-to-order for students”.

The letter, which was signed by 45 Vice-Chancellors and heads of organisations calling for new legislation to target such companies, urged the Government to commit to introducing legislation to ban theprovision and advertising of ‘Essay Mills’ and commission the QAA to develop and publish a draft Bill.   

We go undercover, finding out how the big ‘Essay Mills’ operate, speaking to essay writers and the people behind these controversial businesses posing as both prospective customers and writers.

Gair Rhydd also speaks exclusively to a former student of a Wales-based university who writes essays for customers across the UK. Speaking to a university student from a Cardiff-based university, we uncover how some of these writing services blackmail students after the initial purchase of work has been made.

Victims or cheats?

Gair Rhydd spoke to a former university student, who studied a science-related subject at a university in Cardiff. To avoid identifying the student and their course, we have given them the pseudonym ‘Riley’. Speaking about his experiences having purchased an essay from an online essay writing company, Riley revealed he was blackmailed to pay a further £500 to prevent the company from publishing the essay online, hence, exposing it to be plagiarised content.

“I was running out of time to submit my essay. It was my fault entirely for not managing my time properly and procrastinating as people do. I think there’s also a lot of pressure to do really well in university because of how much you pay for degrees. So much rests on each assignment we do and sometimes it feels like no matter how hard you try you’ll still fail.

“…he showed me screenshots of how similar essays his company had created passed 100% plagiarism free detection”

“That’s what I thought and still to some extent believe today. I came across a company online who sold essays. They were advertised quite a lot on Gumtree, which is how I contacted them. I messaged this guy about it all over WhatsApp, who promised me a 1,600 word essay priced at £120 for the next day.

Riley submitted the essay to a Cardiff-based university. Source: Wikimedia Commons

“Although it was quite high in price, he showed me screenshots of how similar essays his company had created passed 100% plagiarism free detection and reviews from other customers. Whilst you can’t be entirely sure in that situation, you’re also vulnerable and trusting what is promised.

“Anyway, I went ahead with it after thinking about it a lot. The person I spoke to seemed to be quite supportive about the whole process, but at the same time I did feel a bit of pressure going ahead with it because he’d message me almost every hour to buy the essay.

“He said that within his company he had a team of 20 academics who specialised in a number of different subjects. For my essay, he described the writer as being a specialist in the subject.

“I received the essay the next day and it suited the brief of the task well. At this point I thought everything as far as getting the essay I ordered was concerned, went quite well.

“I felt bad about it all but at the same time I felt like I genuinely had no other option. I was struggling with my mental health at the time as well and there is a lot of pressure for students to make every penny of their degrees worth it.

“I submitted the essay online and with only 10% plagiarism detected, I thought maybe I could get away with it. Even though there’s a worry that you’ll get found out, it’s nothing like the sense of relief you get by having all that work written for you.

“Two days after the deadline had passed, I received a phone call from the person I had been WhatsApp messaging. They told me that if I didn’t pay an extra £200, they would publish the essay online so that the university would detect plagiarism and find out that I had cheated. They blackmailed me.

“I felt awful. I didn’t have that sort of cash to spend for something like that. The essay was expensive enough as it was”

“I felt awful. I didn’t have that sort of cash to spend for something like that. The essay was expensive enough as it was. I felt hopeless and with nobody to turn to. Nobody else knew about what I’d done. I was so ashamed to tell anyone else. It was a horrible time. In the end I didn’t know if even paying that amount would keep a lid on things. I couldn’t even take some time to make a decision as it was constant calling and messaging from this guy to force a decision.”

At this point in the interview, Riley seemed visually emotional: “I was left with no choice but to not pay the £200 and a week later I was sent an email to attend a meeting about misconduct that had been alleged.

“This is probably the most stressful time of my life. Eventually, I was given a zero for that module, which the university staff said was generous given what had happened.

“I get that people will be like ‘why cheat in the first place’, but it’s genuinely such a stressful experience to put yourself through writing an essay, especially if you’re suffering from poor mental health.

“However, I’d advise people who are in that situation to definitely seek support and not get someone else to do the work for you. It’s disgusting what these people do. It really gets to you man.”

Gair Rhydd Goes Undercover

Posing as prospective buyers of essays, Gair Rhydd approached a total of 11 essay writing companies who advertise their services online. We also contacted a further seven companies posing as hopeful writers. Disclaimer: The names of the companies we have investigated are not to be confused with ones with similar names.

Posing as prospective buyers of essays, Gair Rhydd approached a total of 11 essay writing companies who advertise their services online. From their own websites, to advertisements on Gumtree and Social Media, our investigation has highlighted just how easy it is for students to contact such services for work in the first place.

Following requests from MPs, services such as Google and YouTube have already removed hundreds of such adverts. Yet, in all the eleven companies we contacted were advertised on Google as paid-for advertisements.

A number of companies we contacted claimed to be UK-based, with teams of writers available around the clock. ‘DissertationHomework.com’ was one of these. A common theme across companies such as this one is that the companies operate via one shared mobile number. In the case of DissertationHomework.com’, this was how we contacted Peter, Michael, Kumar and David on Whatsapp- names which Gair Rhydd has strong reason to believe are associated with the same person.

The business is described as a company on its website but is not registered at Companies House. ‘DissertationHomework.com’ quoted us £160 for a Journalism essay to be written within two weeks.

Although we asked repeatedly whether the company had academics specialising in Journalism, this was never made clear. When confronted by Gair Rhydd, Kumar from ‘DissertationHomework.com’ told us that the company has a team of 80 writers from across the world specialising in all areas of academia.

Kumar refused to acknowledge whether the company is a registered company and declined to comment on whether he identified as a number of different names. DissertationHomework.com operates via their website and Whatsapp, and regularly advertises their services on Gumtree. On Gumtree, the same mobile number and names are given on adverts in hundreds of towns across the UK in which stock photos of supposed academics are shown.

When confronted about these Gumtree advertisements and the stock photos, Kumar stressed that DissertationHomework.com is a large company with a network of writers offering ‘an essay writing service for customers everywhere’.

^it is common for writing services to appear on numerous advertisements on sites such as Gumtree, using stock photos such as this one.
Source: Pickpic

Gair Rhydd spoke to another essay writing service, who, like DissertationHomework.com, offer services to students in Cardiff via Gumtree. Speaking to Richard, Gair Rhydd asked why he helped students cheat in their assignments: “Look, I’m not doing anything wrong. This is a perfectly legitimate business. I’m a hard working person who works at the best of his ability.

“Look, I’m not doing anything wrong. This is a perfectly legitimate business”

I deal with the bookings and (we have) a team of professional writers. My team simply write essays according to what the customer wants. It’s simple and one thing I don’t do is screw people over”.

Responding to whether the company accepts that what they do goes against university policies, Richard said ‘That’s not my problem mate, I do a job and do it very well’. Richard declined to comment about why his company also operated across hundreds of Gumtree adverts.

We also went undercover, posing as hopeful writers for these companies. ‘Royal Essays’, is a larger company, which operates internationally and is registered in Cyprus. A subsidiary of Writeperfect LTD, this company offers website content, essay, research paper and dissertation writing services. A representative from this company claimed Gair Rhydd they had previously sold essays to students at Cardiff University and had a team of 3,000 writers globally.

Gair Rhydd understands that Royal Essays, similar to many online essay writing companies, uses freelance agencies to recruit writers and recent graduates. Over the course of three hours, we managed to register on one of these freelance websites, at no point being asked for proof of having a degree or any professional experience and eventually be offered to write a 3,000 word Business Management essay priced at £240.

Many registered UK-based businesses selling essays do exist, however. UKEssays (a trading name of All Answers Ltd), has been offering customers with plagiarism-free, model answers for any assignment as well as revision notes since 2003.

The company emphasises that the work purchased must not be submitted but is to ‘provide students with great help and assistance, and help them learn and grow’.

The company has a Fair Use Policy, in which the company states that ‘UK Essays does not condone students passing the writer’s work as their own in any circumstance’.

However, Riley argues that this is simply a loophole within the business model, “they say it’s not for submitting but I don’t think they’d exist if people didn’t submit them”. They add, “the only reason people buy essays online on such tight deadlines is simply because they can’t write it by themselves”.

Riley argues that even the guarantee of plagiarism-free content is not enough and that “if plagiarism is detected, it becomes your fault for submitting it when they don’t tell you to; it’s a loophole”.

“If plagiarism is detected, it becomes your fault for submitting it when they don’t tell you to; it’s a loophole”

When we posed as a hopeful writer for UKEssays, a representative told us that humanities subjects are in less demand, with most of the site’s business being made up of Business  and Management related assignment requests.   The representative also told us that the company had its own HR department, in which  any prospective writers are checked against the qualifications they claim to have. 

Gair Rhydd meets an essay writer from Wales

Gair Rhydd met a recent university graduate, who shared his experience of writing essays for students across Wales.

Why do you do what you do?

It’s easy money isn’t it. I graduated doing Biomedical Science last year and I found it hard finding a job. Working non-stop for 3 years often gets to you too. You just want to chill out for a bit but you can’t because there’s the pressure of needing to get a proper job.

I started doing it because my friend did it too and she would always tell me about how it was easy money. Even if there are tight deadlines sometimes, you’re paid way more than any other graduate job.

What do you do?

I write essays for money for undergraduate students who study biomedical science, and A level students. I do all sorts – project write-ups, essays,

How much do you charge?

It depends on the deadlines and what the assignment is. With Biomedical Science it’s not as difficult because I mainly write up reports and do diagrams – which makes it such easy money. Say for a 3,000 word project write-up I’d charge something like £150 to be sent to the customer in a week.

Do you understand that what you do is against university policy?

I do understand that it’s probably not the best thing for people to be doing, but at the same time I think it’s not my fault if they’re looking for loopholes. Our education system is flawed. Degrees cost a fortune and if students feel like they they’re not able to perform as well as they’re expected to, there’s no support system. Instead, they resort to buying essays and submitting it as their work. And to be honest, I don’t blame them. It’s not something I did but if it came down to it I would definitely consider it.

 

 

  

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