Are Essay Mills committing fraud? An analysis of these behaviours vs the 2006 Fraud Act (UK)

International Journal for Educational Integrity volume 13, Article number: 3 ( 2017 ) | Download Citation

Many strategies have now been proposed to deal with making use of Essay Mills as well as other ‘contract cheating’ services by students. These services generally offer bespoke custom-written essays or other assignments to students in return for a fee. There have been calls for the use of legal methods to tackle the problem. Here we determine whether the UK Fraud Act (2006) might be used to tackle a few of the activities of companies providing these types of services when you look at the UK, by comparing their common practises, and their conditions and terms, aided by the Act. We found that all of the sites examined have disclaimers about the use of their products or services but there are several contradictions that are obvious the activities associated with sites which undermine these disclaimers, for example all sites offer plagiarism-free guarantees for the work and also at least eight have advertising which seems to contradict their terms and conditions. We identify possible areas where the Act might be used to follow a legal case but overall conclude that such a method is unlikely to be effective. We call for a offence that is new be created in UK law which specifically targets the undesirable behaviours of these companies when you look at the UK, although the principles could possibly be applied elsewhere. We also highlight other UK legal approaches that may become more successful.


The use of so-called ‘contract cheating’ services by students happens to be a way to obtain controversy and debate within advanced schooling, particularly into the decade that is last. ‘Contract cheating’ refers, basically, to the outsourcing of assessments by students, to third parties who complete focus on their behalf in return for a fee or some other benefit (Lancaster and Clarke 2016). These types of services offer ‘custom assignments’ of almost any form, although custom written essays look like the most typical. Students tend to be able to specify the grade they need (although there is not any guarantee this will be delivered), request drafts, referencing styles and almost any other custom feature (Newton and Lang 2016). Services available are quick and cheap (Wallace and Newton 2014) and students underestimate the severe nature with which universities penalise the utilization of contract cheating services (Newton 2015). Perhaps the simplest arrangements are directly between students and ‘custom essay writing companies’, a lot of whom are ‘listed’ companies with sophisticated advertising campaigns. However there are many ways in which students can use third parties to complete work for them, because of the contract spread across continents; writers may work as freelancers, employed in a different country towards the student and their institution. These freelance home writers can make usage of online auction services to essay writing service advertise and organise their work and these could be in yet another country, and there could be another intermediary; an individual who receives your order from the student and then posts the task on an auction site (Newton and Lang 2016; Sivasubramaniam et al. 2016). Thus there are multiple actors in contract cheating, one or more of whom could be liable if their actions violate the law; students, their universities, the persons paying tuition fees, writers, those that employ writers, those sites which host the writers, advertising companies, those who host the advertising, and so on. Here we focus primarily on UK-registered companies that are essay-writing.

Across education, a student who completes an evaluation to make credit towards an award is generally expected to do so from the explicit basis that the submission is the own work that is independent. Ideally, both students and staff are given guidance as to what constitutes academic misconduct and the consequences of these misconduct (Morris 2015), in a manner that promotes a confident, constructive approach to fostering ‘academic integrity’ (Thomas and Scott 2016). If a student submits work that is shown to comprise, in whole or perhaps in part, material that’s not their own independent work then that student will normally face a variety of penalties, administered by their university, for academic misconduct. These usually include cancellation of marks for the relevant module or the relevant component of the module subject to any mitigating circumstances (Tennant and Duggan 2008) in the UK. Historically, these behaviours haven’t been dealt with through legal mechanisms in the UK (QAA 2016) and this applies to plagiarism outside academic circumstances which, in the words of Saunders,”. is certainly not if it breaches an established legal right, such as copyright, or offends against the law of misrepresentation or other legal rules” (Saunders 2010) in itself illegal; it is only illegal.

However, a commonly used test to make legal decisions is always to decide how a ‘reasonable person’ might view a behaviour that is particular. If asked to describe the purchasing of essays for submission for the purposes of gaining credit that is academic seems logical to summarize that a reasonable person would conclude that such behaviour is ‘fraudulent’, particularly because of the language related to it (e.g. ‘cheating’). Then they might reasonably be said to have assisted, conspired or colluded in such academic fraud, cheating or dishonesty if another individual has knowingly assisted in that activity.

Then it is clear that the student commits academic misconduct, but what of the individual or company that supplied the work in return for payment if a student has purchased written work from another individual or a company for the purpose of passing it off as his or her own work? As to what extent is that individual or company (an ‘assistor’) complicit in such misconduct? What is the liability that is potential of assistor and can action be taken against them? Would be the assistors by their action inciting fraud that is academic? Unless the assistor is a student in the same institution an educational institution cannot normally take action from the assistor under internal disciplinary procedures. In addition, and perhaps more to the point, will there be the chance of fraudulent behaviour into the relationship amongst the student therefore the company?

Broadly, legal wrongs committed in England and Wales could be addressed through the civil or law that is criminalUK Government 2016a). An action in civil law is taken by a individual that is wronged their initial cost. This cost is often prohibitive and also normally requires the formulation of a claim recognised by the law that evidences loss or harm to the claimant that is individual by the defendant as well as which an answer is sought. Thus the ability of educational institutions (or a student for that matter) to take action that is civil assistors is bound.

Action pertaining to UK law that is criminal normally undertaken by as well as the price of their state through the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) but requires a criminal offence to own been committed (private prosecutions at private cost are possible but relatively rare). The Code for Crown Prosecutors sets out of the principles that are basic be accompanied by Crown Prosecutors when they make case decisions. Crown Prosecutors must be satisfied that there is enough evidence to provide a “realistic prospect of conviction” and that this is the public interest to follow a prosecution (UK Government 2013).

An intention of this paper is to measure the extent that a small business organisation who supplies an essay or written work upon instructions from a student in substitution for money could be liable underneath the criminal law of England and Wales for an offence under the Fraud Act 2006 (The Act) (UK Government 2006). The Act commenced operation on 15 January 2007 because of the Fraud Act 2006 (Commencement) Order 2006 SI 2006/3200. The Act pertains to offences committed wholly on or after 15 January 2007 and extends to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In August 2016 the UK regulator of advanced schooling, the Quality Assurance agency, considered all methods to cope with contract cheating, an issue that they stated “poses a significant risk into the academic standards and also the integrity of UK higher education” (QAA 2016). Their consideration of possible legal approaches under existing law concluded that the Fraud Act was the “nearest applicable legislation”, but they did not reach a strong conclusion on its use, stating that “Case law seems to indicate a reluctance from the part of the courts to be engaged in cases involving plagiarism, deeming this to be a matter for academic judgement that falls away from competence regarding the court (Hines v Birkbeck College 1985 3 All ER 15)” (QAA 2016).

The QAA state that the UK 2006 Fraud Act is “untested in this context” in their conclusion. Here we explore the detail associated with Fraud Act further, and compare it into the established business practises of UK-registered essay-writing companies, with a focus that is particular their Terms and Conditions.

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