Buy a paper? Click on a link from your own university

Hundreds of universities in the United States and Australia are the victims of hackers, who place links to ‘essay mills’, rogue websites where students can buy papers.

Photo for illustration only. (Photo: Dalia Madi)

The essay mills offer fully composed papers on a wide range of topics. Their customers do not have to roll up their own sleeves at all: they simply put their name at the top and adjust the layout a little.

The service is illegal, of course. Links to such essay mills pop up in unexpected places, as reported by British education journal Times Higher Education based on new research.

Hackers place links on American and Australian university websites in between other ordinary information. A link to a list of scholarship programmes might suddenly lead to an essay mill: you never know who might be in the market for a scholarly paper, after all. Sellers of illegal drugs follow the same strategy.

Sometimes there is no hacking at all, and the mills simply leave a spam response under an article with a link to their website.

The essay mills are also constantly looking for new papers to sell. Sometimes they launch sham essay competitions on university websites. Entrants then unintentionally provide the mills with new papers that plagiarism software does not flag.

The essay mills operate internationally, according to the researchers, with turnover in the billions. Their current research only looked at the situation in Australia and the USA. A quick search by the HOP editorial board did not yield any Dutch university websites with comparable links.

HOP, Bas Belleman
Translation: Taalcentrum-VU

HOP Hoger Onderwijs Persbureau

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