The Stupid Plagiarist on Freelancer.com

Freelancer LogoBack in early December, I received an email from healthcare consultant and long-time Plagiarism Today reader Mark Graban about a project he spotted on Freelancer.com by a user name “Crazylarry23”. The project, entitled “ERP and Lean Manufacturing – Simple Academic Essay” involved a student directly buying an academic paper on the site.

(Note: Mark also gives a hat tip to Michael Baudin, who apparently alerted him to the case.)

Graban wrote about the incident on his own site but, at the time, I didn’t hold out much hope for a good resolution to the matter. The only thing that was truly unique about the case was that it was on freelancer.com. Though Freelancer.com has taken more than a few knocks for being a haven for spammy content or even plagiarized article writing, it’s not exactly known as a haven for academic plagiarists.

However, Mark wasn’t one to let the matter drop. Working from the assumption that the information Crazylarry23 had posted to his profile was authentic, Mark located the school closest the profile’s location that had a class that might be relevant to the paper. He then contacted the professor with information about the assignment and forwarded the link to him.

It was a shot in the dark, but it seemingly worked. The professor of the class wrote back saying that he was able to identify the student involved and was submitting the case to the provost for disciplinary action. He added in the email “I will be pushing for the maximum penalty.”

Though the auction completed with a winning proposal worth $50, a later, similar project posted by the same user has gone over a month without an accepted proposal, indicating that he user has likely left the site.

While certainly a great victory for academic honesty, the audacity of what Crazylarry23 attempted weighed on me over the holidays and, in my view, warrants a closer look.

The Audacity of Crazylarry23

If everything happened as it appears, the audacity of what was attempted is pretty amazing.

Crazylarry23, for the lack of a better name, not only attempted to plagiarize a paper, but did so using a (mostly) legitimate site, in a public proposal, with a topic that could be easily traced back to his college and with credentials that, clearly, could be used to identify him personally

If this were a regular crime, it would be like committing it on a busy street, in broad daylight, with your license plate in full view and without a mask. Does it happen? Yes. But the gall is shocking then as well.

But, also as with the above crime scenario, most people who do such audacious crimes get away with it. Very few plagiarists have someone as determined as Mark to track them down.

So, as with “real world” crimes, audacity increases the likelihood a plagiarist will be cost, but is certainly no guarantee. The bigger worry though is that the audacity indicates a change in social norms, at least among some students, and that plagiarists are increasingly confident in their actions.

The Future of Academic Plagiarism

As I talked about in my recent look ahead to 2012, academic plagiarism is turning more and more toward “essay mill” and other forms of paid plagiarism.

With “copy and paste” cheating being caught more and more effectively through technology, only the truly daft and/or desperate are likely to copy whole articles from Wikipedia. Increasingly, copy and paste plagiarism is focusing less on finding flagrant cheating and more of finding unattributed passages and patchwork plagiarism cases.

Combine this with the dropping costs of custom essay writing, the idea of custom paper writing as a source of plagiarism is becoming more practical and more appealing with every passing day. This price trend is being fueld partly by sites like Freelancer.com, but, more importantly, cheap foreign sites that are driving down prices domestically as well.

In short, Crazylarry23 is not alone and his numbers will likely be growing.

As a result of this, educators need to get proactive with this issue. This means both looking for signs that students are looking to buy papers for their classes and, more importantly, crafting assignments that resist this kind of cheating. Pairing essays with in-class portions, requiring multiple drafts, asking to see handwritten work, etc. can all help prevent or eliminate this form of cheating.

This may mean making some major changes in the way students are educated, but many of those changes will have benefits well beyond just fighting plagiarism, if they are executed correctly.

Bottom Line

In the end, the Crazylarry23 case is similar to when you hear about the daylight mugging down the road. It’s not shocking because it isn’t common, but because of how brazen it was and that it happened in your neighborhood.

But, much like that mugging, it’s possibly a warning sign of impending changes and those are signs we should pay attention to.

The winds are changing and CrazyLarry23 may not be as crazy as his name would indicate, he may just be ahead of the curve.

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