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a_lipsey
Community Member

Academic fraud and ongoing concerns

The more I think about this, the proliferation of academic fraud on Upwork feels to me like one of my biggest concerns in affiliating with the platform. If there is a view out there that Upwork is for people to cheat and the freelancers there lack ethics and will help you cheat, then I am concerned with how that reflects on my business's reputation. Academic fraud on Upwork should be a major point of concern for all freelancers.
 
I know Upwork allows us to flag jobs that are unethical or illegal, but I truly feel like this should be more bluntly and directly addressed as unacceptable. I'm not in a field where I would even get invited to these jobs (although it has happened once or twice), but I do see them in my job feed (not sure why). People looking to buy their PhDs and MDs and whatever other degree are serious dangers to science, innovation, and academia. I can only imagine the day ahead when someone who bought their PhD or MD on Upwork is taken to court over some negligence and actually calls out that they had their homework done on Upwork. 
 
Changes to Upwork's interface and connects system, these are all things I just deal with in stride, opt in or opt out. I find the lack of attention to academic fraud repulsive. As a client I was searching for freelancers yesterday, and around 50% of all the profiles I reviewed had done homework for people in college at various levels. 
 
Regardless of field, I don't think this is an issue that any freelancer who wants Upwork to be a reputable place for clients to find them can ignore. 
 
So, if I were to add an outright suggestion: any client who posts a job to have their homework done should be banned (not their job post removed, but banned). And any freelancer who has taken a job to do someone's homework should likewise be banned. Universities have zero tolerance for this. I think that Upwork should likewise have zero tolerance. I feel this is a very real threat to Upwork and to all of us considering that we use Upwork to find clients, and Upwork's reputation impacts our ability to use it.
38 REPLIES 38
renata101
Community Member

Well said, Amanda. 

 

I honestly feel that the practice might not have been as rampant as it is today if more serious action had been taken years ago. Freelancers in writing and editing have been complaining about this for ages. I once found a freelancer/farmer who appeared to have made about 20K through contract cheating. 

Clients who post these things basically get a hand slap. And it's the same with the people who take the contracts. 

Supposedly there's a move to attract a higher level of client. Letting the situation remain as it is is definitely not consistent with that effort. 

Hopefully, not that many clients are actively looking at the job postings. But they are still accessible to them if they do look. I saw a posting today blatantly advertising for someone to write a university assignment. I know I'd hate it if my clients were to see something like that. 


Renata S wrote:

Well said, Amanda. 

 

I honestly feel that the practice might not have been as rampant as it is today if more serious action had been taken years ago. Freelancers in writing and editing have been complaining about this for ages. I once found a freelancer/farmer who appeared to have made about 20K through contract cheating. 

Clients who post these things basically get a hand slap. And it's the same with the people who take the contracts. 

Supposedly there's a move to attract a higher level of client. Letting the situation remain as it is is definitely not consistent with that effort. 

Hopefully, not that many clients are actively looking at the job postings. But they are still accessible to them if they do look. I saw a posting today blatantly advertising for someone to write a university assignment. I know I'd hate it if my clients were to see something like that. 


Thank you, Renata. 

 

Not for nothing, but it also bothers me because in addition to being a full-time consultant/freelancer, I am a full-time student. While there are myriad problems with accommodations, expectations, and pedagogy in academia, academic fraud has no excuse. 

gilbert-phyllis
Community Member

Thank you, Amanda, for articulating the issue so thoroughly. I can't count the number of job posts I've flagged over the years for this. It doesn't seem to make any difference and my strong impression is that Upwork treats the issue with a wink and a nod. 

renata101
Community Member

This was flagged hours ago.  I don't think it's possible to state the intent of the post more blatantly. The client is openly asking for a freelancer to write a university assignment. It says so in the job title.

 

**Edited for Community Guidelines**

Hi Renata,

 

I'm sorry to hear this hasn't been actioned yet but please note that reports are addressed in the order they were received. We'll make sure to follow up on this one so that the team is aware. Thank you for flagging this.

 

~ Luiggi
Upwork

Thanks, Luiggi. But if we're flagging and nothing is happening, what's the point of flagging? 

Are they planning to wait until that particular client has hired? Because the typical pattern is that, once the client has hired, it's even less likely that it will be actioned.  


Renata S wrote:

Thanks, Luiggi. But if we're flagging and nothing is happening, what's the point of flagging? 

Are they planning to wait until that particular client has hired? Because the typical pattern is that, once the client has hired, it's even less likely that it will be actioned.  


Right, if the client hires someone before you get to it, do you still remove the job and cancel the contract? Or do you just turn a blind eye to the academic fraud being committed? Because it seems like Upwork is perfectly happy to get its cut of academic fraud jobs. 

AveryO
Community Manager
Community Manager

Hi Amanda, and Renata, 


Thank you for sharing your thoughts about this. I understand your frustration and the need for this to be addressed sooner rather than later. I can assure you that our team takes these reports seriously, and have been proactively reviewing job posts for any violation. 

 

As Luiggi has shared, the flags/reports the team receives is addressed by the order in which it was received. And while we can confirm that actions will be taken against a job post, and an account for violating the TOS, we will not be able to share what actions we take against them. However, I can confirm that Luiggi has already followed up on your report, and I will also look into this so that it can be addressed soon. 

Amanda, I have also read your other post (and we will be merging it here since the posts are related anyway). I know that there are legitimate academic job posts - for example, editing or proofreading a thesis, but as for your suggestion, we will forward it to the team for their consideration. 

I do appreciate that you take the time to share these reports here in the Community, and share your feedback and suggestion on how we can be better. 


~ Avery
Upwork
a_lipsey
Community Member


Avery O wrote:

Amanda, I have also read your other post (and we will be merging it here since the posts are related anyway). I know that there are legitimate academic job posts - for example, editing or proofreading a thesis, but as for your suggestion, we will forward it to the team for their consideration. 

I do appreciate that you take the time to share these reports here in the Community, and share your feedback and suggestion on how we can be better. 


There are flagrant jobs on here that are clearly doing someone's homework, and there are freelancers who have built up profiles and businesses on Upwork doing so. They aren't hard to find, and they are clearly not academic editing or proofreading. I found a freelancer today and all their jobs were something like "write essay; write reaction to reading; complete assignment"  very obviously academic fraud. If I flag that profile as having taken these kinds of jobs, what would be the action on behalf of Upwork? We want to know what actions  you take, and I think we have a right to know that Upwork takes action against these clients and freelancers. You say you "take action" but if you were taking action it wouldn't be SO easy to find them. I wasn't even looking and I found 3 in the first page of results. 

 

Upwork needs to take this more seriously. This is a public relations nightmare waiting to happen. Just wait for one of those rich kids who bought their way into USC or wherever else starts talking publicly about having their homework done on Upwork. 


Avery O wrote:

....I know that there are legitimate academic job posts - for example, editing or proofreading a thesis....


Indeed there are. As someone who works in the field, I know that the examples you give are legitimate, and often expected by universitiesโ€”and also restricted by ethical and conduct codes specifying the degree of editorial assistance allowed.

That is a niche market within the relatively small market on Upwork for writing and editorial servives. Its clientele is specialized. So why does Upwork post splashy ads in Times Square promoting "Academic Writing and Research"? Outside the academic context and promoted in the mass market, how many people are going to see that sort of ad (I've seen at least two*) and not think of Upwork as some massive, flagrant paper mill? 

 

*Thanks to MTA for finding this example.

academic_writing_ad.jpg

 

 

 

 

renata101
Community Member

Avery, 

I'm sending you a link to an invitation I just received. This is about the second or third I've received since the start of December. 

It is not my field, but I worry the same as others due to the "bad reputation" that this can mean for freelancers who work on those topics.
If I'm not wrong, Upwork is serious about a job breaking the rules of another site, let's say as an example purchased reviews on a product in Amazon, when you break the rules of that site.
This is much more serious as others here have already pointed out.
Does Upwork think that they are not breaking the rules of a school, a university, when a job is published to do homework?
The TOS of those sites are also breaking and Upwork is not doing enough.

Hi Renata and Amanda,

 

I'd like to confirm after checking with the team, that the job post has already been taken down and actions have been taken on the client account. Once again, I do recognize you have a valid concern with these types of job posts in particular and we certainly appreciate that you bring this to our attention.

 

Thank you.

~ Luiggi
Upwork
reinierb
Community Member

I agree with the opinions and concerns expressed by Amanda, Renata, Phyllis, and Douglas MIchael on the topic of how rampant academic fraud has become on the platform. I also agree with these posters that Upwork just does not seem to care about the issue to the same degree that we do.

 

For Upwork to express appreciation (via a moderator!) that we take the time to bring these issues to their attention is the biggest cop-out ever, as is stating that Upwork does take action against academic fraudsters but cannot share details of these actions for privacy reasons.

 

C'mon Upwork- what would it take for you to get serious about addressing this very serious, and growing problem? 

    


Reinier B wrote:

For Upwork to express appreciation (via a moderator!) that we take the time to bring these issues to their attention is the biggest cop-out ever, as is stating that Upwork does take action against academic fraudsters but cannot share details of these actions for privacy reasons.

 

Thanks Reiner, 

You don't know how tired I am of receiving people's "understanding" when it's clear that they have no intention of doing anything with the knowledge. If Upwork understands the problem, and people understand how serious it is (it's in the ToS, which I assume makes it a policy Upwork considers important), why is the approach to it so ineffectual?  


@renata101 wrote:

Reinier B wrote:

For Upwork to express appreciation (via a moderator!) that we take the time to bring these issues to their attention is the biggest cop-out ever, as is stating that Upwork does take action against academic fraudsters but cannot share details of these actions for privacy reasons.

 

Thanks Reiner, 

You don't know how tired I am of receiving people's "understanding" when it's clear that they have no intention of doing anything with the knowledge. If Upwork understands the problem, and people understand how serious it is (it's in the ToS, which I assume makes it a policy Upwork considers important), why is the approach to it so ineffectual?  

I just flagged another one a few minutes ago. In this post there is no doubt that fraud is being contemplated, because the job title explicitly states that the job poster is looking for someone to write a research paper for him/her. We'll see how appreciative Upwork is of the time I took to flag the job post. 


 


Luiggi R wrote:

Hi Renata and Amanda,

 

I'd like to confirm after checking with the team, that the job post has already been taken down and actions have been taken on the client account. Once again, I do recognize you have a valid concern with these types of job posts in particular and we certainly appreciate that you bring this to our attention.

 

Thank you.


The point we are all trying our best to make is that academic fraud is a singular, serious issue and it should not be up to us to bring it to Upwork's attention. 

 

deborah-ponzio
Community Member

I agree with everything you say and would be even more restrictive as I am not in favour of book ghostwriting and fake reviews either and flagged a few.

Having said that, a freelancer may assume that a job post published in this platform, if not explicitly presented as an academic fraud, is legitimate, so wouldn't blocking freelancers for accepting such jobs be too extreme?

Is it a workable idea having an Upwork pop-up, warning against academic fraud and what a legitimate piece of work is or isn't, before a freelance accepts it? 

 

 


Deborah P wrote:

I agree with everything you say and would be even more restrictive as I am not in favour of book ghostwriting


Book ghostwriting is allowed. Whether you are "in favour" of it or not is irrelevant, it violates nothing at all. Flagging such jobs is pointless at best and wastes Support time.

 


Deborah P wrote:

Is it a workable idea having an Upwork pop-up, warning against academic fraud and what a legitimate piece of work is or isn't, before a freelance accepts it? 


No, it isn't. Academic fraud is one of many things that aren't allowed, you can't have dozens of pop ups on ever job post. Many people will never even see academic fraud job posts, simply because they don't appear in their niche and category. 

a_lipsey
Community Member

Petra, they aren't in my category but they somehow still make it into my feed and the random 1 or 2 a year invite.


Deborah P wrote:

 

Having said that, a freelancer may assume that a job post published in this platform, if not explicitly presented as an academic fraud, is legitimate...


Absolutely not. Any number of illegitimate or disallowed jobs get posted on Upwork, and they don't come with disclosure labels from the scammer/fraudster. If anyone is presuming to work in the academic area, they'd better know the relevant red flags.



...so wouldn't blocking freelancers for accepting such jobs be too extreme?


Overall, no. Upwork should not be making fraud acceptable by allowing freelancers to profit from it, and should not be harboring freelancers or clients who make a living from fraud.

There are gray areas, and perhaps there would need to be a warning system before suspension or termination; we know Upwork has warning protocols in other areas, so has a model for implementing one in this area.


Douglas Michael M wrote:


Upwork should not be making fraud acceptable by allowing freelancers to profit from it, and should not be harboring freelancers or clients who make a living from fraud.

There are gray areas, and perhaps there would need to be a warning system before suspension or termination; we know Upwork has warning protocols in other areas, so has a model for implementing one in this area.


I completely agree. Also, I know that this thread is specifically about academic fraud, so I don't want to hijack it (not entirely, anyway) but freelancers on this platform are committing all kinds of fraud and getting away with it, even when we flag them and provide Upwork with indisputable proof. It's gotten so bad that I would never dream of recommending this website to anyone who was looking to hire a freelancer.

 


Deborah P wrote:

I agree with everything you say and would be even more restrictive as I am not in favour of book ghostwriting and fake reviews either and flagged a few.

Having said that, a freelancer may assume that a job post published in this platform, if not explicitly presented as an academic fraud, is legitimate, so wouldn't blocking freelancers for accepting such jobs be too extreme?

Is it a workable idea having an Upwork pop-up, warning against academic fraud and what a legitimate piece of work is or isn't, before a freelance accepts it? 

 

 


Ghostwriting is in a different category. Even in academia, you may get legitimate requests from researchers to write things for them (grant applications are one example). Students are a completely different matter, and that's the issue we're addressing here.  

Any student work that is being submitted for evaluation has to be an original work created by the student. As an editor, the most I can do on a thesis is to copy-edit or proofread. I can't add content or ideas. If something appears to be missing, I can comment on it, but it's not my job to "fill in" what's missing. 

Something I'm noticing recently is an uptick in jobs where the student appears to have run out of time and is asking for someone to "fill in" or "build on" partially completed work. Those aren't tasks that can be shopped out to freelancers because this amounts to asking someone else to add content or ideas to work the student plans to submit as their own. Just because a student may have done some part of the work, doesn't mean they're not violating their school's academic policy by submitting work that's partially written by someone else. If a students has legitimate issues that prevent them from completing their work, they should be taking this up with their advisor, department, or school rather than using Upwork as a one-stop customized assignment generator. 

Editors Canada has a great resource called Guidelines for Ethical Editing of Graduate Student Texts. Maybe someone can pass this along to the powers that be at Upwork. 


Thank you Douglas M. and Renata, I better understand now and fully agree with you. I'm pretty new here after all, am on the learning curve.

Such jobs appear on my feed too.

Re. ghostwriting I had not been clear enough, my reference is to novels-essay books where someone may claim to be an author while he/she isn't and, as a reader, I would see that as a fraud. I am not sure whether it's legal or not however, I never flagged such specific jobs but as a matter of principle if I had to write a book I would put my name on it. 

drk1885
Community Member

I was glad to see this--I report these jobs as often as I see them and wish that Upwork 1) had an option to clearly mark something as "academic fraud" (or similar)--I feel like this is so rampant on this platform that something really should be done to make it more clear that it's not okay, and that there are penalties for freelancers who participate in it. I flagged a job yesterday and very quickly the job posting became "private/ivite only" which I'm guessing will help shield it from deletion. I'm a college professor who does occasional editing via this platform, so am clear where the line is, but I wonder how many freelancers know that line?

a_lipsey
Community Member


Matthew W K wrote:

I was glad to see this--I report these jobs as often as I see them and wish that Upwork 1) had an option to clearly mark something as "academic fraud" (or similar)--I feel like this is so rampant on this platform that something really should be done to make it more clear that it's not okay, and that there are penalties for freelancers who participate in it. I flagged a job yesterday and very quickly the job posting became "private/ivite only" which I'm guessing will help shield it from deletion. I'm a college professor who does occasional editing via this platform, so am clear where the line is, but I wonder how many freelancers know that line?


Matthew, it concerns me that it's not obvious without someone being told directly that being paid to do someone's homework for a degree is completely unethical and actually dangerous to society. 

 

Do you want the person who develops the next vaccine to have done their homework or paid for it to have been done? (And I know you know this and the answer - I'm making the point to Upwork that there is greater danger here than just some TOS violation.) 

I suspect that the people who review our flags really aren't trained in the substance of academic fraud, which is a huge problem.  I try to explain somewhat the problem with the posting but I think they just don't get it.

 

I also think that in the age of Covid and remote learning, we will be seeing even more of this in the near future.  I have been invited in past years to take online exams so writing is not the only problem.

 

The best was some years ago when an eager but lazy young law student needed someone to write a paper for their ethics class...


Mary W wrote:

I suspect that the people who review our flags really aren't trained in the substance of academic fraud, which is a huge problem.  I try to explain somewhat the problem with the posting but I think they just don't get it.

Great point, Mary. But the question is, why aren't they being trained to understand the underlying issues about what we're flagging and how to make distinctions? I know I have a problem getting ideas across when I find fake profiles and flag them. There seems to be a commonly held notion that if three profiles with zero earnings, identical profile overviews and different profile photos are flagged, one of them must be the "original." So they take down two and leave the third when in reality, all three of them may have been created on the same day. If they were, all three of them are probably fake because the first one hasn't been up long enough for someone to decide they're going to steal the overview. 





"I suspect that the people who review our flags really aren't trained in the substance of academic fraud, which is a huge problem."

 

Yes, I'll bet you're right.

a_lipsey
Community Member


Matthew W K wrote:

"I suspect that the people who review our flags really aren't trained in the substance of academic fraud, which is a huge problem."

 

Yes, I'll bet you're right.


The thing is that the posts I flag aren't on a grey line. I don't know, maybe the person reviewing hasn't been to a university so doesn't recognize a class assignment? I don't know how to make it obvious to someone with no familiarity with what class assignments look like that it's fraud. But to anyone who's been to school, they can tell these are homework assignments right away. 

drk1885
Community Member

I think there are a lot of times when it's obvious, like writing somebody's thesis, but sometimes maybe the line is a little grayer--like I think it's okay to pay somebody to edit a doctoral dissertation, for example, but editing an undergraduate paper, that's starting to get into dishonest territory. I also think if it were more obvious that there were consequences (or if there were ANY consequences) freelancers wouldn't do it--because so much of Upwork is anonymous, there's not much disinsensitive for somebody who doesn't mind crossing a line.

 

As a professor, I think a student who did this would probably stick out like a sore thumb, but maybe I've been fooled, who knows? 

There is one freelancer who would apply for the jobs just to track down the college and bust the kid for cheating.  More than once, she got through to either the professor or the department chair who were able to track down the student.  Took a lot of work, though, but in my mind it was worth it!

This makes me so happy to hear--I've thought about doing it, too, but haven't wanted to put the time in. I've also thought about wasting connects just to scold the cheater. I love that somebody has made it their mission to track these people down. 

a_lipsey
Community Member

I would really like more than "we have passed your concerns along" as a response to this. What is Upwork doing to address the issue of rampant academic fraud being perpetrated on this platform? What are the consequences for clients who post these jobs and for freelancers who take them? 

daryl_sando
Community Member

Hello, this is Daryl from Upwork's Trust & Safety team. I really appreciate this thread and discussion. I have taken your feedback here to my team to help in an ongoing process we have to better clarify our policies, educate, prevent, and effectively enforce those policies. I will note, when a contract is started for work that is not allowed by Upwork we do end that contract and take action on the related accounts in accordance with our Terms of Service.

It's good that this thread has gotten this much attention as I do think this is a problem. Yes, there are seemingly endless students who are willing to pay to have others write their papers, and there are just as many people who lack ethics and will write them. 

 

With that said, I don't think we need to worry as a society about any of these "students" doing much in the professional world. I've been approached numerous times to write papers and I always tell them before reporting and flagging them that a) it is unethical and b) even if I did want to do it, I don't see how they think someone with no background in their study can possibly write a passable thesis or dissertation within a month or two. I'd honestly like to see some of the finished "products" of those who do take on these "jobs." I think it'd be quite amusing and I highly doubt if many, if any, of them are passing through any legitimate committee. 

I've been staying out of this one so far, but I want to point out that the new project catalog is likely to only make this worse, as clients have the ability to hire for this type of cheating without any prescreening by the freelancer, locking the freelancer into the project. Yes, if it's reported and CS takes action, the contract gets canceled, but if the agent doesn't agree it's academic fraud and doesn't cancel the contract, the freelancer is stuck and the clock has been ticking.


Daryl S wrote:

Hello, this is Daryl from Upwork's Trust & Safety team. I really appreciate this thread and discussion. I have taken your feedback here to my team to help in an ongoing process we have to better clarify our policies, educate, prevent, and effectively enforce those policies. I will note, when a contract is started for work that is not allowed by Upwork we do end that contract and take action on the related accounts in accordance with our Terms of Service.


Hi Daryl, 

I'm going to send you a PM with some links to the things I've been finding lately. Hopefully, you can get some sense of how big the problem is. 

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