College tech cheats and social media

By: Tonya Mead, CFE, CHFI, PI, MBA,MA Educational Psychology

Apple phones are not the only electronic devices used by fraudsters to cheat the education and standardized exam industry.  Journalists in Bangladesh, India reported of criminal gangs utilizing pre- programmed wireless SIM cards connected to a wireless network positioned external to the exam center.  An earphone is then attached to the SIM so that the paying test taker can obtain answers to exam questions broadcast through the earplugs. How much do test takers in India pay gangs to assist them in cheating on medical exams? The article indicates up to 20 to 30 lakh Indian rupee (INR). Based upon the exchange rate in March 2017, one Lakh is the equivalent of $1,498.37 U,S, Dollars.

Related articles

Criminal gangs

The Dhaka Tribune indicated that a gang ring of 25 to 30 gangs comprised of 10 to 15 members each recruit 7 to 9 students to participate in the test cheating fraud across the country (lines 1, 6, and 10). Sources also report that  these gangs resort to extortion (holding something of value or the threat of violence) to obtain the balance of the average $37,459.25 payment (equivalent U.S. Dollars). This is a lot of money, but considering that the co-conspirators may gain the privilege to be educated in more advanced economies and can earn an average of $301,000 per year mid-career (according to Medscape 2017 Compensation Survey) the slightly more than 10% fraud fee is merely a sunk cost.

Related articles

Self service, entrepreneurship,  and buddy system

But why resort to the use of a criminal gang? In conducting online research to determine the prevalence of  SIM for cheating in the US and other countries, a quick keyword search for the phrase “SIM cards for test cheating,” led to a array of products available to assist a potential test cheater. For instance, the number one item listed by Google, when clicked takes the web searcher to Ebay pages for the purchase of a fake calculator, a cheating watch, and a rollout cheating pen, Once a button is pressed, test takers have access to electronic, audio recorded or handwritten notes,

The bluetooth headset that may be similar to the electronic device used in India can be attached to a MP3 or cell phone. Incidentally, it appears to be the most popular cheating device on Ebay. There is even an entrepreneur with a Boston area code (617) flagrantly selling these tiny earpieces and other cheating devices on the internet with prices ranging from $172 to mid $200.

Social media

Which brings me to another point. The Dhaka Tribune stated that, “some frauds use their Facebook accounts to disseminate question papers, or spread rumours about question paper leaks, before the exams and earn money from the examinees. The detectives have detected 500 such Facebook accounts.” (line #11).

Criminal gang rings, individual victims and educational institutions alike use social media. For varying reasons. Criminals, to seek out victims, victims to socialize and educational institutions to evaluate potential students.

According to US News and World Report at least 35% of college admissions counselors in the United States admit reviewing the social media accounts of applicants. Time reports figures as high as 40%.  As confirmation, Harvard revoked the admissions of 10 students after finding offensive information posted to the official Facebook Group of the Class 2021. Yes, what the students did was ill-advised, even after reading this posted warning,  “We are not responsible for any unofficial groups, chats, or the content within. As a reminder, Harvard College reserves the right to withdraw an offer of admission under various conditions including if an admitted student engages in behavior that brings into question his or her honesty, maturity, or moral character,” (para 14)

Correlations:  cheating and fraud

I digress. Let’s get back to test cheating. This is the scary part. Students who demonstrate by past history that they will do what ever it takes to seize an opportunity become adults who exhibit frightful behaviors.  Students entering the higher education system fraudulently may eventually become the medical researcher conducting fake research, the securities dealer, financial advisor,  or CFO who will do whatever it takes to make the numbers (examples are SEC, or those implicated in the Wells Fargo scam), among others.

Is there a correlation between fraudulent and cheating behaviors as a teen to those as an adult? Yes, findings from a University of Minnesota study indicated that cheating students become cheating professionals.

So while university systems add social media posts as another factor for use in college admissions evaluations, perhaps they should consider additional steps to verify and validate the academic records, data, recommendations, reference letters, and examination centers with equal zeal.

Tonya J. Mead, CFE, CHFI, PI, MBA, MA, Certified K-12 Administrator and School Psychologist is author of Fraud in Education: Beyond the Wrong Answer and president of Shared Knowledge, LLC