A Canadian essay-writing company is attempting to set up a network of “secret groups” in universities.
The company, called Lashzone, sent mass emails to many university domain names at the end of January. It asked for help in establishing secret campus-based groups - which it likened to franchises - with their own “writers, advertisers and customer service teams”.
Lashzone’s email admits that it has “many enemies” who are “committed to their ‘academic integrity’”. But it says their opinion “isn’t going to stop us” because “we don’t see what’s wrong with what we do”.
The email says that the company’s aim is simply “to make this painful path of brain torture a bit easier”. It also states that Lashzone is “not trying to make any profit” out of its franchising.
Sharon Flynn, assistant director of the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the National University of Ireland in Galway, was one of several academics to discuss the email on Jisc’s plagiarism mailing list.
She said that her university had now blocked Lashzone’s domain name, but she doubted that this would have much effect.
“Even if we could take on Lashzone, there are hundreds of similar sites out there. They will always find a new way of doing business,” Dr Flynn said, adding that the best response was “to remain vigilant for any activity of this nature on campus” and to “further promote” academic integrity.
Last November, the company responded on its blog to claims that it is a scam by attacking universities: “Your entire organisation is a scam that wastes minimum of four years of teenager’s [sic] lives right out of high school with less than 20 per cent of them graduating. You are a scam for taking hard earned money out of their pockets and stressing them up to a point where they end up committing suicide.”
Nigel Duncan, professor of legal education at City University London, said: “The people behind the essay mills always excuse their activities in various mealy-mouthed ways, and, even if effective prosecution provisions were to be introduced, they would be virtually impossible to enforce if the mills were outside the geographical jurisdiction.”
An unidentified spokesman for Lashzone told Times Higher Education that it would only value “an education that teaches [students] real world experience”.
Asked how successful its mass mailings had been in recruiting people, he said: “You would be surprised.” He added that the company, which was established last September, has 8,000 customers. Its essays are written by postgraduates.