Sunday, 24 February 2013

Not Quite Science: tackling academic fraud

This morning, I woke up, stumbled blindly across my room in search of caffeine, and checked the notifications on my tablet. Yet again – an irritating email from Lashzone, this time cunningly disguised under the totally different name of 'Lashxone'. Not heard of them? This company is one of those professional academic cheating services. You send them your assignment brief, they’ll write it for you for a fee. The new branch Lashxone goes one step further and provides answers to your exams, suggesting that you check your email in a mid-test bathroom break. Not much different maybe than what’s gone before perhaps (I really wouldn't know) – except for strongly aggressive marketing and the lack of "this is for informational purposes only" – they’re blatant and unapologetic about their desire to deceive. 

Academic fraud like this is surely one of the biggest potential dangers to modern science. The thought of someone getting the same degree as I’m working towards without any of the slog and work I’m putting in is a galling concept. Worse, if you extend the principle to later stages of science education with research fraud, wasting thousands of pounds of grant money and everyone’s time by publishing false results is a direct attack on scientific progress.  

However for Lashzone, there is a curious backstory that a quick Google of similar sites (ugh, with a side-helping of ugh) doesn't show. Whoever made this company is as angry as we are about them. Visiting their website armed to the teeth with virus filters, the first thing I note is an image of two king cobras with the caption "if you recognize some of your teachers in this photo, you will need our help". Lecturers and tutors are snubbed as "some 'doctor' that can’t tell his left hand from right", ranting "I know it’s your job to bluff about everything, especially about the amount of knowledge you have, but people are not as dumb as you think".

We have all had experiences with a slightly abusive professor in our time. But thinking about my tutors and the faculty at my department, it makes me annoyed at best to hear them described in this way. Does this author think their anger resonates with a lot of students? And more importantly, does it actually resonate? I'm no psychologist, but it seems as though the author of the Lashzone emails and blog has some deep issues with professors. Can one person's hurt spiral and cause a snowstorm? 

Well, no. Although they claim to have 7,000 customers across "the three continents" (someone should let them know there are more than three), the most public interest they seem to have received is an article and fake assignment request from an Oxford University student newspaper.

The "them and us" atmosphere Lashzone is trying to cultivate just doesn't exist with students, at least not in my experience. The pretence that all of their critics are professors is ludicrous, particularly when aimed at a newspaper whose title is "the Oxford Student". There probably are undergrads everywhere who won't bat an eyelid at undermining all their peers and their own field just to get a top class degree, but thousands of students didn't come together and march because we're annoyed that our tutor didn't give us the extra 1% we felt we deserved - the ones we are angry at are politicians doing exactly the same thing as Lashzone is: devaluing the degrees we're working day and night for.

More critically to their reputation even amongst unscrupulous students, I honestly wouldn't touch their work with a bargepole, even if I did become an evil undergraduate determined to screw over my peers overnight. Badly-written emails and slight twisting of their critics' words prove them untrustworthy even as fraudsters. Lashzone staff are certified to have a Bachelor's or Master's degree in the relevant subject - oh, so not much better qualified than their customers! A useless disclaimer promises your money back if you get below a C. If you're that desperate that you will pay money to a criminal (they seem to have used a phishing scam to get students' email addresses for advertizing) to get a grade - you're going to want more than a C for it. Not to mention that any decent tutor will notice immediately when a student's work is out of character, particularly in the case of arts students, who are also catered for.

Lashzone rating: 0/10.


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  2. I hate these buggers. Some asshat with a chip on their shoulder, who probably got a shitty grade in class, is now trying to prey off students who feel the same way.

    Thanks for the post.

  3. Lashzone is a scam. I used to be one of their essay writers. Academic ethics aside; I did it to make a living for my family. But it's too bad Mr. Cohen the site owner is running a scam operation.

    Over the couple of months I worked for Mr. Cohen we had quite a few chats. First of all, Lashzone doesn't give refunds (read their F&Q section), they give refunds only for "science" assignments, but in the 2 months I worked there and the dozens of essays I wrote, I never encountered a single science assignment.

    Secondly, Mr. Cohen not only rips his clients off, but his own writers as well. This is how I ended up leaving Lashzone fairly bitter at Mr. Cohen. He sends you an email with the paper a client wants done and you are asked to do it. Every time he sent an email I usually had to ask him the price and the due date for the work. Once Mr. Cohen receives the essay he states that, "it will take two days to process the payment" well it started to be 3 and 4 days soon and by the end, Mr. Cohen wasn't trying to pay anything (that is when my balance with him got up to over $200 CAD).

    At this point, I was on the verge of threatening Mr. Cohen with a small claims suit if he didn't pay, angrily he paid me part of what he owed me (I still got ripped off $70) and informed me I was "out".

    Something to note: He claimed he didn't want to pay me because 2 (of the many essays) I wrote were not accepted by the clients. He then stated he had been "tied up in PayPal all day" and that I was "out". Funny thing is I had an issue like this once with a client on my own independent work and Lashzone provides a service, not an item, therefore it is not even covered by PayPal! When I had an issue like this it took PayPal all of 5 minutes to resolve it in my favor.

    Mr. Cohen also does not verify writers even have academic degrees. If youtube lashzone careers you will see that it states "we do not care about pieces of paper".

    I know that Lashzone only had about 7 writers around the beginning of this fall semester. I've since found reviews via google from other writers who worked for Lashzone and they all ended up not being paid by Mr. Cohen after a month or two of work.

    This guy is a complete scam artist. He doesn't give a damn about students or about "sticking it to the man" (or institution in this case). I'm writing this review to let everyone thinking about using Lashzone to stay AWAY. He rips off his writers and his clients.