Cheaters for hire

By Jiang Jie Source:Global Times Published: 2014-1-7 19:38:01

An examination supervisor checks a student's ID card before she enters the exam room on December 14, 2013 in Liaocheng, Shandong Province. Photo: CFP

An examination supervisor checks a student's ID card before she enters the exam room on December 14, 2013 in Liaocheng, Shandong Province. Photo: CFP

 Cai Yawei knows his new year's resolution - he is going to pursue a graduate school degree in civil law. But after taking the all-important national entrance examination for postgraduates over the weekend, the 23-year-old Beijing student has become anxious.

Competition is fierce enough on an even playing field, but with cheating rife throughout academia, playing by the rules can be a risky proposition.

Police in Northeast China's Jilin Province recently busted a network that was selling exam answers and tools for cheating on January 2. However, there is only one "tool" that can take the test for those who don't have the answers - a ghost student.

These "ghost students" take tests on behalf of other students. Typically they need to look like the students they are taking the test for, and of course, they need to know the material.

Cai told the Global Times that he knows people who make a profit as ghost students in other provinces. "If I fail to do better than them, I will study harder next year," Cai said. But on further consideration, he admitted "I might also consider to hire a ghost student."

Lucrative business

Agents reached by a Global Times reporter posing as a customer unanimously offered services of ghost students for exams like the TOEFL exam, and prices varied from 9,000 to over 20,000 yuan ($1,487 to $3,304) and guaranteed a score of more than 110 out of 120 in the TOEFL exam.

They claimed that they would help find a ghost student with a similar appearance to the candidate and perfect English skills that would "get higher scores than your expectations." On other occasions, agents process the photo with Photoshop on the candidate's ID card so that the ghost students can get through the inspection process.

Li Yan, an agent from Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province, offered an even bolder option—the ghost students use the candidate's real ID card or passport to sit the exam. "But you will need to follow our instructions to sign up for the exam at our designated testing center, where the additional money is used for 'public relations'" Li said, strongly hinting that "public relations" was a euphemism for a bribery, and explaining that the supervisors would not bother with the differences between the test taker and presented ID.

An agent surnamed Chen in Beijing boasted that they had been in the business since 2005. "We are very familiar with the exam procedures and I can guarantee you our credibility because one busted case would have already gotten us into trouble," Chen said.

Risks emerge

Although Chen and other agents seem to take a blasé attitude toward risks, there have been overseas arrests of ghost students. Four Chinese TOEFL ghost students were reportedly detained for their involvement in the forging of passports and taking English exams for cash in South Korea in November, 2013.

The four people allegedly charged their clients, also Chinese students, up to 1.7 million won each ($1,598) to take the exam in South Korea. They may also be connected to at least 25 similar cases in Thailand and Singapore, according to police.

In 2002, similar cheating activities resulted in a Cambridge postgraduate student from China receiving a year of imprisonment in the UK. Two ghost students - a married couple - were deported from the UK after they were imprisoned for taking English tests for illegal migrants in 2012.

The wife said that she entered the business because it was inconvenient for her to work due to her pregnancy. The couple had gained 20,000 pounds ($32,756) within 11 days, reported the Shanghai-based Xinmin Weekly.

Yuan Zhengxiang, general manager of the Shanghai-based OvEdu Center, an agency that assists students studying overseas, told the Global Times that all cheating in the TOEFL exam would be recorded in the personal credit system in the US and the candidate's future in the country would be affected.

"But the candidate would face no severe punishment in China. Some supervisors, who were bribed by the candidates or agents, would say the candidate abandoned the exam if being found out, instead of reporting it to the Educational Testing Service as cheating," Yuan said.

If they can not be protected by the exam supervisors, those agents, once caught, are usually punished for forging ID cards and the candidates may not be allowed to retake the test for at least three months, according to Wu Xiaoliang, founder of Beijing-based Wulaoshi TOEFL tutorial agency.

Wu revealed that one of his students in Canada was once hired to take the exam for others which resulted in him receiving a delayed graduation from his university.

The agents appeared familiar with these rules, as they suggested taking the exams in China instead of traveling abroad, even though they can earn more in these cases.

Yuan noted that ghost test takers for the IELTS exam are relatively rare nowadays due to stricter inspection measures and the face-to-face oral tests, whereas the market for various kinds of US entry examinations is still huge.

"It has become a desperate trend among Chinese parents and students to demand an increasingly higher score in those exams, to ensure they beat other candidates and secure entry to Ivy League universities. This is what made room for those agencies," Yuan said.

Wrong path

Dr. Ken Wang, an assistant professor of business from a US university, told the Global Times that academic fraud is usually uncovered thanks to tip-offs, whereas ghost students are harder to uncover. "But it would be difficult for them to keep pace with others in further studies if they had faked their certificates."

Wang noted that about 10 percent of the Chinese students at his university receive academic probation in their first year for failing to meet the academic criteria and they have to quit if they can not catch up with others during the probation time.

"We can hardly prove that a student hired a ghost test taker to get a better score, but media reports have made some people suspicious of the credibility of Chinese students. I hope students realize that an offer is only a beginning and if they use a fake score to look better, they are entering university via the wrong door, which would only bring further problems for them," Wang warned.

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