New Zealand university students are being blackmailed after using shady cheating sites to hire someone to write their assignments for them.
The University of Auckland and Victoria University of Wellington reportedly received notifications from contract sites showing evidence of students using a contractor to do their assignments.
The practice is known as 'contracting cheating', which is where students outsource their assignments to a third party to be completed on their behalf.
However, students using the sites are then being blackmailed to pay more money or have their cheating exposed to the universities.
Victoria University software engineering lecturer Dr Simon McCallum said there are websites based all around the world that provide contracting cheating and some are recruiting local Kiwis to do the cheating.
He said the service is alluring to students with small costs of as little as $20 to $60 per assignment, but problems arise when the service starts demanding more.
"That's why it can be quite tempting for a student who's really stressed, who's got thousands of dollars on the line to graduate… $60 doesn't seem much of a cost," Dr McCallum told AM.
But then the sites start demanding more money and if students don't pay the contracting sites will send documentary evidence of cheating to the university.
"If you're on a visa and you've got to pass or you will get kicked out of the country how much money would you spend and how much at risk are you?" Dr McCallum said.
While the universities don't know how many students are using contracting cheating, Dr McCallum said, a study found 10 percent of university students in Australia were using this method to cheat, however, many were not caught.
In New Zealand, universities use a site called Turnitin to check work for plagiarism by comparing work with a massive database of content for similarities, however, the site may not pick up on contracting cheating as it is original work done by someone else.
Dr McCallum said the consequences of cheating range from failing the course to failing the whole degree.
"We become, almost, part of the scheme that we're then the enforcement arm of the threat," he said.
Dr McCallum said the Universities need to encourage students to talk to student unions and reach out if they are caught in a blackmail scheme.
"It won't end. There isn't an 'honour' among thieves, it will be ongoing and the consequences are enormous so we need to wrap around those students."
It comes after the NZ Herald reported in October an African academic ghostwriter claimed to have written hundreds of papers for Kiwi students, alleging some students have graduated with degrees without ever writing a single assignment.
What appears to be the same whistleblower told Australian news sites they were writing thousands of assignments for Australian universities.
The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) in Australia blocked academic cheating websites for the first time in August. The agency blocked 40 websites that were visited about 450,000 times a month.
The advocacy body Universities New Zealand (UNZ) told the NZ Herald they are talking with the Government about legislative change to make the broadcasting of cheating services an offence and blocking national access to 40 cheating websites.
Newshub has contacted the University of Auckland and Victoria University for comment.