10 ways to prevent fraud

You’ve seen the stories. “17 subtle signs your partner is cheating” or “8 signs your significant other is having an affair”.

You know the clues. You are suddenly unreachable. They cling to their cell phones. You text all the time. They claim to be late for work. You are defensive when you ask innocent questions.

Fraud can take various forms. It can be habitual or intermittent or an isolated event. Infidelity can be emotional, digital, or physical. It can take the micro form of flirting or a full blown affair. It may reflect a personality disorder such as low self-esteem or a self-destructive impulse, or simply seeking an adrenaline rush.

Why do partners cheat? You’ve no doubt heard the explanations. Because they are dissatisfied with the state of their relationship. Because she and her partner have grown apart. Because they feel unloved or neglected. Because their needs, whether sexual or emotional, social or intellectual, go unmet.

They’re looking for a change, or an emotional connection, or excitement, or something new. Or they cheat out of anger or revenge. Or due to situational factors: time spent apart, or an unexpected opportunity, or drunkenness. Or simply unmatched libido.

Then the excuses come. They felt trapped or bored or unfulfilled. They had to prove that they are still attractive. Your needs have not been met. Or the most common reason: It just happened.

Fraud, i.e. academic dishonesty, is back in the news.

A new Intelligent.com survey of 1,200 current 4-year college students and recent grads reports that:

40 percent of college applicants reported voluntary hours they had not completed. 39 percent named fake work experience. 38 percent manufactured internship experiences. 30 percent fake letters of recommendation. 39 misrepresented their race or ethnicity. 22 percent lied about their disability status. 24 percent said someone else wrote their admissions essay, and 18 percent admitted their essays were plagiarism.

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I can’t say anything about the reliability or representativeness of the survey. But it seems reasonable to me to conclude that our current approach to college admissions encourages unethical behavior and that select colleges are not doing enough to protect against admissions fraud.

If even a fraction of the report’s claims are true, then the 2019 varsity blues scandal is just the tip of a toxic iceberg.

All of the following generalizations strike me as true:

The higher the stakes, the more likely cheating will take place. When dishonesty is perceived as rife among students, and cheaters are rarely caught or punished, inhibitions against cheating wane. Technology can facilitate fraud and blur the line between independently produced work and work created with improper support.

Rationalizations for cheating abound and self-justification is rampant. You’ve probably heard them before:

“Everyone cheats”—a rationale compounded by reports of misrepresentation or fabrication of data and plagiarism by faculty. “I’m under a lot of pressure” – I was overwhelmed. I was sick. I have to please my parents. I was in crisis. I didn’t have enough time. I had other work due. I have to go to business school. “Instructors don’t take academic dishonesty seriously” – reusing exam questions and dealing with plagiarism informally or ignoring incidents altogether. “The assignment is unfair” – that the professor teaches poorly, or the assignment is too challenging, or the instructions are unclear, “Cheating is a game” – in which a student and a professor compete against each other, with the student trying to avoid detection. “I didn’t understand that’s not okay” – an excuse that appears whenever a certain dishonesty was not explicitly forbidden.

The context, including a lack of oversight or oversight, can increase the temptation to cheat. But there are also psychological factors such as stress, overwork and stage fright, fear of failure or the pressure to meet high expectations and maintain one’s own self-image. Of course, the inability to handle competing demands is another important factor. Then there’s the thrill, the shiver that comes with cheating.

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It seems likely that the pandemic lockdown has made cheating worse. Students who were struggling to study looked online for help, whether on sites like Chegg and Course Hero or in online study groups led by peers.

But one contribution that is grossly underestimated is the inadequate interaction between faculty and students. I know I’m not providing enough timely, targeted, and individualized feedback on student writing.

So what should we do? Here are 10 suggestions:

1. Relieve anxiety and reduce students’ stress levels.
Be clear – about your needs, schedules and expectations. Avoid surprises and make sure your assignments and exams cover what you actually teach.

2. Provide guidance.
Share the secrets to academic success, including study skills, literacy skills, and exam-taking tips.

3. Replace frequent quizzes and multi-benchmark projects with high-stakes tests.
High-stakes assignments encourage cheating, while frequent, low-stakes assignments reduce cheating incentives.

4. Devote more classroom time to developing skills.
Well-prepared students are less likely to cheat. Spend more class time actively engaging with the course material by having students answer questions, write short answers, solve problems, and create rubrics.

5. Distribute the work more evenly over the semester.
Cramming is the enemy of learning. Learning should be a gradual, iterative process, not a stroke.

6. Make sure assignments and tests are fair.
Test what you teach. Ensure that assignments and exams can be successfully completed within the allotted time.

7. Provide several opportunities for students to demonstrate their mastery of the course material.
Consider innovative ways for students to demonstrate their mastery of fundamental knowledge and skills. Examples might include initiating a classroom session, leading a discussion, helping to comment on a text, contributing to a class blog, creating a concept map, visualizing data, creating a video story or infographic, or creating a podcast or timeline, writing and presenting a speech, making a political recommendation
8. Reward learning and improvement, not just achievement.
Make it clear that effort and improvement count and that students who make significant progress toward mastery will see their hard work rewarded

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9. Do not tempt students to cheat.
Create new assignments and tests every semester. Prepare more than one version of an exam and reorder and randomize test questions.

10. Be vigilant and respond to scams.
Just as the certainty of being caught – not the severity of the sentence – deters crime, students are less likely to cheat if they know you are concerned about academic dishonesty.

Cheating, whether emotional, sexual, or academic, leaves scars. Cheating and plagiarism erode trust and destroy intimacy and connection. They are deeply demoralizing and destabilizing. They are dishonest as these actions misrepresent a student’s knowledge, ability and effort. You are disrespectful, whether to a professor or a published author. They are also deceitful, inevitably involving duplicity and deception. And they are unfair to the students who follow the rules.

I can’t say whether cheating in your love life is avoidable. But within the academy, it can be discouraged, deterred, and diminished. Before you claim standards of honesty are failing, integrity is waning, and truthfulness is slipping, try the simple anti-cheating strategies outlined above.

In the end, cheating is as much a technical problem as it is a moral problem. Unlike ethics, which are difficult or impossible to teach and enforce, making cheating the least enticing option is far easier.

Steven Mintz is a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin.