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this year I had an assignment due. I had some personal issues going on with my mental health, which my school is aware of. During this time I received a message from someone in my university group chat detailing that they could provide me with assistance with my assignments.

Although I did pay them once I received the work they provided, I quickly realised how baseless, uninformative, and basic the work was. It was worse than what I could have drafted myself. I was never going to submit it anyway: I was only going to use it to inspire me and give me the context and structure that I needed. But the work was so useless that I demanded a refund.

The person, started to intimidate and harass me when I requested my money back via PayPal. They demanded I cancel the refund and started to blackmail me. It got to the point where they found my name and university and my tutors name. Even though I didn't submit any work I felt compelled to cancel the refund just so they would leave me alone. But unfortunately due to the nature of these people they started demanding more money. In other terms, "hush money" to keep them from exposing me. I refused and blocked them.

Did I really breach the code of conduct even if I didn't submit any work? Even when I requested a refund and the fact that this person reached out to me via a university group on Facebook. I take full responsibility for my mistake. What is the likelihood that I will face punishment?

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    Are you sure that email came from your university? It sounds like exactly what someone trying to pressure you would send. Commented Jan 10 at 13:13
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    "I was only going to use it to inspire me and give me the context and structure that I was needing." If I would be the acccuser, I would summarize this as : "You paid for a document, you used the received document at the initial, difficult "blank page" stages of drafting your document. If the delivered document would have been of better quality you would have used for more stages of drafting your document. If it was perfect, you would have submitted directly the delivered document. Thanks for your involuntary honesty". I think that, in your case, the best defense is to say nothing...
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Jan 10 at 15:17
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    By quickly googling the words "university code of conduct prohibiting looking external help assignment" you get many results from US-based universities prohibiting "Any use or attempted use of external assistance in the completion of an academic assignment and/or during an examination" (see USC CoC 11.13 A policy.usc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/SCampus-Part-B.pdf ). But not all of them. Again, check carefully your CoC.
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Jan 10 at 15:24
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    "I take full responsibility for my mistake" Then you don't need to know the likelihood that you'll face punishment. Turn yourself in, admit everything, and accept whatever punishment is given. That's what taking responsibility means.
    – Ray
    Commented Jan 12 at 2:09

5 Answers 5

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The following are not valid defenses for plagiarism or fraud:

  • You were going through a rough time with your mental health
  • You were the victim of a crime
  • You were "desperate"
  • The work you received was low quality
  • You only ever intended to plagiarize the "quality and structure"

On the other hand, the following is an extremely valid defense: you came to your senses, did not submit the plagiarized assignment, and voluntarily took a zero on the assignment in question rather than compromise your integrity. So, you never actually crossed the line of submitting plagiarized or fraudulent work.*

This should be simple to prove: ask your instructor for a note confirming that you did not submit the assignment in question, received a zero on it, and later applied for extenuating circumstances.

You should ensure that you read the procedure and code of conduct before attending the meeting.

This is very good advice, you should read the exact wording of the statutes you are accused of violating. For example, if the statute says "submitting plagiarized work," then you can point out that you never actually submitted anything and so did not violate the statute.

You may find that by paying scammers to complete your work, you are technically in breach of some regulation (e.g., bringing the university into disrepute). However, any penalty from such infractions should be small compared to the potential penalties if you are convicted of fraud.

So what is the likelihood that I will face punishment?

We cannot predict the future. But, I suspect you are mostly "off the hook" if you tell the story clearly and present proof that you never actually crossed the line.


(*) As noted in the comments, it does seem likely you would have plagiarized if the person you hired had done a better job; this is troubling. However, a fair judicial process will be concerned only with what you did, not with what you might have done under other circumstances.

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    While none of the reasons listed are valid defenses for plagerism, they may well be taken into account when deciding the punishment, particularly if it is a first offense. Commented Jan 10 at 11:35
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    "the following is an extremely valid defense: you came to your senses, did not submit the plagiarized assignment, and voluntarily took a zero on the assignment in question" I find it easy to imagine there are some institutions whose regulations define procuring essay-mill services as an academic offence even if the student does not eventually make any use of the essay-mill product. As you say later on, it's important that OP familiarizes themselves with the detailed regulations of their particular institution (possibly with student-union or equivalent help). Commented Jan 10 at 13:10
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    @NuclearHoagie I don't think that's a good analogy. An example of attempted murder is that you shoot but miss. If you plan on shooting but change your mind before pulling the trigger, it's not attempted murder.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jan 10 at 15:53
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    I think that stressing that the OP "came to their senses" is very good advice. To that end, the OP should strictly avoid any mention that the bad quality of the commissioned work made it easier to come to their senses ;-). Like "it was even worse than the ChatGPT version I also considered!" Commented Jan 10 at 16:03
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    @Barmar But it is still very much a crime to hire an incompetent hitman who fails to kill the target, or to hire a hitman and later call off the hit. Arguing that you called off a hit because you realized you'd get caught or that it wouldn't accomplish your goals doesn't strike me as a good defense. Maybe "attempted murder" isn't the right charge, perhaps "conspiracy to commit murder" would be the better fit. Planning it and taking steps to do it are still problematic even if you don't successfully accomplish it. Commented Jan 10 at 16:20
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First: are you sure that the email is not a scam itself? the service providers you contacted have no interest in getting you expelled from the Uni: they lose their golden egg laying chicken (i.e.: you). They have all the interest in scaring you, though.

Assuming the email is true: although your defense has some strong points, you are better to search what is prohibited by your University's Code of Conduct.

Let's assume that the code of coduct prohibits explicitly "looking for external help to prepare the submission of homeworks": you are then guilty.

What you are (most likely) facing are scammers that sent screenshots and printouts of your emails and messages. How can someone believe that these printouts and screenshots sent from some random people claiming to be from Kenya are authentic and valid and not doctored is extremely beyond my comprehension, but apparently it is the case of the ethical commitee in your University.

Yes, they are true (you admit having had an exchange with them) ... but this is all matter for a lawyer to defend you, on the legal basis.

I will be blunt: on the ethical basis, you already did something that you know it may be wrong. What if the work delivered whas of good quality instead of the crap you received? Would you have used them? On the legal basis, though, it is all but set. But you are in hot waters. Read the procedure and code of conduct, get some form of legal counsel as soon as possible, stop asking questions in the internet and ask in person the question "How can I defend myself?" to the University and all the possible student groups/association/etc/etc .

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  1. Please do not use the "mental health" defense. Every single student with some grievance, failed exam, missed quiz, etc. leads with that these days. If you have genuine diagnosed issues which could have led to out of character behavior, excessive stress, etc., or anything else that's related, you need to provide a note from a health professional.

  2. As others have noted, check your university/college policies on what constitutes a breach of conduct. For some, soliciting or engaging in obtaining material for the purpose of cheating, or helping others cheat could be considered a violation whether you did it or not. At my University you would have breached it. In fact, I have had to report students doing the same thing as you, because others from the group chat sent the complaints my way (it would have been a breach of conduct on my end not to report).

  3. Consult the syllabus for the class which was impacted. What is their policy on academic dishonesty? Fail the course? Fail the assignment? etc...

  4. Since you did not go through with it, you are unlikely to face full discipline (for us that ranges from a permanent mark on your transcript, to suspension, to expulsion). It could be as simple as failing that specific assignment and taking a hit on your grade, or having to retake the course (see #3 for what the policy is)... or you may just get off with a warning and the requirement to attend an academic integrity workshop.

Finally. Don't ever do this again. No matter how stressed or burdened you may feel. Talk to faculty, seek extensions and help when you can, if you have legitimate mental health concerns, go to student health services or other medical health professionals. Cheating is not worth it on so many levels.

Ask yourself, was the potential to "get away" with a higher assignment grade worth all the stress you are going through now? Or worse, if you had actually used the fraudulent work?

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I take full responsibility for my mistake that's for sure but I knew full well not to ever submit someone elses work which I didn't do.

I think in this one sentence you contradict yourself in a way that makes you look pretty bad. "Taking full responsibility" would mean acknowledging that you did in fact have the intent to commit plagiarism at the time you commissioned the "assistance". But when you say "I knew full well not to ever submit someone elses work" you seem to be deflecting criticism of your actions by constructing a straw man definition of plagiarism in which only "submitting someone else's [verbatim] work" counts as plagiarism. Sorry, it doesn't work that way. Commissioning another person to write the assignment for you and then using it, even only for "inspiration" and for "context and structure" (which any academic who wasn't born yesterday can interpret as "for submission after a couple of rounds of mild paraphrasing"), would still count as plagiarism, and would still be a form of submitting someone else's work.

To be clear, your description in the post of what happened does appear to be a good start and a step in the direction of taking responsibility. But I wouldn't call it "taking full responsibility". Partial responsibility, maybe.

So what is the likelyhood that I will face punishment?

I don't know. More importantly, the likelihood that you will face punishment, and the severity of the punishment if one is imposed, depends on how maturely and honestly you handle the situation. "Taking full responsibility" is indeed the key -- from your story it sounds like you messed up a bit, and possibly broke the code of conduct, but as @cag51's answer says, the fact that you ultimately did not submit a plagiarized assignment is certainly a strong point in your favor and a valid defense, though not necessarily an impenetrable one. A willingness to take responsibility and honestly acknowledge your mistake would be another thing that university disciplinary offices generally consider to be a very positive factor, and would help maximize the chance of walking away with a mild punishment or no punishment at all.

It could also help if you have someone within the university system who can offer you advice as you navigate the disciplinary process and help advocate for you. In some universities you can ask to be referred to such a person. I have also seen misconduct cases where students hire lawyers, who are in some cases allowed to participate in misconduct hearings. Whether you should do that is difficult to say (particularly because some lawyers make bad arguments that can make you look even worse than you would look without a lawyer), but it's something to consider. Good luck!

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[OP was edited to remove the de-anonymizing info, but still...]

Your question appears to be:

So what is the likelyhood that I will face punishment?

I'd say, very close to 100%. What you might be able to affect, is the severity of the punishment.

Firstly, this appears to be a real email, from a real university, identifiable from the email text in your question.

Unfortunately, that easy identification means that the text of your question (which is effectively a confession) has likely already been seen by or sent to your university's disciplinary dept: so you should probably assume that they will know everything you have written here, and that they already have your written confession.

I still agree with other answers, in that I recommend reaching out to the email's author through another channel (or at least, through email only after validating their email address is correct), just to ask if it is legitimate, before proceeding further.

I wouldn't recommend pretending ignorance, like "could you clarify whether you have listed the correct assignment, as the one listed is one I did not contribute to, and have even applied for extenuating circumstances". In theory this could defuse the investigation immediately, however, if they already have the text of this question in hand, this approach may come across as "trying it on".

I would probably ask the sender for additional information on the investigation process, asking for information on timelines, etc, so that you know how much time you have to work on providing evidence. There seems to be very little on timelines in their regulations.

Once you've confirmed that it's legitimate, and established what your timeline for action is, you might wish to seek legal counsel before engaging with them or sending them anything, or admitting any guilt: consider asking the Citizen's Advice Bureau about this. If you do take on counsel, make sure to let them know that you posted this confession publicly, and that it might be in the hands of the University.

In the absence of legal counsel, though, I'd definitely follow the instructions in that email to the letter.

From the email, it seems that you should probably read all sections of their regulations, as many apply to you.

Read them carefully, and completely, and do what the emails and regulations say.

I'd draw your attention to the parts which say it is your responsibility to raise any health issues as extenuating circumstances, so while leading with that as you did here may come across poorly, it does seem valuable and possibly important that you do so.

Also read about the evidence you should be providing to them as soon as possible.

Are you screwed? You probably know better than we do, as they provided you a required training module on the topic, early on. So, you'll have been trained to know the answer to your own question, and we people on the internet have (for the most part) not been trained by your university in their policies.

But whether or not you're screwed is largely out of your hands at this point. All you can do is try your best to navigate the process. You've given here some compelling arguments for leniency (health, and the fact that you opted not to use it and instead to take a zero mark), so make sure that all these good bits gets introduced in the information you provide them. Downplay the bad bits, but don't lie.

Note that this public confession was for some time the top "Hot" post on SE's front page, and also of course the top post on Academia SE. It is VERY unlikely to have sailed under their radar.

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    I think the request to admins to delete the question may be out of line. I mean, does this site actually have a rule against providing enough information for the poster or the situation they're asking about to be identified? I doubt it, given that many of use our real names to post here. (also, here deletion is generally done by moderators or high-reputation users, not admins)
    – David Z
    Commented Jan 11 at 2:35
  • It's more a suggestion they do something charitable to the poor guy. He's in bad enough trouble at this point, surely? Commented Jan 11 at 3:07
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    Well, no, I'm not sure of that. But it doesn't even matter. On SE sites, questions are valuable to lots of people other than the asker, e.g. those experiencing similar situations, now or in the future. We generally place that value to others above negative consequences of leaving the question up, unless it's extremely serious - but this doesn't qualify. "Serious" would mean that, say, someone's life is endangered by the question remaining visible.
    – David Z
    Commented Jan 11 at 3:56
  • @DavidZ Relevant: academia.meta.stackexchange.com/q/4762/68109
    – GoodDeeds
    Commented Jan 11 at 18:17
  • Shrug You do you. My suggestion stands. Commented Jan 12 at 19:08

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