Inside the term-paper machine

The black market of term papers exposed
By COLMAN HERMAN  |  November 4, 2009

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It’s never been easier for college students to hire someone else to write their term papers for them.

Despite school honor codes and laws in Massachusetts and 16 other states making it illegal to traffick in term papers, websites with names like Papergeeks.com, Schoolsucks.com and escheat.com advertise easy access to recycled and “customized” term papers with catchy slogans like “Download Your Workload” and “It’s Not Cheating, It’s Collaborating.”

Craigslist, that purveyor of virtually anything and everything, offers hundreds of listings from people ready, willing, and occasionally able to write term papers for students. These writers for hire come from all walks of life, with some in Boston holding down important positions in their day jobs.

Posing as a student over a three-month period from July to September, I emailed a request for a 20-page, double-spaced term paper about physician-assisted suicide to 66 individuals and companies advertising on the Boston section of Craigslist. Sixty-two responses came back, quoting prices ranging from $90 to $1,200. The average price was $370, or $18.50 a page. I also contacted a few others about writing school admissions essays.

Many of the term paper writers boasted of Ivy League pedigrees and stellar writing skills, claims that were not always truthful.  Eddie H., the founder of Ivy League Essays, a frequent advertiser on Craigslst, claimed to be a senior at Columbia University, but in an interview he came clean and admitted he was not.

Still, some of the writers advertising on Craigslist do have impressive credentials.  For example, Damian Bonazzoli, who promised a “quality grade” if he was hired to write the 20-page paper on physician-assisted suicide, responded to an inquiry by sending, unsolicited, his résumé. It revealed that he is a senior staff attorney for the Massachusetts Appeals Court, a job that pays him $94,000 a year, according to state records.  Bonazzoli wanted $300 to write the paper.

In an email exchange, Bonazzoli said turning in a paper that he had written would not be illegal. “I am aware of no state or federal statute that prohibits such a practice. This is not the equivalent of, say, lying on a federal employment or tax form,” he said. “Could your school take disciplinary action? Of course. But that’s quite different from a criminal prosecution.”

In a follow-up telephone interview, this time with me identifying myself as a reporter, Bonazzoli insisted that students should abide by the ethics codes of their schools and added that he was unaware of the Massachusetts law on term papers.  

Dr. Rivka Colen, a physician practicing at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, offered to write four medical school admission essays for $800. Colen said in a telephone interview with me that she does writing on the side “to help out medical students” and that she provides students with a questionnaire to complete before writing their essays for them. Admissions essays are not mentioned in the Massachusetts term paper statute.

A person who identified herself as Elie Losleben, who wanted $950 to write the 20-page paper on physician-assisted suicide, said she is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University. “I don’t get caught,” Losleben crowed in an email exchange. “I’m a professional writer and I know how to change narrative voice to meet the needs of my clients. Kind of like an actress, after reading one or two of your papers, I know how to mimic the way that you write.”

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