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Anti-plagiarism software is designed to detect entire essays or passages that are lifted.

Essay-buy is a growing problem on two of B.C.'s biggest campuses and the universities are struggling to crack down on the problem, CBC News has learned.

An official with Simon Fraser University says more and more students are cheating by buying custom written essays online, instead of writing the assignments themselves.

"I think it is a growing issue," says SFU's associate vice-presidents of students, Tim Rahilly. 

And it's an expensive endeavour — with the price of a 10-page essay ranging from $250 to $400. 

Santosh Lalonde used to sell essays to students, saying he had as many as 30 clients over a three-year period and had to turn away many more. 

Essay ads

Ads like this one on Craigslist sell essays to students. (CBC)

"I felt like a blackmarket essay dude," says Lalonde. 

But eventually Lalonde says he tired of the scheme and the demanding attitudes of some of his clients. 

"The business guy I was writing for was very cocky about the entire thing, and very verbal about how pointless he thought school was and how smart he was for bucking the system."

Custom essays sold online

CBC News found several postings on Craiglist advertising services similar to what Lalonde used to offer. A CBC News producer posed as a student with a looming assignment and spoke to a writer who sells essays.

The essay writer guaranteed the producer she would not be discovered since the papers were written "from scratch." 

While both SFU and UBC use anti-plagiarism software to catch essays that lift entire passages or completely copy papers that might be online, the custom approach used by essay sellers makes it difficult for universities to detect.  

The University of British Columbia has disciplined just one student in the past two years for essay-buying. 

SFU groups students who buy essays together with students who plagiarize, or take credit for someone else's work and Rawhilly estimates that over the course of a year it has caught and suspended a dozen students total. 

Amrik Virk, B.C.'s Minister of Advanced Education, says there is nothing the provincial government can do to stop the practice of essay buying. 

"Legislation against cheating isn't going to solve the problem," says Virk. 

"The key is catching them."

As it continues to figure out how to best catch the essay-buyers, Rawhilly says SFU does want to send a strong message to all of its students and has just launched an online campaign that warns of the dangers of essay buying and the consequences if caught. 

"I think that it's something that we want to make sure our students really understand is not on."