Monday, November 4, 2013

Early Thirsty: Worst Student Scam?

I'll start the ball rolling.

Mina M and Susi S, two students with different last names (but from the same minority group) were in the same 4-person group in my Summer School class. One or both often missed class, both failed the mid term, and not surprisingly, near the end of the semester, the other two members of the group asked me to intervene.

I met with the group and politely pointed out that everyone needed to pull their weight on a group assignment, and if they were not able to, they had the option of working on a downsized individual assignment instead. The next thing I knew, my Chair called me in to tell me that Mina M had filed an official complaint of racial discrimination against me (with the University ombudsman no less), with Susi S providing a supporting statement as evidence.

You can imagine the countless hours of meetings I had with Chair, Dean, Mediator and Ombudsman. I was a new professor and was terrified. After many sleepless nights, I finally given a copy of the complaint. A close reading of Mina M's statement revealed that my crime was: I had treated her exactly like everyone else!! Because she was minor royalty in her tiny homeland nation (on the lines of a  cousin of a nephew of Queen XXX) , she believed was entitled to be treated "as a royal" and should have been given special concessions on the group work. She believed I had discriminated against her by not treating her as royalty.

The kicker: The mediator mentioned that the way the complaint was worded seemed awfully familiar. It turned out that Mina M and Sally S were MOTHER and DAUGHTER and that they had pulled this scam multiple times before- they would take turns with one complaining and the other providing the evidentiary statement. In each previous case, the professor had passed them in return for them withdrawing the complaint. Fortunately, the ombudsman dismissed the complaint, after the mediator provided the evidence of multiple scams by this pair.

Never again - as a result of this, our Faculty now has an unofficial register of such incidents/complaints so Professors can cross-check to see if this is a one-off or a scam.

Q: What's the most audacious scam one of your students has ever attempted? 


  1. Many years ago a class decided that if they all cheated we won't be able to fail of of them.

    They were wrong.

  2. 1) Student submitted a letter from a police department that they were occupied somewhere else at some time (relevant to missing an exam or somesuch thing) e.g. were in an automobile accident.
    Professor who had a brother on the police force smelled something fishy about the letter. Contacted his brother. Fake police officer, fake unit/department, even fake precinct in the letter. Major burn. The student went through the trouble of somehow getting the police force logo/coat of arms as the watermark underlaying the text of the letter. They obviously quite a bit of work into it - this was some years back, mind you, when such things were harder to accomplish.

    2) Student was selling exam answers ahead of time (the whole thing was a scam - student did not have final exam ahead of time). Campus IT traced the source of his web postings on an exam answers website to his wireless router in his campus room; wireless routers were also illegal on campus, as the whole campus area was already wireless and wireless routers were a security vulnerability - student knew his IT enough to claim that his router had been hacked, and he should only be punished for operating a router against the campus and freshman residence rules. No one on the academic tribunal believed his story. Major burn.

  3. Wow, that's pretty bold. We had a group of students (of a single ethnicity) collecting quizzes and tests to compile a "database" of past quizzes and tests to sell to students in those classes. In cases where professors did not change exams, this offered and advantage. In cases like mine, where I actually give the students past quizzes or tests as an example, this was ridiculous. It came to light when one of my students came to me outraged that I had given out in class an old exam that he had just paid for from this group. The student was demanding that I pay him back for doing this. This went to the disciplinary committee and the group was "outed" to the disciplinary committee as a result of his stupidity.

    1. I don't understand why this is a scam. It's not unethical to save old exams and give them to friends to help them study. Selling them the information isn't any different. I know some schools treat this as an honor code violation but I disagree. If a faculty member doesn't change an exam, that's the professor's fault.

    2. I dont understand why your student thought you should repay money he spent trying to get an unfair advantage over his classmates, just because you were trying to be fair to all. The workings of the Snowflake mind are just so mysterious!!

    3. @BB, Some of these were standardized exams kept in the Testing Center (i.e. placement tests that we offer in-house, such as the SAT or ACT, or subject-matter GRE), some were departmental exams that were not old (ie. certain TAs who had access to the professors' computers and files were sneaking them out in advance to see to students in the classes), some were departmental standard exams that the depts. had a pool from which to pull (so as to not use the same exam every year, but to rotate them every 3 years, for example). Students were either stealing the new exams (prior to their being given) or keeping old exams that professors had asked to be returned at the end of class so they wouldn't be in rotation. Most of these were from the Sciences, where they rotate exams.

      I use similar questions on exams of classes I've taught repeatedly (I mean how many questions can you ask about culture, class, or gender that haven't already been asked?), but I often rephrase questions or make them more specific to the way the class discussion was framed or to current events. I don't care who has access to the exam after the fact. If someone stole the exam from me beforehand, I'd be royally pissed.

      @DK: because they're stupid. I think that retail sets this expectation up (i.e. if you find a lower price elsewhere, we'll cover the difference).

  4. Jeez, where to start with this one. As far as blatantly audacious goes, a simple one comes to mind. It was the time when some little shit showed up to an exam late. He only entered the classroom after all 100 other students had been seated and had started their exams. All of this was caught on camera, with a date stamp, and with a clock in the classroom in the picture. I penalize students for showing up late to exams, since it's a real pain in the ass to me, and it also can be used to aid cheating. So, when I wrote "late" on this little shit's paper, he looked me straight in the eye and told me that he wasn't late! One little shit's struggle with reality, the saga continues...

  5. This wasn't a scam, but I did have a "royal" student once: he preceded his name with "HRH". Like Mina and Susi above, he was a minor cousin of a large extended ruling family. The main thing royal about him turned out to be what a pain he was. He openly criticized the syllabus the first day, did not read the book, missed most of the assignments, and was flunking until he withdrew at mid-semester. Later I learned that he was notorious for filing a series of lawsuits against the student government for election fraud since he kept losing elections to office.

    1. When I was still a grad student there was an undergrad student who was the nephew of the country's head of state (well, not really, the Queen still has that position). My friends who were his TAs said he was a real pain in the arse.

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  7. So, my favorite is one I've told here before, but it's been a while, and I don't have the link to the old article (which might have even been on RYS, for all I know), so I'll just tell it again.

    Finals week, about three hours or so before my final, I'm in the department lounge, hanging out, and the secretary tells me I've got a call. I grab the phone and I hear one of my students on the other end.

    "[mispronounces my name]?"


    "When is the exam?"

    "Uh, [t+3 hours]. You've got tons of time. Why?"

    "Oh! 'Cause I'm here, and no one else is here, and I was wondering why."

    At this point I'm wondering if he's suffered a head wound since I saw him last. "Well, you have time."

    "Oh, but... see... the problem is, I really thought the exam was at THIS time."

    "Okay... it's not. You're all right. Don't stress."

    "But, see... I'm skipping another exam to be here."

    "What? What other exam?"

    "[names final exam in another class IN MY VERY DEPARTMENT]"

    "You should go take that. You've got more than half the time left; you can still do fine." That's an understatement - the instructor to the class in question uses a standard-length test as her final, so he's got tons of time to get there, blow the doors off the thing, and still grab a coffee before my final.

    "Oh. I thought I had to choose."

    It was all I could do to avoid laughing. "No. The university does not make you choose which finals you take."

    "But... see... I thought I had to CHOOSE."

    Why is he stressing that point? "You don't. Go take your exam."

    "But... I didn't study for that one. I studied for this one."

    It's starting to become clear. "Ah... well, that's unfortunate."

    "I chose YOU!"

    (facepalm) "Kid, go take your exam."

    Desperately, he segues to his real agenda. "Can you write me a note?"

    "What would this note say, praytell?"

    "That you originally scheduled the final for [this time] but then moved it to [actual time]."

    "Sorry, no, because I didn't do that. I have no control over the finals schedule. I don't choose when I give my final - the university does, so there'll be no conflicts."

    VERY desperately, he tries a last "Hail Mary" pass. "But... but... I was SURE I saw [current time] on the website where the finals schedule was posted."

    "That, my friend, is an IT problem. Good luck on your finals!"

    He passed my final, barely. I don't think he ever showed up for the final in the other class, and wound up failing it.

  8. I've thought hard about this, and I can't recall any colorful scams. Either I'm really easy to deceive, or the conditions I create are such that there's nothing they can try, or it wouldn't matter and they know it. On the other hand...

    The OP recalled an occasional source of humor in my classes: the Very Important Minority Student. (They come in male and female versions.) There's this guy I had two years ago: showed up once every two weeks, walked in late and left early. Bombed the tests, obviously. Every once in a while sent me an email pleading for an exception to the rules. The signature made clear he wasn't to be trifled with: President of this and that Minority Organization, Senior in Very Important Major. The name was strongly foreign-sounding. I imagined him saying: "do you know who you're talking to? My father is the minister..." Or maybe he actually said it. Clearly somebody used to instructors who trembled in fear and bowed in deference to his Obvious Importance.

    Last email I got from him was two weeks into the next term, asking if there was anything that could be done about his F: "this is clearly a misunderstanding", he said. It went unanswered.

    1. I would have replied to his last email with, "No. this is clearly a lack of understanding... on your part."

  9. The most audacious was the one whose mother AND brother died during the semester they took my class, and then who developed gall bladder disease in the following semester while taking a colleague’s class. Oh, and the student’s mother died. Again. The student eventually passed both courses, but except for being given extended time for some assignments (there were additional reasons to do so, to ‘cloak our posteriors’ as it were) didn’t get additional special treatment.

    The second most audacious was last year when a student forged medical excuses from a doctor’s office. It was not even very well done; student probably got hold of a colleague’s actual medical excuse, then used about a half bottle of Wite-out, copied new ‘blank forms’ and filled them in. Visible Wite-out streaks and all. At my request (only the Dean has the authority) THIS student got the special failing grade my institution reserves for “failed because of academic dishonesty.” The student even attempted to appeal – basically “please don’t punish me; I only did it because I didn’t want a bad grade in the class.” Duh. The Appeal Committee was not sympathetic. So this same student is in my class again this fall. (Actually, THREE students who received, and unsuccessfully appealed poor grades/academic integrity dings from me are in my class this fall.)

    I am so, so mean.

  10. It sounds like a Nigerian Princess scam...