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Good news for broke schemers: You don't have to be rich or famous to cheat your way through college

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WASHINGTON (CIRCA) -- The Department of Justice charged dozens of wealthy and famous parents on Tuesday for their involvement in a massive college bribery scam, but there are cheaper ways to help students make the grade.

In fact, there is an entire online industry that will do the academic work for any student, for a price. These services range from highly professional essay writing services to mercenary hackers who will simply change grades on school networks.

A quick Google search for "essay writing services" yields dozens of results for websites offering to write everything from a short report to an entire college term paper, all for as little as $18 per page. Many of these services feature polished websites and claim to offer the services of carefully vetted professionals from just about any subject you can imagine. GradeMiners.com, for example, offers services for movie reviews, math problems and entire chapters of a dissertation. The site features a calculator that will give you a cost estimate for your academic needs in seconds.

You might assume that students who utilize these sources are academic underperformers, but you would be wrong.

"We got orders from all types of students -- lazy ones who only want to find an easier way out of a messy situation, as well as really smart young people who simply couldn’t find the time to do their own work," a former essay writer told the Huffington Post in an interview in 2015.

The former writer noted that students at prestigious schools like Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge were among their former customers.

Technically speaking, essay writing services are not illegal. They may be unethical and against university guidelines, but the companies who provide these services are doing so completely out in the open.

But there are also less-than-legal services that go even further for those desperate enough to make the grade.

"Students in general are increasingly [using] the Darknet for various activities, and we have seen a tremendous uptick in education attacks over the past 18 months," said security researcher Daniel Smith in a 2016 interview with Mic.

The Darknet, or Dark Web, is the shadowy side of the traditional internet accessed with special software, like the Tor onion router. While it is most commonly associated with online drug markets and murder-for-hire, hiring a hacker on the Dark Web is relatively easy. All it takes is a connection and some Bitcoin. One Dark Web site called pirateCRACKERS offers services including grade changes and removing absences from a student's record.

Some students have taken it upon themselves to hack into school computer networks. Students from Bloomfield Hills High School in Andover, Mich., were found to have gained access the school's student information system in 2018. They not only changed their own grades, but also those of other students in an apparent attempt to cover their tracks. The students also lined their pockets by manipulating the system to issue them refunds on school lunches.

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