Suffolk Closeup: Wild West of the Web

Ken LaValle

A bill authored by State Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who represents Shelter Island, that would ban Internet sales of various academic documents, including term papers and essays, was approved by the State Senate on March 2.

It’s a welcome intervention into the Wild West of the web. The measure is now being considered by the State Assembly.

Mr. LaValle, chair of the Senate’s Higher Education Committee and a former teacher and school administrator, said that “unfortunately , there have always been some students who have found ways to cheat. The Internet has made academic dishonesty easier and quicker.” He added that it’s become “more simple than ever to find other’s work on a topic and falsely pass it off as one’s own with a simple copy-and-paste.”

State law already bans the sale or purchase of dissertations and term papers but does not specifically indicate that papers obtained over the Internet or other electronic media are also banned.

“This legislation would remove any ambiguity ,” Mr. LaValle said.

His measure adds to the original law “either written or provided through electronic media” prohibiting the sale or purchase of dissertations, theses, term papers, essays, reports and similar educational assignments. There’s a fine of up to $1,000 for both purchase and sale.

As a college professor for nearly 40 years, and witnessing the Internet providing an easy path to students who want to cheat, I consider Mr. LaValle’s bill necessary. Moreover, it is, at long last, some policing of the web. I am, like most people today, a computer user and I’d say much, much more is needed, especially when it comes to “phishing” and snagging people to accept phony online “tech support,” among other things.

In preparing this column, I Googled the words “Term Papers.” What came up were many websites offering them for sale. One declared: “We keep … term papers for sale, research papers for sale, dissertations for sale, reports for sale, reviews for sale, theses for sale and other assignments for sale that are quite helpful for students. Our accomplished and proficient academic writers write a [sic] trustworthy and original content. We have employed writers who can be regarded as the best because of their exceptional writing qualities … Order a custom paper from scratch on practically any subject.”

Then I Googled the word “Dissertation.” Again, there were many websites.

One proclaimed: “If you are looking to buy Ph.D. materials and that of top-quality, then you’ve got [to] look for professional providers.” Under a subhead, “Importance of Buying Thesis Papers,” it stated: “When the submission date is fast approaching and you’ve no idea what to write, then this is where the need for professional services arises … If you are looking to make a mess of your assignments, then it is your choice, but if you are intending for top grades” then go to this “ultimate one-stop destination.”

Here’s an example of another aspect of web sleaziness: The other day, a friend working on her computer was interrupted by a phone call from a purported “Microsoft associate” announcing that her computer was infected by viruses.

Because Microsoft was specifically named, she was trusting and allowed the “tech support” person on the other end to take control of her computer to ostensibly remove the viruses. He then started pressuring her to buy an anti-virus program although she already had one on her computer. So she said “no” and moved to disconnect.

The next thing she knew, her computer was going nuts. The person on the other end had loaded it with all sorts of viruses. She went to one of the “EasyTech” departments at Staples — where undoing computer viruses is a specialty — and the damage that was done was undone and in person.

AARP has just sent out an alert: “This just might be the biggest consumer scam in the U.S. right now,” it says. “According to Microsoft, in 2015 an estimated 3.3 million people — many of them seniors — were victimized by a tech-support con at a total cost of $1.5 billion. That’s one American duped out of an average $454 nearly every 10 seconds. Here’s how the scam typically unfolds. You get an unsolicited call from someone claiming to be with Microsoft or Windows tech support who says viruses have been detected on your computer … A dummy screen may appear [on your computer] that shows viruses being detected and eliminated, but in reality malware is being installed that allows the scammer to steal your usernames and passwords, hold your data for ransom or even use the web-cam to spy on you.”

AARP says, simply, “Hang up the phone.”

 Meanwhile, anyone with a computer who uses email has gotten those “phishing” emails parading as messages from banks and credit card companies seeking sensitive information. I get several of these phony but seemingly authentic attempts to mine personal data every week.

The situation is no doubt difficult to police because many of these operators corrupting cyberspace are working out of India, Russia and elsewhere overseas. But we desperately need sheriffs coming to our “global town” bringing law and order.

Top photo: State Senator Ken LaValle. (Credit: File)

grossman_karl150 Karl Grossman’s syndicated “Suffolk Closeup” column is printed in the Shelter Island Reporter, a Times Review Media Group publication.