Confessions of a Ghostwriter: Man's Career Thrives Helping Students Cheat

Ghostwriter "Ed" fesses up to writing thousands of papers and theses.

December 13, 2010, 10:14 AM

Dec. 13, 2010— -- That nurse taking your blood pressure? She may not have written her college term papers. Ditto for your accountant, your pharmacist, your child's school principal.

Cheating has come a long way since the days when answers were written on the palm of a student's hand.

Meet "Ed."

He agreed to talk to ABC News' David Muir as long as we changed his name to protect his identity. He said he's helped thousands of students graduate by writing their term papers, final exams, even doctoral theses. Many of them are on highly specialized topics, including national and maritime security. And his clients rarely get caught.

"Not too far back I completed a doctorate in cognitive psychology," he said.

And while his services mean the students don't have to crack open a book, "Ed" says he usually doesn't either. The Internet, he said, has made him a kind of jack-of-all-trades.

"I Google everything. Everything is Google-able," he said. "I hardly leave the house."

In addition to Google, he also taps in to scholarly journals and the free book samples offered on

He's even written papers for seminary students -- and found himself amused at the irony.

"Well, you know, if you're studying in a highly moralistic field," he said, "one might suggest you should be concerned about the moral implications of it."

"Ed," who has since left his job, wrote about his career last month in an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

"In the midst of this great recession, business is booming," he wrote in the Chronicle. "At busy times, during midterms and finals, my company's staff of roughly 50 writers is not large enough to satisfy the demands of students who will pay for our work and claim it as their own."

Despite advances in technology to prevent cheating and an increase in vigilance by professors, estimates as to how many students cheat are still high. According to researchers at the Center for Academic Integrity, more than two-thirds of college students have admitted to cheating.

Ghostwriter Admits 'I'm Not Proud and I'm Not Ashamed'

In an effort to prove "Ed"'s claims that ghostwritten work is virtually undetectable, ABC News bought such a paper from an online ghostwriting company and took it to Hofstra University in New York, where a panel of professors was asked to read it along with two papers actually written by Hofstra students.

"Certainly, actually, if this had hit my desk, and I did not know the students, hadn't seen their writing before, all three look like undergraduate papers that I have graded and am likely to grade again," Hofstra University Honors College Dean Warren Frisina said.

Still, the panel agreed that even though the purchased paper was a good one, they come to know their students individually and would likely recognize work that's out of the ordinary for that person.

"If student 'C' had turned in a paper to me like this, but had previously turned in a series of C or D papers, we'd be having a conversation about the sudden transformation in his writing ability," Frisina said.

Only one professor was able to pick out the phony paper, noting that the purchased paper was the only one that didn't reference discussions made in class. But even she admitted that she would have graded it alongside the others.

"What choice would I have? Absolutely I would've graded it," said Stephanie Cobb, associate professor of religion. "There's nothing about it I can prove."

That phony paper even slipped past software used by Hofstra and many other colleges to scans papers for red flags that the paper might not be authentic. Because these types of phony papers are custom-written and not computer-generated, most will slip past such sensors.

That's why "Ed," and the thousands more he says are out there just like him, have become somewhat of a godsend to desperate students. "Ed" said he was on track to make $66,000 this year before he got out of the business -- more than some of his clients will make after graduating using his work.

His longest assignment -- a 175-page accounting paper written over four days -- earned him $2,000.

He said he doesn't regret it at all.

"Listen, we all know cheating is wrong, and I won't make excuses for it, and I won't attempt to defend myself for the things that I've done," he said. "But at the same time, I did this to make a living."

"Ed" said he doesn't encourage cheating and called himself "something of a bull-crap artist."

"You can have whatever ethical opinions you want of me, but the problem goes on without me, so all the moral outrage in the world, will not stop it," "Ed" said. "I'm not proud and I'm not ashamed."

"Ed" said he's been stunned at times by some of the e-mails he gets. Many are so packed with nearly unintelligible grammar and atrocious spelling that he saved them.

From one client: "where u are can you get my messages? Please I pay a lot and dont have ao to faile I strated to get very worry."

From the same client: "You did me business ethics propsal for me I need propsal got approved pls can you will write me paper?"

"It's stunning but there are so many students that have never learned to write," "Ed" said.

Also surprising? Some of the students call him with their parents right alongside them.

"Parents, they're in it for the same reason that their kid is a lot of the times, which is to see their kid get the good grade, get the degree and move on" he said.

College Student Admits to Hiring Ghostwriter, Say He's '100 Percent OK With It'

Gene, a college student, whose full name is being withheld to protect his privacy, said he has ordered multiple papers online. He hopes to someday be a lawyer.

"I was 100 percent OK with it," he said. "It's a paper. I don't think it's causing catastrophic damage, on my part."

Gene said the most he's forked over for a paper is $175 -- he needed it written by the next day. And he got a B+.

In his Chronicle essay, "Ed" said he's planning to retire, writing "I'm tired of helping you make your students look competent."

He told ABC News that professors who hear his story need to concentrate less on finding his work buried among the pile of papers they are grading and think about what it means.

"To me, the idea of trying to track down custom papers and identify cheaters, that's not as productive as understanding why 200 people, one third of an entire lecture hall," he said, "would choose to cheat."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events