Most of us have had the experience of receiving e-mail with an attachment, trying to open the attachment, and finding a corrupted file that won't open. That concept is at the root of a new Web site advertising itself (perhaps serious only in part) as the new way for students to get extra time to finish their assignments.
Corrupted-Files.com  offers a service -- recently noted by several academic bloggers who have expressed concern  -- that sells students (for only $3.95, soon to go up to $5.95) intentionally corrupted files. Why buy a corrupted file? Here's what the site says: "Step 1: After purchasing a file, rename the file e.g. Mike_Final-Paper. Step 2: E-mail the file to your professor along with your 'here's my assignment' e-mail. Step 3: It will take your professor several hours if not days to notice your file is 'unfortunately' corrupted. Use the time this website just bought you wisely and finish that paper!!!"
The site promises that students can stop using "lame excuses" like the deaths of grandmothers or turning in poor work.
While the Web site attempts to distinguish its service from cheating, it also advises students on how its services could make it easier for them to get away with turning in a file they know won't open. "This download includes a 2, 5, 10, 20, 30 and 40 page corrupted Word file. Use the appropriate file size to match each assignment. Who's to say your 10 page paper didn't get corrupted? Exactly! No one can! Its the perfect excuse to buy yourself extra time and not hand in a garbage paper. Cheating is not the answer to procrastination! - Corrupted-Files.com is!"
Who would be behind such an operation? Is this the latest form of cheating?
Inside Higher Ed e-mailed the site's proprietor via e-mail and learned the following (obviously not verifiable, and the site owner did not give a name, nor is one listed on the site's registration). The site was created in December "as a goof" by its owner.
"I didn't think anyone would actually pay for an excuse but lo and behold.... It was never meant to sell one file but I get about 3-4 downloads a day (over 10 a day during finals) and don’t advertise the site," the owner wrote back. "I used the corrupted file excuse back in my college days (I’m 25) as I started my first business at 19 so I didn't have much time to do my schoolwork. When I couldn't get an extension, I sent my professors a corrupted file to buy me time. I know this was not the most ethical thing but as a young entrepreneur, I did not have much of a choice as I valued my employees well above my academics." (People commenting on the blogs that have noticed the trend note that they have been receiving papers such as those described.)
Asked if he or she had ever received complaints from professors that this was cheating, the site's owner said that a faculty member had asked that question and that this was roughly the answer: "Well ... it's a fine line Prof. H. It's basically just a good excuse vs. outright cheating. Let's face it, how many times have you heard, 'I had a family emergency' or 'my grandma passed away?' I am simply offering a better excuse. It's not cheating in the traditional sense as the student is still doing their own work and not using a roommates' old paper or being foolish enough to purchase one online. If the student is desperate, it is fair to assume he/she has considered these paths. In such a situation, would you rather have a student make up an excuse and hand in their own work a bit late or submit someone else's work on time?"
Who are the best customers? "Not to anyone's surprise, but my best clients are from Ivy and top tier schools. I guess the more perfect people think you are, the more likely in life you are to cheat to keep that perception."
One irony that the site developer noted: He or she gave a guest lecture at a university and assigned a project to students at the professor's request. "One student e-mailed me a corrupted file -- I couldn't help but to laugh and accept the student’s excuse."
Why keep the site going? "Everyone at my current venture finds the site humorous so I keep it up. Plus, it does help students save face with their professors as CF is an alternative to buying a paper online or using a friend's old paper. CF simply buys the student time and encourages them to do their own work and not to procrastinate next time around."
Despite all the sentiments expressed about helping students avoid cheating, Corrupted-Files.com indicates on the top of the Web site that it would prefer not to be too well known, lest professors suspect. "Keep this site a secret!" the site says. In the interest of professors who may have noticed an uptick in the number of corrupt files they have received, we're sorry we can't oblige.