20th May 2024

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Technology and Computer

Social media sites urged to stop school exam scams

Social media companies need to do more to “shut down” scammers selling fake GCSE and A-level papers to students, say exam boards.

TikTok and Instagram have said they do not allow the sale of exam papers on their platforms.

But BBC News has found dozens of accounts falsely claiming to have access to this year’s exam papers, with some charging hundreds of pounds.

Students say the accounts are “very easy to find”, with one describing the posts as “psychologically manipulative”.

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which represents the UK’s eight largest exam boards, says it is highly unlikely real papers are being leaked online.

England’s exam regulator Ofqual says if students try to cheat, they could lose the qualification they have been studying for, even if the papers they try to buy are fake.

Students at The Commonweal School in Swindon said the fraudulent accounts can be found with “a simple search”.

“They’re everywhere,” said Oscar. “I found them very easily on TikTok.”

Shreya described the accounts she has seen on Instagram as “psychologically manipulative” for students who might be duped into paying.

“The kind of language they use is all very positive,” she said.

“It’s so misleading for people who are so stressed. It’s messing with them.”

The Commonweal School head teacher Chas Drew

The Commonweal School head teacher Chas Drew is warning students about the exam scams [BBC News]

Head teacher Chas Drew said the “reprehensible and unacceptable” actions of the scammers meant the school was taking a proactive approach in tackling the issue.

In the run-up to exams, teachers are showing students the scam accounts so they know what to look out for.

“There’s nothing we do that’s more important than teaching them [students] how to keep themselves safe,” said Mr Drew.

“A lot of that is keeping themselves safe in the virtual world as well as the real world.”

Teams of analysts at exam boards scour social media sites to look for scammers and report any fraudulent accounts.

But they can only report the incidents in the same way as any other social media user.

Some of the scam accounts often remain active for several days after they have been reported.

The JCQ wants exam boards to be granted direct access to the social media site’s enforcement teams to shut the accounts down more quickly and stop students being “conned”.

“Anything we can do together with social platforms is absolutely crucial,” said JCQ chief executive Margaret Farragher.

A spokesperson for Meta, Instagram’s parent company, has said it does not allow exams or answer sheets to be sold on its platform and removes any accounts that are flagged.

TikTok has said it removes any content that tries to defraud or scam members and urged users to report any accounts claiming to sell exam papers.

Separately, The International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) has said “a very small number of students” have accessed some of its exam papers after they were shared online.

More than 150,000 students aged 16 to 19 study for the International Baccalaureates in 143 countries, including the UK.

Some students have claimed papers were leaked on Reddit and Telegram.

An IBO spokesperson confirmed there have been instances of time zone cheating, where students who have completed their exams in certain countries share information with those yet to sit them.

However, the IBO said this activity was on the “fringes” and added there is “no evidence of widespread cheating”.

Any students found to have cheated could face a range of consequences, such as receiving no marks for individual exams or being banned from sitting any future IBO exams altogether.

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