Click Farms in the Education Industry? You Betcha!

India click farm.  Source: Equedia Investment Research

This is yet another laughable yet very real practice in the education industry.  Yes, dear reader, there are people in the biz who sit around doing this because 1) they have nothing better to do; 2) they’re mean and spiteful little creatures; and 2) they don’t realize just how short life is.  More commonly, there are people who outsource this “work” to companies that hire other people who spend all day clicking and posting in the name of fraud and a meager income (supplement).  The “work” of click farms is a double-edged sword.  It can be used to enhance the social media image of a particular company or drain the digital advertising budgets of its competitors.  

First things first for the uninitiated:  What is a click farm?  A business that pays employees to click on website elements to artificially boost the status of a client’s website or a product. Click farms are usually based in developing countries (including Viet Nam), where wages are extremely low by Western standards.  Source: 

I touched on this in passing in a 2014 article entitled Walking the walk – Ethical agency-based recruitment, published in University World News, at least at the individual (amateur) level.  

For your amusement and, possibly, shock, here’s a YouTube video from 2017 about a police raid on a click farm in Thailand.  

Cheating as a Misuse of Creativity

Here’s an article I recommend for both the perpetrators of this despicable practice and its victims:  Three reasons you need to stop clicking competitors’ AdWords campaigns

This except should whet your appetite to learn more:  

When Google AdWords emerged in October 2000, this indisputably changed the platform of online marketing forever, significantly extending potential client reach for prosperous businesses – all at the click of a button.

Eighteen years later, this remains to be an integral part of many business’ marketing activity – acting as a critical channel for easily accessible, rapid financial development.

However, whilst many organisations across the globe continue to persistently reap the rewards of utilising AdWords’ pay per click service, there remains to be a significant number of individuals and large-scale corporations alike who are willing to exploit this network for less genuine, constructive purposes.

This also applies to Facebook posts (!).  Eyes on the prize.  Success without integrity is failure!  

Peace, MAA

P.S.:  Here’s another good article about this topic:  Click Farms & Social Media


Uber Scam in Viet Nam?

uberLet me preface this by saying that I like Uber in Viet Nam.  The service is cheaper and more convenient than taking a taxi.  My only wish is that they would have some sort of indication that the driver is a smoker in which case I would cancel the order.

Unlike many taxi drivers, who can attempt to charge unsuspecting passengers, usually people right off the boat (plane), a flat (and inflated) rate, or that have a fast meter, Uber is seemingly foolproof, right?  It’s hard to cheat customers with its technical infrastructure.  You enter the destination address and know upfront what the cost will be and approximately how long the ride will take.

4 minutes away at 5:07 p.m.

But the system does have a soft underbelly that is more annoying than it is costly.  Here’s a scam that I’ve noticed recently that will damage Uber’s reputation, if nothing is done about it.  You order a car and, while waiting, notice that it remains in one location, instead of rushing to pick you up.  Maybe the driver’s having a coffee or a smoke.  Maybe he’s texting his girlfriend or taking a power nap. Whatever he’s doing, he’s not rushing to pick me (you) up.

The app says four (4) minutes away and then five (5) and then four (4).  Four (4) minutes have elapsed.  It’s a waiting game.  If you cancel the ride after five (5) minutes, your dear driver will earn 15,000 VND for doing nothing.  He – it’s usually a he – knows that.  That’s 66 cents or nearly $8 per hour – for doing nothing.  Not too shabby in a country where the annual PCI was about $2,251 last year.

5 minutes away at 5:08 p.m.

What to do?  Schedule permitting, take screenshots as the time changes from four to five to seven minutes and you’re waiting for a ride that is not likely to materialize.  Then cancel the lazy bum and order another ride.  If you’re charged the usual 15,000 VND, send Uber the screenshots, which are proof that the driver was cheating you.

4 minutes away at 5:11 p.m.

Memo to Uber:  Close the loophole ASAP or risking losing business.  There are other games in town, e.g., Grab.


Using Competitors’ Names in Google AdWords

How many ways are there to skin a cat, when it comes to cheating students, parents, clients and partners?  Here’s one example that I mentioned in a 12/14 article about (un)ethical agency-based recruitment in Vietnam:

  • Using a well-known competitor’s name in Google AdWords, an example of a dirty trick that is not illegal, but is certainly unethical.

Actually, whether or not it’s illegal depends upon the facts of the case.  I’ll leave that to the trademark lawyers.

cheatingHere’s how it works.  Choose well-known names, corporate or individual, and use them as AdWords so that when potential customers enter them as search terms in Google they will see your ad at the top of the page.  This means that you can use competitors’ trademarks when using AdWords and probably not pay the price, legally and financially speaking.

Here’s a specific, real-life example.  Until the Google Ad was removed, literally overnight, this is what happened when you entered the followed search terms, which the offending company had used as Google AdWords:

mark ashwill vietnam

capstone vietnam fairs

This happened to Capstone Vietnam, my employer, as well as to another company in Vietnam.

What a lame and laughable attempt to piggyback on the good reputation of others in the hope that some gullible people will actually click on their ad.  While it’s obvious to most what’s going on, some will think there’s some sort of connection – what I like to call honor or credibility by association – and do just that.

Here’s a suggestion – why don’t these unethical companies try to improve their own reputation?  Then they wouldn’t have to resort to these dirty tricks and attempt to bask in the glow of their reputable competitors.


Dog & Pony Show Revisited: At an Education UK Exhibition?

Say it ain’t so, Joe!  I happened to be in the neighborhood and decided to stop by the British Council Vietnam’s Education UK Exhibition in HCMC, which was held on 13 March at the Rex Hotel.  Much to my surprise and disappointment, I noticed large groups of students, school uniforms and all (on a Sunday?), being accompanied to the venue.  They were college (3-year institution) students whose chances of studying in the UK range from slim to none, in most cases.

uk exhibition dog and pony show
It’s showtime!

Why?  It’s what I like to call a dog and pony show approach to fair organizing.  Rather than rely on quality organic attendance, which becomes a reality as a result of hard work both on- and offline, and sweating bullets until the doors open and attendees begin trickling in (or flooding) in, you can guarantee attendance and at least make the event look successful, plus create great photo ops by busing students in.  This is a tried-and-true tactic of unethical fair organizers but not something I expected to see from a respected organization like the BC.  To put it bluntly, it’s a form of cheating and the victims are the representatives who travel halfway across the world to recruit from among a pool of potential students.  I wonder if their leadership is aware of this?  If not, maybe they are now.  (Another tactic is to pay for student referrals, as I described in my last post.  There are also services that enable you to hire faux students.)

Here’s a relevant excerpt from a 12/14 article I wrote about unethical business practices among education agents and other educational consulting companies:

Artificially inflating attendance at physical events, for instance fairs, by paying schools to bus in students, many of whom have little to no interest in the event and thus are not ‘quality students’, or simply paying a service to hire fake students to attend the fair or information session, making it a dog and pony show rather than a legitimate event.

Walking the walk – Ethical agency-based recruitment

cheatingMy recommendation to BC Vietnam, as to any fair organizer, is to focus more on reaching out to quality students.  Institutions pay a lot of money to travel to Vietnam and deserve the chance to meet and interact with legitimate students not waste precious time talking to young people who are essentially “props” for the fair organizer.

Memo to organizations and companies that engage in this unethical practice:  Most recruiters can see through this sham after talking to one or two of these students.

Q:  Do you plan to study abroad?

  • A1:  No, my school organized this trip for me and my classmates.
  • A2:  No my school organized this trip for me and my classmates so we could practice our English.

You can only fool some of the people some of the time.  Let’s take it to the next level and do the right thing, folks.


Of Smoke, Mirrors, & Educational Consultants

I continue to document and add to my rather lengthy inventory the many ways in which educational consulting companies cheat their clients and partners.  This began with an article I wrote in 12/14 for University World News entitled Walking the walk – Ethical agency-based recruitment.

cheatingHere’s one that involves an upcoming US higher education mini-fair.  It’s what I’m fond of calling the “dog and pony show” approach to pre-event marketing.  Why do it the old-fashioned way – through extensive and costly on- and offline marketing – when you can simply bribe “students” to come to your event?  It’s easy, cheap and guarantees quantity, if not quality.  You want 500 students?  No problem!  Pay 50,000 VND per student.  Psst – hey, everyone!  We’ll pay you $2.25 in cold hard cash, if you register online, come to our fair and bring a friend.   That’s $1,125 – what a bargain!

If you really wanna rock ‘n roll, you can get 1,000 “students” for $2,250!  Then you can say in your promotional materials and on your website that it’s the BIGGEST FAIR IN VIETNAM!  Tell ’em what they wanna hear.  Bigger is better and money make$ the world go round, right?!?

smoke and mirrors,jpgI don’t know how many of these students are actually interested in overseas study, especially in the USA, but they are warm bodies who will create some buzz and make the fair look “successful.”  This is one of a number of ways to artificially inflate fair attendance.  Others include busing in students, most of whom have no intention of studying overseas.  For them it’s a field trip and a chance to practice their English with unsuspecting colleagues who have not paid lots of money to travel to Vietnam and practice their English with young people who have no intention of studying in the US.

Note to recruiters:  If most of the students are wearing the same school uniform, your fair organizer has probably bused them in.  This is also a common practice among local partners who organize events for regional tours.  Keep the clients happy – at all costs!





US Education Admission – By Hook or By Crook

Everyone knows of the smart kid who decided to apply “DIY” and then wasn’t accepted—and they don’t want to risk being  the next one. Unfortunately, there’s a sense in China that the honest applicants are the chumps. (What Students in China Have Taught Me About U.S. College Admissions, Terry Crawford, The Atlantic, 6.1.15)

fraudThere’s editing and then there’s EDITING.  You know, the kind when it looks like admission essays supposedly written by the same student look like they were written by two different people – one by the student him/herself and the other by a paid (native-speaker or US-educated?) “helper” with a more sophisticated mastery of the language and a much more extensive vocabulary.

Need some help with that pesky essay?  Let your fingers do the writing, copy and paste-style.  Just Google it!  From the perspective of those of us who have read our fair share of admission essays over the years it’s easy as pie to spot “enhanced” essays over the garden-variety ones.

Speaking of Google, the best thing since sliced bread and itself a double-edged sword, it’s also easy to spot language that was permanently borrowed from another source without attribution.  Enter the suspicious-looking phrase with the big words into Google’s magic search engine (or any number of sites designed to detect plagiarism), hit enter and, bingo, there’s the original source!

no cheatingAs China goes, so too, Vietnam, among other countries in Asia and elsewhere.  As the above Atlantic article makes clear, one popular way to gain a competitive edge is to cheat and deceive.  That’s a sad lesson to teach young people who end up becoming co-conspirators in their own admission process.  The silver lining is that those students who are admitted to US secondary or postsecondary education quickly discover the importance of academic honesty and the risks of academic dishonesty because it’s one of the topics covered in international student orientations is academic dishonesty, including plagiarism.  Every institution has an academic honor code and punishment is general severe for those – US and international students – caught violating this or any other aspect of it.