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April 24, 2015

College Admissions Assistance Company Required to Change its Marketing, Make Refunds, and Pay $25,000

Texas-based company agrees to reforms following complaint that it misled Iowa couple from Haiti into $2,000 contract

(DES MOINES, Iowa) College Admission Assistance LLC, a Delaware company headquartered in Arlington, Texas, has agreed to change how it markets its services to Iowa households with college-bound students following a complaint that the company misled and took advantage of an Iowa couple.

A Des Moines-area accountant filed a complaint with the Consumer Protection Division on behalf of two clients, a couple born in Haiti and now living in Iowa. The complaint detailed how College Admission Assistance drew the couple into a contract requiring payment of nearly $2,000 for private counseling and other services intended to prepare their teenage son for college, help select a school, and arrange financial aid.

According to the complaint, the couple had received an official-looking letter from the “Director of Student Services” at College Admission Assistance directing them to attend an upcoming meeting about their son’s college prospects at a local venue. The mother attended with the student, and once there a company representative allegedly pressured her to sign a contract for college-admission-related services that the couple later determined they did not need and could not afford.

“This household’s lack of familiarity with the educational system and public resources in the United States made them especially vulnerable,” Miller said. “But we concluded that several aspects of this company’s marketing scheme were deceptive and unfair, and could victimize many parents trying to do the right thing for their college-bound sons and daughters.”

Miller said the company’s initial solicitation letter informed parents that they had been “scheduled to participate” in an upcoming presentation involving their teenager’s admission to college and eligibility for financial aid. The letter told parents that their student’s interview “will take place” at the upcoming event, and directed them to call a toll-free number to make specific arrangements to attend. The letter urged both parents to attend, but instructed that at least one parent “must attend” with the student.

“Even though this was just an invitation to attend a sales presentation, the letters made it sound like some authority was directing the parents to attend a mandatory meeting, and that the student’s future was hanging in the balance,” Miller said. “It’s easy to see how anyone could be misled, but especially those who speak English as a second language and others who may be unfamiliar with the ins and outs of post-high school educational opportunities.”

According to Miller, once parents showed up for their “appointment,” they were subjected to a manipulative and high-pressure sales pitch, and were urged not to leave that day without signing up for the company’s services at the ‘today-only’ price of $1,995 – a price they were told would go up by $500 if they left without signing a contract.

Miller said that the quality of the counseling and other services the company provides its customers was not the issue, and that consumer complaints filed with other state attorney general offices and the Better Business Bureau typically focus on the aggressive approach to marketing, not the underlying services themselves.

The agreement, called an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance, provides that any Iowans who signed up for CAA’s services can obtain a refund for any unused portion of the contract term, and Miller urged any Iowans currently paying on such a contract to contact his office. The agreement also requires CAA to change its marketing to eliminate the misleading solicitation letters and high pressure presentations, and to pay $25,000 for future enforcement under the Consumer Fraud Act. As part of the agreement, the company denied wrongdoing or liability.

Iowans under contract with CAA who believe they deserve a refund can file a Consumer Protection Division complaint:

General Tips for Parents of College-Bound Children
Families of students wishing to explore post-high-school educational options and available financing should first check out the resources available from counselors and other staff at the student’s own school.

Parents and students are also urged to review financial options available through the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid, the nation’s largest provider of student financial aid. In addition, colleges and universities of interest are usually eager to work with prospective students regarding the admissions process and financing.

Be wary of official-looking letters from unfamiliar sources. Many marketing schemes adopt formatting or wording that implies a governmental or other authoritative source. Check it out to be sure.

If you are being pressured to commit to some transaction, the best advice is to back away and think it over at your own pace, even if you supposedly miss out on a special deal. A marketer with solid products or services to sell doesn’t need to ratchet up the pressure to make a sale.

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