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June 8, 2006

People to People Program Agrees to Modify Representations of How Students are Selected for Travel

Iowa mother whose child died at age 7 weeks in 1993 received letter saying her son had been "recommended for the honor" of a 20-day trip to Europe (with a price tag of about $5,000.)

DES MOINES.   Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has raised concerns with the marketing company for "People to People International" regarding how the company portrays the selection of students for its "Student Ambassador" travel-abroad trips -- and the company has agreed to modify its representations.

The Consumer Protection Division looked into the matter when an Iowa mother received a letter last fall inviting her son to "join other outstanding middle school students" from Central Iowa "who are eligible for People to People" and a 20-day travel and study trip to Europe in 2006. The letter indicated her son -- who died in 1993 at seven weeks of age -- "has been recommended for the honor by a teacher, former Student Ambassador or national academic listing."

"We understand a student generally must pay about $5,000 to go on one of the trips abroad," Miller said. "We conveyed our concern to People to People that parents who are induced to believe that their child was selected on merit are potentially misled, and may be improperly manipulated into making substantial expenditures they might otherwise decline to make."

The Attorney General's Office learned that in-person presentations to families who receive the invitation letter also convey the message that students are specially selected as an honor, and People to People representatives describe the program similarly over the telephone.

People to People International and Ambassadors Group, Inc, which markets the travel programs, have agreed to modify the introductory letter and the in-person presentation that relate to the "Student Ambassador" travel program to address the Attorney General's concerns that aspects are misleading. People to People also donated $20,000 to Blank Children's Hospital and $5,000 to the Iowa SIDS Foundation -- charities supported by the family of the child who died in 1993.

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Ambassadors Group Inc., which markets the "People to People Student Ambassador Program" for students from grade school, middle school and high school, is based in Spokane, Washington.

The Attorney General's concerns, and the marketing changes that will be made to address the concerns, are spelled out in a letter from the Attorney General's Office to Gerald M. Chizever, an attorney representing Ambassadors Group, Inc.

[CLICK HERE here for the Attorney General's Office letter to Chizever and Ambassadors Group, Inc., for People to People's letter to the parents of the deceased Iowa boy, and for People to People's revised letter, with modifications sought by the Attorney General.]

Chizever stated on behalf of Ambassadors Group Inc. that the Attorney General's concerns are "unfounded and unwarranted," but agreed to review other letters and promotions that are sent to Iowans by People to People and to make sure the same concerns do not apply.

The Attorney General's Office did not take issue with the merits of the "Student Ambassador" trips abroad. The Office's concerns focused on the representations of how students were selected to receive invitations and solicitations to participate.

"We ultimately determined that one of the ways students are selected to receive an invitation from People to People is through a comprehensive national listing of persons projected to be students within a targeted age range," the Attorney General's letter to Chizever noted. "This explains why the mother of the infant who died a dozen years ago received an invitation, even though her child was never a student, let alone an 'outstanding' student recommended for an 'honor.' This appears to be the 'national academic listing' referred to in your letter to the Iowa mother."


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