July 31, 2020

For-Profit College Group Warns Members They Are Being Targeted By High-Pressure Scam

For-Profit College Group Warns Members They Are Being Targeted By High-Pressure Scam

Last week, the for-profit college lobby group CECU sent a message to its members entitled, “EMAIL SCAM ALERT.” It warns, “It has come to our attention that there is an email scam going around impersonating CECU and some members of the Board of Directors. If you have received an email requesting ‘gift cards for donation to Veterans,’ please know this email is a scam.” The email includes a screen shot from this scam email, claiming that donations will buy gift cards to help prevent COVID-19 among veterans “at hospice and palliative care units.”

“Be aware,” the email continues, “that scammers use several means to try to apply pressure in a transaction so that individuals do not have time to think about the truthfulness or legitimacy of the swindle, including statements that various goods or programs are of limited quantity or duration. This is a hallmark of fraud—please slow down and take the necessary time to think and check the information through unconnected sources.”

OK, scams, especially those exploiting veterans and a deadly disease, are awful. But, still, this email is pretty funny, for its utter lack of self-awareness.

As has been heavily documented in multiple investigations, for-profit colleges have been caught engaging in systematic scams against vulnerable people — single parents, low-income people, immigrants, and, yes, America’s veterans — often people who are the first in their family to attend college, people who are no match for the highly-refined boiler room sales operations of predatory schools.

The hallmark of these scams has been, and remains, the use of deceptive and high-pressure sales tactics — often falsely telling prospective students that if they do not sign up right away, they will lose their opportunity, when in fact most for-profit and career schools will enroll almost any student, any time, so long as the student is eligible for taxpayer-funded federal aid. This is a hallmark of fraud. 

CECU members, over the years, have included many of the worst-of-the-worst of these for-profit college operations, companies that have been investigated, pursued, and penalized by law enforcement agencies: Corinthian Colleges, ITT Tech, EDMC, DeVry, Kaplan (now Purdue Global), Career Education Corporation (now Perdoceo), Bridgepoint (now Zovio), ATI, FastTrain, Alta/Westwood, Education Corporation of America, and Vatterott.

Current CECU members include the Center for Excellence in Higher Education (CEHE), operators of CollegeAmerica, Independence University, and other schools, a company with a disgraceful record of predatory abuses against students and resulting law enforcement actions. Other current CECU members that have been the subject of law enforcement actions for abuses against students include Education Affiliates, Daymar College, and Lincoln Educational Services.

CECU helpfully told its members last week to report scams to the Federal Trade Commission or the Justice Department, both agencies with extensive knowledge of the for-profit college industry, because they have repeatedly investigated and penalized deceptive and fraudulent schools.

CECU also tells members, “Remember gift cards are for gifts, not for payments.” This is also rich, because the for-profit college industry is notorious for offering $25 gift cards to heavily-indebted former students if they will agree to place their student loans in “forbearance” — a status that does not relieve the borrower of mounting interest on the loan but does help schools avoid being kicked out of the federal financial aid program for having absurdly high default rates.