Petition Closed
Petitioning Advertising Ethics Google and 1 other
This petition will be delivered to:
Advertising Ethics
Google
Attorney General
Kamala Harris

Investigate FAFSA.com, a website that misleads and preys upon students

FAFSA.com misleads students applying for financial aid into paying for a service that the government provides for free.

As of today, Sept. 14, FAFSA.com comes up as the only advertisement on Google, above all legitimate search results, that reads "Complete your FAFSA Now for Federal Student Aid. By Phone or Online." The advertisement does not mention the top organic link, www.fafsa.ed.gov, allows prospective students to do the same for free online.

When clicking through, the FAFSA.com homepage reads "File your Application for Federal Student Aid," in large bold letters. Underneath, in smaller and lighter letters, it reads "Become a client of the nation's oldest and largest student aid advisory service for as little as $79.99." It does not say fees are required to submit a FAFSA through the website. The free government site is mentioned, albeit in smaller lettering on a grey background further down the page.

By definition, any student applying for financial aid is income sensitive. Students tend to be young and have less life experience; they can easily be misled into believing that FAFSA.com is how the student applies for financial aid when, in fact, all they do is take the information and relay it to the government.

As if all this were not bad enough when once the website finally does disclose that payment is mandatory -- after the student has submitted reams of extremely sensitive personal and financial information -- it is not clear what FAFSA.com does with that information if the student declines to pay for the service. It may be buried in the privacy policy, but it is not on the page that demands payment.

There is no legitimate need for FAFSA.com, and there is no excuse for some of the choices they make. It is not a stretch to label the company a financial predator. If this business wanted to sell value-added services, like FAFSA auditing, they would allow a student to submit a FAFSA for free then offer a clearly optional auditing service for a fee. Their decision not to do so speaks for itself.

Our country is sinking in a quagmire of consumer debt, largely due to predatory lenders and companies that support them, like Student Financial Aid Services, Inc. (owner of FAFSA.com), which prey on the financially vulnerable. Damage done to their victims directly should be enough to justify aggressive enforcement, but -- as we've seen since the recession began -- it is often the general public that ends up paying when the various schemes fall apart.

Law enforcement and regulatory agencies owe it to the public should take aggressive steps to promptly and thoroughly investigate potential predators then, if appropriate, shut them down. 

 

Google, which has the corporate motto "Don't be evil," owes it to the public to stop accepting these ads.  After all, Google just paid a $500 million fine for accepting advertisements to Canadian pharmacies: this scheme, that targets students in need of financial aid, seems as bad or worse.  Here's the link to report a violation to Google: http://adsense.google.com/support/bin/request.py?contact=violation_report


Letter to
Advertising Ethics Google
Attorney General Kamala Harris
I just signed the following petition addressed to: California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

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Investigate FAFSA.com, a website that misleads and preys upon students

FAFSA.com misleads students applying for financial aid into paying for a service that the government provides for free.

As of today, Sept. 14, FAFSA.com comes up as the only advertisement on Google, above all legitimate search results, that reads "Complete your FAFSA Now for Federal Student Aid. By Phone or Online." The advertisement does not mention the top organic link, www.fafsa.ed.gov, allows prospective students to do the same for free online.

When clicking through, the FAFSA.com homepage reads "File your Application for Federal Student Aid," in large bold letters. Underneath, in smaller and lighter letters, it reads "Become a client of the nation's oldest and largest student aid advisory service for as little as $79.99." It does not say fees are required to submit a FAFSA through the website. The free government site is mentioned, albeit in smaller lettering on a grey background further down the page.

By definition, any student applying for financial aid is income sensitive. Students tend to be young and have less life experience; they can easily be misled into believing that FAFSA.com is how the student applies for financial aid when, in fact, all they do is take the information and relay it to the government.

As if all this were not bad enough when once the website finally does disclose that payment is mandatory -- after the student has submitted reams of extremely sensitive personal and financial information -- it is not clear what FAFSA.com does with that information if the student declines to pay for the service. It may be buried in the privacy policy, but it is not on the page that demands payment.

There is no legitimate need for FAFSA.com, and there is no excuse for some of the choices they make. It is not a stretch to label the company a financial predator. If this business wanted to sell value-added services, like FAFSA auditing, they would allow a student to submit a FAFSA for free then offer a clearly optional auditing service for a fee. Their decision not to do so speaks for itself.

Our country is sinking in a quagmire of consumer debt, largely due to predatory lenders and companies that support them, like Student Financial Aid Services, Inc. (owner of FAFSA.com), which prey on the financially vulnerable. Damage done to their victims directly should be enough to justify aggressive enforcement, but -- as we've seen since the recession began -- it is often the general public that ends up paying when the various schemes fall apart.

Law enforcement and regulatory agencies owe it to the public should take aggressive steps to promptly and thoroughly investigate potential predators then, if appropriate, shut them down.
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Sincerely,