LAS VEGAS (CN) – QuinStreet, an Internet marketing company that 20 states accuse of preying upon veterans’ education benefits, will pay $2.5 million to those states and turn over its website, GIBill.com, to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Nevada attorney general said.
The states accused QuinStreet of violating state consumer protection laws by operating “hundreds of websites,” many of them to generate leads for the for-profit education industry. Many websites, including GIBill.com, targeted members of the armed forces by giving the appearance that the sites were operated or owned by the U.S. government.
The states claimed the sites gave the false impression that the schools listed as “eligible GI Bill schools” were the only ones where such benefits could be used, and contained only QuinStreet clients, which were primarily for-profit colleges.
Under the Assurance of Voluntary Compliance agreement, QuinStreet maintains that it did nothing wrong, but agreed to relinquish ownership and control of the domain GIBill.com to the Department of Veterans Affairs, which will use the name to promote the GI Bill program and educate servicemembers about benefits. QuinStreet will also shut down and stop using any other domain names that use the term “GI Bill.”
The agreement also calls for the shutdown of Twitter, Facebook and other social media accounts associated with the domain name, and QuinStreet must make it clear that any of its military-related sites are not owned by the government, that the schools listed are not the only schools accepting GI Bill benefits, and all of its education-related sites must include an “About Us” page and a frequently-asked-questions page explaining that the site is owned by QuinStreet.
The states that sued were Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.
“This company purposefully deceived veterans into believing it was an official government site,” Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto said in a statement. “No one should be deceived into selecting a school because of deceptive practices. Our settlement is a step to help ensure veterans will no longer be deceived by this company.
“State attorneys general have seen for-profit colleges intensify their recruitment of veterans since 2008, when Congress enacted the Post 9/11 GI Bill making billions of dollars in education benefits available for veterans and their families,” Masto said. “According to a February 2011 General Accounting Office report, $9 billion in educational benefits were provided to service members and veterans in fiscal year 2010.”
Masto says part of the reason military educational benefits jumped by 683 percent – from $66.6 million in 2006 to $521.2 in 2010 – is because such benefits do not count toward the colleges’ cap on U.S. Department of Education funding.
“I applaud the state attorneys general for the settlement … to protect servicemembers from misleading and deceptive websites that target their GI Bill benefits,” said Holly Petraeus, assistant director for Servicemember Affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “These new consumer protections will help ensure that veterans looking online to learn more about the GI Bill will find accurate information about the benefits they have earned through their service and sacrifices for our country.”
The effort was led by Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway and was handled by JoAnn Gibbs, senior deputy attorney general in the Bureau of Consumer Protection.