"GIBill.com" to Pay $2.5 Million for Allegedly Misleading Veterans
Site Falsely Implied Government Affiliation and Misled Veterans Eligible for GI Bill Benefits
BOSTON – The owner and operator of GIBill.com has agreed to turn over the student recruiting site’s operations to the United States Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) and pay $2.5 million to settle national consumer protection claims, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced today.
AG Coakley and 19 other attorneys general alleged that site owner QuinStreet, Inc. misled current and former military service members eligible for the GI Bill into believing that GIBill.com was a government operated site that would provide unbiased advice on using their benefits to enroll in colleges to earn degrees.
“GIBill.com gave the misleading impression that it was a government-affiliated site acting on behalf of our service men and women,” AG Coakley said. “Instead, the website funneled veterans toward enrolling in for-profit schools that were paid clients of GIBill.com and not necessarily in the best interest of the veterans. Our veterans deserve to be treated with the utmost respect and integrity, and that is why the deceptive tactics of this organization were particularly troubling.”
“The Post 9/11 GI Bill is one of the most comprehensive and popular veterans’ benefits offered today,” said Massachusetts Department of Veterans' Services Secretary Coleman Nee. “The men and women who utilize this benefit have earned the right to do so through their courage, sacrifices and willingness to defend America. I applaud Attorney General Coakley and her Insurance and Financial Services Division for their diligence in ensuring that education benefits for veterans are utilized properly and especially for her vigilance in protecting the interests of those who have protected all of us and our nation.”
Massachusetts will receive approximately $225,000 as part of the multi-state agreement.
This multi-state enforcement action is a result of the states’ ongoing investigations of the deceptive recruiting and marketing practices of some for-profit schools. The states alleged that QuinStreet violated their consumer protection laws in the course of operating websites that generate leads primarily for the for-profit education industry. The states reported that several of the company’s sites targeting military service members, including GIBill.com, were deceptive and misleading in giving the appearance of being operated, owned or endorsed by the U.S. government or military.
The states also alleged that the sites that listed schools as “eligible GI Bill Schools” were misleading in giving the impression that the schools were the only schools at which the military education benefits could be utilized. In fact, the lists consisted only of QuinStreet clients that were primarily for-profit schools.
Consumer advocates and state attorneys general have observed a spike in for-profit school 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. Last month, Attorney General Coakley testified at Boston City Council regarding the alleged deceptive marketing practices of for-profit schools.
According to a February 2011 Government Accountability Office report, $9 billion in educational benefits were provided to service members and veterans in fiscal year 2010. Of 20 for-profit colleges analyzed by the U.S. Senate HELP Committee, total military educational benefits increased from $66.6 million in 2006 to a projected $521.2 million in 2010. That is an increase of 683 percent. For-profit schools focus on recruiting current and former servicemen and women in part because their benefits do not count toward the schools’ 90 percent cap on federal Department of Education funding.
Other key terms of the settlement:
- The Twitter, Facebook, and other social media accounts associated with GIBill.com will be shut down.
- All QuinStreet military-related sites will have unavoidable, clear and conspicuous disclosures adjacent to the website logo and website name that clarify the site is not owned or operated by the U.S. government.
- Disclosures that the schools listed on the sites are not the only schools that accept GI Bill benefits, and links to the VA’s page that provides a complete list.
- All of QuinStreet’s education-related websites will have disclosures that clarify that listed schools are advertisers or pay to appear on the sites.
- QuinStreet will no longer be able to make claims that the information presented on the site is “neutral” or “unbiased” or that schools are “top” or “best” unless the information comes from an independent source.
- All QuinStreet education-related sites must have an “About Us” page and an FAQ page that clearly explains that the site is owned by QuinStreet and contains identifying information about the company and its business operations.
The attorneys general will monitor sites owned by QuinStreet going forward to ensure compliance with the settlement.
The other participating states include Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
This settlement was handled by legal analyst Jenny Wojewoda and Assistant Attorneys General Peter Leight and Glenn Kaplan, all of Attorney General Coakley’s Insurance and Financial Services Division.