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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Telemarketing College Prep

A few minutes ago, I received a phone call from someone who identified himself as a representative of the Smart Education Foundation. He asked for a parent of my oldest daughter (he had her name) and then proceeded to try to market an ACT/SAT test preparation software (DVD) package for $189 plus $10 shipping and handling. The "non-profit corporation" (licensed since July 13!) guaranteed a 300 point improvement in SAT scores (and a comparable increase for ACT, though I didn't catch the precise number).

He sounded like a polished telemarketer and I could hear other telemarketers in the background, presumably "selling" the same product.

He said the software was tax deductable (and returnable for a refund) and that Smart Education Foundation (SEF) used customer "donations" (???) to fund use of the program for needy college-bound children.

As he was about to ask me for my credit card number ("So, does this sound like something you would be interested in for XXXX [my child]?"), I asked him the percentage of funds they donated to needy children.

He had no answer -- though he assured me it was a good question -- and then quickly moved to tell me the website and phone number (which you can find on their website in any case).

The website provides the details about their benevolence: 6 awards for a total of $5000:
The Smart Education Foundation (“Sponsor”) offers the following awards to our members only:
  • 3 awards of $500.00 each
  • 2 awards of $1,000.00 each
  • 1 GRAND PRIZE award of $1,500.00
Oh, but check out the fine print. This is the first rule:
All applicants must be enrolled in the “Continuing Education” online service provided exclusively to our members. All members must continue to pay the monthly fee of $54.95 for at least 4 consecutive months in order to compete in the contest. Contestants must keep the online service throughout the month the award drawing takes place.
Even a "winner" has to pay at least $220 to compete in the contest for the prize. The other rules are fairly onerous too.

Their telemarketers certainly fare better than this, as an August 13 ad on Craiglist in Chicago assures experienced
"Educational Consultants can Earn Between $35,000 and $75,000 + A Year!"
I found an ad from this past week, so they are still recruiting for telemarketers.

A self-identified "scam reporter" claims that the firm has a sordid history. I'm not 100% sure it is the same firm, but the story sounds similar.

I found one guy on LinkedIn (update: reference to his personal page deleted 9/13/09 upon reasonable request) who lists his affiliation as "Educational Advisor" at Smart Education Foundation (SEF) in Chicago. He is a 2007 college graduate...

"Caveat emptor."

3/17/10 update: They called me again today! The telemarketer again had my daughter's name and asked for her father or mother. I cut him off when he mentioned calling from the "Smart Education Foundation" and I asked if he was selling education software. I politely thanked him for the call and hung up.

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