Groups Ask FTC to Name Schools That Profited from Military Recruiting Scam

The $11 million scam worked this way: Phony websites with names like Army.com were set up offering to help kids who wanted to join the military. Instead, it was just a lure to pass them on to for-profit schools who targeted them for enrollment, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Twenty-eight veterans organizations on Tuesday asked the FTC to release the schools' names to serve as a warning to those considering enrolling at colleges that bought "leads" from the firms operating the bogus websites.

In exposing the con in September, a majority of the five FTC commissioners made a policy decision to withhold the schools' names. An FTC spokeswoman said Tuesday that Freedom of Information Act requests would have to be filed to obtain the names.

Carrie Wofford, president of Veterans Education Success, said her group had filed a FOIA request Tuesday. "It is hard to conceive of a more reprehensible scheme," she said. "The colleges that participated in this ugly scheme should not be protected."

In letters to the FTC, and to the heads of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, the veterans organizations charged that "these websites acted perniciously in interfering with the military's genuine recruitment and in denying potential enlistees with the opportunity to proudly wear their nation's uniform."

In addition to Veterans Education Success, other organizations calling for the release of the names include AMVETS, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Vietnam Veterans of America, Military Officers Association of America and the National Military Family Association.

When it exposed the scam in September, the FTC seized nine websites with names such as Army.com, Air-Force.com, NavyEnlist.com, MarinesEnlist.com and CoastGuardEnlist.com.

The sites were run by two Alabama-based firms -- Sunkey Publishing and Fanmail.com -- which allegedly made about $11 million selling data to private schools, the FTC's complaint said.

The companies would contact potential recruits who visited the websites and suggest that the military is downsizing. As an alternative, the companies' pitch encouraged them to enroll at specific for-profit schools under the false impression that the U.S. military endorsed them, the FTC said.

The FTC said the Army.com website included this come-on: "Please be aware that our military is currently downsizing. Army.com wants you to know that there are more ways for you to serve your country than just military service. If you had a college education, you could contribute through engineering, science, law, health care, and more."

If the potential recruit expressed interest, Sunkey would sell their personal information to schools for $15 to $40, the FTC said.

In a statement accompanying the FTC's complaint in September, FTC Commissioners Rohit Chopra and Rebecca Kelly Slaughter called for the release of the schools' names, but they were overruled by the majority of the five commissioners.

In a joint statement at the time, Chopra and Kelly said the actions of Sunkey and Fanmail "harmed young people looking to serve their country, as well as the public. Not only was the alleged conduct unlawful, it was also un-American."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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