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The www.FedPrimeRate.com Personal Finance Blog and Magazine

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

False Promises: Unraveling the Labyrinth of Fake Jobs and Online Universities

online university bait-n-switch, part 2In my previous post, I talked about getting bushwhacked by an online university promoter in the middle of what I'd been told was a job interview. Not long after, the “online university that's right for me,” Capella University, started hounding me with daily recruitment calls and spamming my inbox. I figured I'd dodged a bullet by not signing on with Capella and their insidious financing options. What I didn't realize was that I'm walking around in a war zone with a target painted across my chest.

While media pundits argue back and forth about whether or not this is a recession, the rest of us are living in this economy and it doesn't look good. Costs are rising, jobs are scarce, and those of us who took equity loans against our houses are starting to feel cold breath on the backs of our necks. I've been looking for work for a few months now, and it's starting to feel like my full time job is sorting the real opportunities from the scam artists trying to make a quick buck off my desperation.

The worst of these parasitic, for-profit outfits are the online universities. It's not that they plaster their ads all over craigslist.org, monster.com and every other site that hungry job-seekers frequent. That's what advertisers do. No, the thing that separates them from other businesses that just want to make a buck are these proxy sites they use to draw you in, sites with names like “Career Network” and “The Career Selection,” when all these sites seem to be doing is foisting their partner companies on you.

It starts as soon as you find the job ad. You get diverted to careernetwork.com or one of its similarly named, carefully disguised sister-sites. You fill out a job application that seems real enough (and may, in fact, be forwarded to a prospective employer, though why any legitimate employer would pepper their application with questions like, “Would you like information on how to increase your credit score?” is hard to figure). Then you get hit with the first innocuous question:

We value and support higher education. If you would like information about educational opportunities in your field, choose below.
I would like to receive information about higher-education opportunities.
I do not feel I would benefit from educational opportunities at this time.


In this economy, the difference between getting the job and getting left in the cold will come down to who has the most impressive resume. If you don't have a college degree and you're out there, trying to make ends meet, you know most employers place a premium on applicants with a degree. All the best jobs require an Associate's Degree or a Bachelor's from a four-year school, and if you have a degree, like me, and are still struggling to find something that pays, you're thinking about how much easier it would be if you'd stayed in school for your Master's Degree. The first time someone asked me if I consider higher education if I could afford it, I answered honestly, and you saw how that turned out.

This time I checked the second box. Thanks, but no thanks. I'll apply to Grad School the old-fashioned way and beg the Stafford Loan people for money if I can't make it with my BA. I submitted my information, sans educational opportunities, and started on the next page of the application. Along with the standard employability questions (“Have you ever been convicted of a felony?”, “Do you have a valid driver's license?”), I was also asked more troubling questions like how I would rate my credit score, followed by the question I mentioned earlier, asking whether I wanted to learn how to increase my credit score. It seemed like every third question on the application was trying to get me to bite on some other service or advertising partner, including yet another offer to find out more about higher education opportunities. I answered no to all the fishing questions, except the last, which was an offer to tell me about other jobs that matched my resume.

In just a few hours, I received this email:
Dear Christopher,

I recently noticed the credentials listed on your electronic resume. I believe you might be a solid candidate for a Family Interviewer opening I seek to fill. Your previous experience with education is outstanding. I would like to invite you to apply for this job. Below you can find some basic information regarding the opportunity.

Family Interviewer

Excellent Income with long term career growth

An ideal candidate will have exceptional verbal skills, along with dedication to the job. To view a detailed description of the job and to apply online, please click the link below. If your browser does not allow you to click the link, you may copy and paste it into your browser. The link will take you to an informative Web page with requirements and compensation packages.

http://thecareer-selection.com/

Our human resources department will go over your application and contact you within 24 to 48 hours. When they contact you, please be prepared to schedule an initial interview.

Best Regards,
Brittany Harmon
Sr. Recruiter, HR Division


I was incredibly excited. After leaving my information on a handful of these online employment sites, finally here was a tangible result. But then I started wondering why I had to apply for the job if they already had my electronic resume. Was it some sort of standard formality? I didn't want to chance losing the job, so I clicked on the link. I'd been horribly disappointed when one of the applications I filled out earlier turned out to be a front for Career Network, who scammed me the first time and got me onto Capella University's Do-Call-and-Stalk list. This was a different website, with an entirely different look surrounding the ad-copy for the job. Maybe this one was for real.

Then, I saw it down at the bottom of the page, that same question about whether I wanted to know more about higher education opportunities. I couldn't escape these people wherever I went looking for work. Then I filled out the rest of the application, dodged even more suspicious questions that would have sent my personal information to even more advertising partners, but I was in for a nasty surprise. After I submitted the application, the site shed its false window dressing and revealed itself as Career Network. I wasn't submitting a new application, I was navigating the same advertisement-saturated employment maze that I'd already been through. The job offer was just one more attempt to get me to say yes to online education and whatever other products they could push on me.

So far, I had applied for a teaching assistant position at a private school, a legal clerk position, and the intriguing but probably BS position of “Family Interviewer,” with all three leading me on a wild goose chase through Career Network and their partners in the online university industry. I was tired of this nonsense and wanted some answers. Was Career Network even a real employment company, or were all of these job ads the cruelest kind of spam imaginable?

Judge for yourself. In 2001, Career Network was cited by the Federal Trade Commission in an ongoing investigation of employment corporations exploiting unemployed workers with false job postings that promised government jobs. From www.ftc.gov:

The Federal Trade Commission today announced five law enforcement actions against nine companies and seven individuals promising jobs with the federal or state government or the U.S. Postal Service. Through classified ads, telephone pitches, Internet advertising and training school seminars, the companies misled consumers into paying $45 - $80 for practice exams and application forms.

[...]

Career Network, Inc., and its principals, Walter Turulis and Kathleen Key. Complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division, on January 3, 2001. On January 3, 2001, the court granted the FTC's request for a temporary restraining order, asset freeze, and appointment of a temporary receiver. On January 9, 2001, the court entered stipulated preliminary injunction, continuing the terms of the TRO. Civil Action No: 2:01-CV-001-JM; FTC Staff Contact: Gregory A. Ashe, Bureau of Consumer Protection, 202-326-3719.


Seven years later, Career Network seems to have made a remarkable comeback from its receivership, either by starting over or selling its name to a new company in the career-making business. If they were ripping off people in 2001, who's to say they aren't running a new scam now, one that borders close enough to legality that they can operate with impunity and continue posting false job leads that hand unsuspecting applicants into the hands of online universities who offer the perfect solution to their job woes: a fully-financed college education.

The lengths to which these online universities will go to acquire new students and the money that they'll generate borders on the absurd. They must be paying a small fortune to Career Network, hiding their hooks in every job application on not one but two pages of the application, and that's not the only place where they go trolling for fresh fish.

The owners of this blog informed me that Allied University, an online university, recently contacted them with the following offer:

Hi, we are willing to sponsor specific content, online degree post on your blog.

We, advertiser will create content and you will only need to post it.

Please let me know details about your terms of service and handles payment.


I can think of no better advertisement for the quality of an online university education than that.

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