New York’s attorney general sued a direct-marketing agency for allegedly tricking students and teachers into giving personal data. The AG says that Student Marketing Group, Lynbrook, NY, sold data gleaned from as many as 14 million surveys it sent to schools under the guise of research. A cover letter for the annual (since 1999) survey said colleges would use the data to set financial aid and scholarships. Instead, the data — including name, address, age, gender, ethnic background, religion, and grade point average — was sold to marketers.
Surveys were fielded by the Educational Research Center of America, a non-profit allegedly set up by SMG as a front; a false Washington, DC address (on Pennsylvania Ave.) duped teachers into thinking it was a government office, says AG Elliott Spitzer’s office. ERCA’s true address is the Pittsburgh home address of its sole officer, per the AG. Twenty-five students got $1,000 each in ERCA scholarships this year, per ERCA’s Web site studentresearch.org. The suit, filed Aug. 29, seeks to bar SMG and ERCA from using data already collected, prevent further deception, and collect damages. SMG president and founder Jan Stumacher declined comment.