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The Federal Trade Commission on Thursday announced a proposed settlement with a website whose "military-friendly" rankings of colleges and universities allegedly promoted institutions that paid to be included.
Victory Media runs a number of magazines and websites targeting service members and their families and operates a tool and rankings to help prospective students find the right postsecondary program. But the FTC found that those publications basically functioned as paid advertisements for institutions.
Under the terms of the settlement, Victory is required to prominently disclose to readers that its rankings are paid endorsements. No financial penalty was included in the order, but each violation could result in a fine of up to $40,654.
“Service members and their families put themselves on the line every day to protect our nation,” the acting FTC chairwoman, Maureen K. Ohlhausen, said in a statement. “We owe it to them to make sure that when they look to further their education, they get straight talk instead of advertising in disguise.”
The proposed settlement is open to public comment for 30 days. The commission will decide whether to finalize it after Nov. 20.
Carrie Wofford, president of Veterans Education Success, said the group plans to monitor Victory Media websites and publications closely to make sure they comply with the terms of the settlement. VES documented the alleged deceptive promotions in a 2016 report. That report found that for-profit colleges, in particular, paid for exposure to service members through Victory's "military-friendly" designation.
Wofford said further steps should be taken by military installations, including the removal of Victory's "military-friendly schools" list and its GI Jobs magazine -- which includes education, transition, and job assistance for veterans -- from bases and Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals.
"It’s terrible for VA and DOD to be taken in by what FTC has now exposed as a fraudulent pay-to-play scheme," she said.
Wofford also said Congress should take action to reinstate GI Bill benefits for defrauded veterans.
Suzanne Treviño, a Victory Media spokeswoman, said the company had fully assisted the FTC and addressed every concern by the commission.
"GI Jobs readers benefit by learning more about different higher-level educational institutions that can help them transition from military to civilian life," she said. "Victory Media, a service-disabled veteran-owned business, looks forward to continuing to advocate for military-friendly schools and employers because we want to make life better for veterans."