[As published in Beauty Link Magazine by AACS]

Student outcomes are an increasing focal point for accreditors and the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). The final chapter in the student life-cycle now demands more detailed reporting than ever before.  If collecting accurate information from recent graduates has become a challenge for your team, then you are not alone.

This article will share insight on how your institution can prepare for the changing environment and improve your employment verification process.

Regulating Accountability

Back in late 2016 Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Dick Durbin (D-Ill) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced new legislation aimed at improving the college accreditation process.

The Accreditation Reform and Enhanced Accountability Act (AREAA) would address strengthening accreditation standards and requiring accreditation agencies to be more responsive to allegations of misconduct.  Under the act, the Department of Education would be empowered to require accreditors to consider a variety of student success metrics when determining eligibility — including “retention rate, graduation and payment rate, transfer rate, student earnings after graduation, and job placement rates.” —. The DOE is currently prohibited from setting such standards.  Accreditors would also be required to respond more quickly when their certified colleges come under federal or state investigation or face lawsuits for “fraud or abuse, deceptive practices, or material harm to students enrolled.”

AREAA would also restrict “conflict of interest” in the accreditation process by prohibiting individuals holding administrative and other roles, or individuals with financial stakes in an institution, from being involved in the certification process of that school. The bill also bars federally registered lobbyists from participating in that same certification process.

Increased pressure on accreditors may result in increased pressure on your school team to produce more detailed graduate data. To help simplify the process, consider dissecting your employment verification into three phases.

Phase One – Preparing for a Changing Environment

The Information for Financial Aid Professionals (IFAP) website provides federal regulatory context when gathering your placement rates. For details, you can do a search of:  IFAP Consumer Information Disclosures at a Glance, CFR 668.41(d) and 34 CFR 668.14(b)(10). Schools must make available to current and prospective students information regarding the placement in employment of, and types of employment obtained by, graduates of the school’s degree or certificate programs.

Also, schools must identify the source of the placement information, plus any timeframes and methodology associated with it.

When an institution advertises job placement rates as a means of recruiting students to enroll, it must make this data available to prospective students; at or before the time the prospective student applies for enrollment.  Here are a few items that need to be made available:

  • The most recent data regarding the graduate’s employment if relevant to the field in which they obtained their degree.
    • Remember to include any applicable methodology in obtaining this information
  • The most recent available information regarding the types of employment obtained by graduates, such as full-time, part-time, contract, etc.
    • Must also include any applicable methodology in obtaining this information
  • Any other information necessary to substantiate the truthfulness of the advertisements from the point of view of the “reasonable” consumer, including, but not limited to:
    • Applicable Student/Graduate Testimonial Affidavit
      • Express vs. Implied Claim substantiation
    • Privacy Policies and Terms
    • Sufficient Evidence to Support the Advertising Claim (i.e. survey results, etc.)
    • Consumer Disclosure Information
  • Relevant state licensing requirements for the profession which the course of instruction is designed to prepare students.

 

Phase Two – Third Party Verification

With an understanding of the regulatory environment, the next phase explores four simple ways to go the “extra mile” in providing detailed reporting of employment verification. While assisting in placement can be a struggle, proper reporting is just as important to validate the hard work it takes to assist individuals after graduation. Whether you work in-house or with a third-party verifier, remember to record all follow-up attempts and verifications of the following areas:

Job Description

A job title is not always enough to collect. Titles can sometimes be vague; even when they are not, they cannot completely define an individual’s role in employment. For example, a cosmetology graduate working at a beauty salon does not necessarily prove the individual is utilizing the skills learned during his or her program.  Identifying the graduate’s tasks or responsibilities can more clearly relate education to professional status.

Hire Date and Duration

A hire date can validate the education an individual received. Showing that hire dates are within a reasonable amount of time following program completion offers relevance in the education choice made by the individual.

Contact Information

Always cite your sources. If you are meeting with a supervisor that is verifying the employment of one of your graduates, get their name. If you are talking to them on the phone, be sure to record the phone number that you used to reach them. This information is crucial in the event of an audit, as the auditor will most likely be utilizing that same information you collected during your graduate employment verification process.

 

Get Employer Feedback

Employers may offer some constructive criticism on your modules. For example, maybe there are newer standards employers seek during the hiring process. This feedback can help enhance your programs, keeping them up-to-date with the trends of the industry, and keep your graduates best prepared when trying to enter the workforce. Feedback can also help with maintaining employer relations, especially being alerted to any potential openings that employers may have that can be filled by your graduates.

But what happens when you have an unverified graduate? One major obstacle when it comes to graduate reporting is actually finding them. Some third-party verifiers can help with this process and expand on your own efforts with access to new employment databases. On the other hand, if you encounter a graduate with an “unemployed” status, it is important to have a process for following up with these individuals. Whether the communication is done in-house or through a third-party, you may consider providing placement assistance or additional time to seek employment.

Occasionally you will find graduates who are not going to work in their field for a valid reason, such as active military duty or continued education. A Waiver of Placement, indicating that said graduate does not wish to OR is unable to pursue employment in regards to the field in which they obtained their degree, should be recorded for these individuals. An example to consider: If a massage therapy student graduates with a certificate in Massage Therapy, but later is steadily and happily employed in accounting, then a waiver of placement would apply because he or she would most likely not be using the earned certificate in Massage Therapy. Remember to collect details on timeframe and written & electronic signatures for your records.

Phase Three – Data for Institutional Improvement

Finally there are several changes you can make in this phase to improve your graduate data. Start with refining graduate questionnaires to address report “buckets”. Layer questions to collect as much information as possible. Offer multiple choices and prioritize most important information at the beginning.

If you are using a third-party, make sure this relationship is clear to all graduates and develop a formal methodology statement on how you gather graduate information for your accreditor. Obtain signatures of approval for contacting a graduate’s employer during the exit process. Explain the “why” to help improve your process for confirming and processing your graduates. Be openly communicative with students on the information you want to collect, why it will be collected and any confidentiality requirements.

As regulators and accreditors focus more on the final chapter of the student life-cycle it is important to start optimizing your process now to gather more accurate graduate data. Hopefully these three phases will serve as a starting point to help your team navigate through the challenges of employment verification. Whether you manage this process in-house or through a third-party vendor, it’s time to prepare for the changing environment and be vigilant with your compliance.

Donald Trump is the President-elect of the United States. Now what? Well, one thing people keep questioning: “What does this mean for education?” Those who have followed the debates know Trump has been vague over what his major actions might be, but plans to mention his intentions in the near future. Answering most of the questions, his co-chair, Sam Clovis has taken over information regarding higher education, college costs, student loans, and accountability.

Student loans remain a major concern with many Americans. Trump believes local banks should be lending to local students. Therefore, he wants to move the government out of lending and restore that role to private banks. He wants colleges to play a role in determining loan worthiness on factors beyond family income, ensuring that colleges and universities have “skin in the game” when it comes to student loan default. For example, under this plan colleges should not be admitting students without confidence they will graduate in a reasonable time frame and find jobs.

One question that keeps arising: “How can borrowers save under Trump’s student loan repayment plan?” If campaign promises are upheld, some borrowers who took out federal student loans and use an income-based repayment plan may come out on top. No plan is ever perfect; the administration’s proposal comes with trade-offs. Additionally, borrowers will have higher monthly payments under the new repayment plan, but would have their student loan debt forgiven sooner. Here are some of the details:

  • Borrowers contribute 12.5 percent of their income if they chose a repayment plan instead of 10 percent required under current repayment plans.
  • After 15 years in a repayment plan, borrowers could have their debt forgiven.
  • Currently, borrowers in repayment plans have to wait 20 years or 25 years to have their loans forgiven

Now, this plan may sound like an amazing idea, but how will he be able to succeed? Trump can do this without Congress. When it comes to creating a new repayment plan for federal student loans, this doesn’t require Congress to act. The Department of Education created new repayment plans under the Obama administration, Ex. Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE). “This could be implemented entirely through the regulatory process,” said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of strategy at Cappex.com, which connects students with colleges and scholarships.

Trump’s campaign plan is to encourage colleges to focus on serving students who can succeed, but there are always risks. He has noted student loans must be significant enough for the lenders changing the way colleges decide whether to admit students and what programs they offer. This is what Trump’s co-chair had to say on the situation: “If you are going to study 16th-century French art, more power to you,” Clovis said. “I support the arts. But you are not going to get a job.”

The President-elect’s plan comes in to help higher education. The Republican platform calls for new systems of learning, including technical institutions, online universities, lifelong learning, and work-based learning in the private sector. Although Trump has been vague when it comes to this topic, there is a plan and his plan is to succeed.

Today, regulatory scrutiny, politicizing industries and consumer activists have brought significant changes to how we market to and sell our products.  Lead flow is down in many industries, conversion from third-party marketing has dropped and compliance expenses are up.

So how do we pivot away from this story line and connect the gap between lead conversions and compliance data?

  1. Put compliance first to confidently work all leads.
  2. Collect detailed lead data.
  3. Remediate instead of wasting a lead and/or source.
  4. Make integrated marketing decisions.

We dive into the strategy behind each of these points in the latest April 2017 issue of FeedFront Magazine.

Click here to continue reading the full article on “Conversions vs. Compliance”.

You’ll learn how to integrate and have both because being compliant with marketing regulations doesn’t mean your lead generation should suffer.

Your website is your front door. Is it inviting to compliance infractions? The following suggestions are offered as general advice about how to comply with the requirements in the Higher Education Act (HEA) and the regulations set forth by the Department of Education (DOE), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and various accrediting bodies for content provided on institutional websites. As you update your website with content in the following categories, remember to keep these items in mind:

Accreditation

  • Accreditation statement must be easily accessible
  • The term “accredited” may only be used if the institution indicates by which agency or organization it is accredited
  • Include names of associations, agencies, or governmental bodies that accredit, approve, or license the institution’s programs
  • Procedures for obtaining or reviewing documents describing accreditation, approval or licensing should be present

Admissions

  • Provide all required criteria expected to be completed by students prior to enrollment
  • Include all educational requirements
  • Ensure contact information is provided for prospective students

Career Services/Employability

  • Detailed and clear explanation of offerings that the Career Services department provides
  • Clearly indicate that education, not employment, is being offered
  • Omission of banned terms, such as “career placement”
  • Any references to employment or salary predictions must be accurate, sourced and never guaranteed

Consumer Information

  • Easily accessible link, preferably on homepage, containing HEA disclosure information
  • Use consumer-friendly labels and language, when possible
  • Use a common set of content titles

Gainful Employment Disclosures

Financial Aid

  • Qualification rules
  • How applicants can learn about qualifying
  • Full references to financial aid availability must include the disclaimer “for those who qualify”
  • All scholarship offerings must be sourced

Job Availability and Placement Claims

  • May only provide information pertaining to potential salary that accurately portrays the normal range and starting salaries in the occupation for which training is provided
  • Salary information must also include the source of the information, which is valid

 

Net Price Calculator

  • Tool that students can use to estimate their “net price” to attend a particular college or university
  • Must use the template provided by the DOE or an institution may develop a customized version that must include, at a minimum, the same elements as the Department’s version

Program Descriptions

  • Timeframe for completion listed correctly
  • Program length disclaimer

Program Listings

  • Listings are accurate and approved by the DOE
  • Acceptable States for admissions
  • Citations provided for statistics listed on the page

Statistics

  • All statistics listed in website copy must be accurately sourced with current year

TCPA Requirements

  • Consent language present on lead forms
  • Language must include all components within the FCC definition
  • If opt-in box is present, it should not be pre-checked

Testimonials/Endorsements

  • Must be actual statements
  • Some accreditors do not allow institutions to use testimonials from current students on their website
  • Prior consent of the author must be on file

Transferability of Credits

  • Include any established criteria the institution uses regarding the transfer of credit earned at another institution
  • Provide a list of institutions with which the institution has established an agreement

 

At the end of the day it is important to be diligent with your compliance process. We recommend auditing your content regularly to ensure it meets the industry standards and guidelines you are expected to follow.

 

What opportunities are you missing for them to work together?

Businesses have the opportunity to gather and analyze data at an increasing rate.  Whether it is customer conversion data, compliance or call center functions, these databases are typically housed in separate locations and the data is rarely integrated.  How do businesses tie this information together to find actionable intelligence and make sound business decisions?  Let’s take a look at some opportunities you may be missing if you are experiencing the gap left between conversion and compliance data.

Years ago when leads were flowing in and volume was king, compliance wasn’t much of an issue—or at least one we spent much time on.  Sales were up, reps could cherry pick, and most marketers didn’t have a real understanding of third party lead generation.  They liked getting thousands of cheap leads.  Skip to today, regulatory scrutiny, politicizing industries and public outcry have brought significant changes to how we market to and sell our products.  Lead flow is down in many industries, conversion from third-party marketing has dropped and compliance expenses are up.

So how do we pivot away from this storyline?  I spent nearly 10 years talking to businesses about how to improve lead volume and quality to increase sales.  Many times the first response was “just shut it off”.  As an owner or employee committed to doing what is best for the business, it’s easy to lean heavy on the compliance side, or toward what’s best for conversion.  It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Whichever way you lean, no one wants to continue a path toward extinction—so change we must.  Change the way we think about, and act on, the data we have.

  1. Put compliance first to confidently work all leads you get your hands on. Check your audit process to see if it includes all aspects that would make a lead contactable and compliant upon receipt.  IntegriShield found that 9% of an advertiser’s infractions are from missing, or non-compliant, consumer consent and disclosure language.

Waiting to see if a lead is compliant until after you get doesn’t really help you.  Examine all the lead pages you own and are affiliated with to ensure they have compliant Opt-In language. Otherwise, you end up returning the leads or eating the costs.  It could also result in a good traffic source being shut off for something easily fixed.  If a lead slips by and you do work it, the fines and potential civil penalties could put you out of business.

  1. Collect all the lead data you can. Some of the basics include:
    • Lead Type
    • Vendor
    • Affiliate Codes
    • Referral URL
    • Campaign
    • Date
    • Form or Call In
    • Customer Data
    • Status
    • Price
    • Consumer Consent Authorization
    • Lead Integrity Data

You’ll need objective data to make good marketing decisions. If you don’t have all of your data aggregated, this will take more time, but it can still be done.  Better yet, ask your service providers if they can integrate with other systems.

  1. Scrub and remediate instead of wasting a lead or a source. By this point you’ve been proactive and tried to ensure all your vendor pages are compliant.  You may find many leads come from pages you had no idea exist.  It’s not uncommon nor is it something that has to be shut down.  You will likely never know all the affiliate, publisher, and traffic channels your lead generators enlist at any given moment in time.  Audit the URLs the leads are coming from and if they are not compliant, make them compliant.

Keep your lead channels open if at all possible.  If the site is misleading or you see any bait and switch tactics, that’s when you shut it down.  Don’t mess around with bad actors.  There is too much risk in the current regulatory environment.  We have found that 28% of total advertiser infractions are due to misleading content on URLs and 6% contained banned terminology.

Beyond marketing content, it’s also important to maintain customer files.  Scrub customer data to ensure contact compliance.  Don’t just remove it.  About a month before a lead would be scrubbed out, send a notice to see if he or she would like to stay opted in and if so, restart the clock on them.  Even if only a small percentage opts back in, sales will know who is still engaged and you maintain as many leads active as possible.

  1. Make integrated marketing decisions. Direct Marketing is not a magic button.  It’s a series of decisions based on metrics using good data and then repeating each day, week, month, and year.  Combine the data to look at all channels and their outcomes—both conversions and compliance risk.

Tie conversion metrics to integrity and compliance scores to determine beginning allocations each month.  And remember, you can control your risk. Keep the lead pipeline open by being specific and eliminating offending publishers, but keeping the vendor “live” for all the quality sources they use.  If a vendor is not delivering, partner with them to adjust messaging to fit the types of channels they use to drive your traffic.  One set of posting instructions is easy, but it’s not always effective.

Businesses depend on lead volume and quality to drive sales.  The current trend of fear-based decision making needs to become strategic, educated decision making.  Implement compliance processes, follow them, and seek solutions before eliminating potential sales.  The tools, data, and ability to regulate your marketing exist.  With increased vulnerability has come increased control if you don’t shy away from integrating strategies.

Gayla Huber

President, IntegriShield

Have you ever received a “free” lead in your inbox?  Depending on your personal experience, you may initially think it’s a free lead to let you sample what a particular lead generator can do for you. Or you may not even know how you actually got the lead.  What do you do?  Do you contact this prospect?  Your decision on how to handle the inquiry will determine how much the lead could cost you in the end.

There are a few variables to consider before deciding to contact a “free” lead.

  1. Do you know where the lead came from? Even if the lead source is listed, it’s important to know how it was generated to result in a consumer providing their information.  Did he or she know they were inquiring specifically for a product from your brand?  While you may not be able to track back the full path, at a minimum, check out the referring URL to ensure no bait and switch tactics were used.
  2. Did the consumer consent to contact, and in what forms? If you received a consumer’s contact information, it’s important that they consented to be contacted.  Because the lead is free, let’s make the assumption you did not provide authorized consent language. You must be able to answer…
    • What language was used?
    • Did they consent to be contacted by your business or only the lead generator?
    • Did the lead get to opt-in for TCPA consent specific to your business?

It’s important to have these answers because fines can add up quickly when it comes to consumer consent violations.

  1. Can you get access to the data collection of consent? You should also have access to opt-out data as it pertains to the consumer opting out on the lead generator side.  This is just as important as knowing if consent language and opt-in were available on the inquiry form.  Businesses are subject to fines and potential litigation for not observing opt-out requests.  This would also be helpful in opening up the option to email the consumer.  Email does not require prior consent, but once someone unsubscribes or opt-outs, a business can no longer email them unless he or she opts back in.  Without control of the consent language and the data being collected, emailing could be risky as well.

Businesses hold lead generators to higher standards today and justifiably so considering the regulatory environment.  Any source of a lead is subject to scrutiny and not knowing is not a defense.  Before you decide to contact that “free” lead, calculate the possible fines and don’t let it costs your brand money or its reputation.

[As published on LeadsCon.com]

On August 1, 2016, The FTC’s inflation increases for maximum civil penalty amounts go into effect. You can find the Federal Register Notice containing all of the statutes and amounts here. With penalties increasing, from $16,000 to $40,000 in some instances, it’s time again to look at your business objectively and determine what risks you are willing to take. Here are some areas, business owners and caretakers of brands need to evaluate for exposure.

Police Those Who Try to Exploit Your Brand
Your business is not responsible for what others do if you are not affiliated with them. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to keep us off the regulator radar these days. Whether you are the advertiser or the lead generator, understand the pitfalls that can occur when using third parties. Objectively ask yourself, do you know everything your affiliates or publishers are doing to market on your behalf? Take it a step further and question if you think they know everything their network is doing. No one is 100% error free online, all the time. The mere appearance of not “playing by the rules” could shine a spotlight on your business where infractions could be uncovered.

An unauthorized publisher can put you at risk for regulatory scrutiny or lead to an investigation. If a consumer can’t spot a fraudulent representation of your brand online, then regulators won’t be able to notice at first glance either. It’s critical right now to monitor and enforce standards for your brand’s presence on the Internet. Create a paper trail documenting your efforts to discover and remediate infractions.

Every business is unique, but here some things you can do internally:

  1. Keep an inventory in a database or even a spreadsheet of your proprietary and authorized third party URLs.
  2. Set up a monthly audit process to review all URLs for brand, regulatory, and consumer consent compliance.
  3. Review the user path to ensure nothing was misleading up to the form and consumer consent was collected in the correct places.
  4. Take screen shots with time/date of infractions.
  5. Email the screen shots along with a request for remediation to the third party.
  6. Store all emails back and forth concerning the remediation.
  7. Schedule a quarterly Internet audit looking for domains and URLs not authorized by your brand and follow the same paper trail and remediation process.

Be Proactive Against Those Who Seek and Exploit Violations
From consumer disclosures and consent language online to contact strategies and database maintenance, leave no stone unturned when it comes to ensuring compliance. There are opportunistic individuals who target certain industries and put themselves in a position to file a complaint or take legal action. You need to get ahead of them.

Look for and monitor all forms of disclosures, consent, privacy policies, terms and conditions, and any other industry specific data or content required. It’s a common mistake to only search for where it exists on the web. Yes, we want to make sure what we know and see is unaltered, but don’t forget to look for instances where these forms have been omitted—which is a tougher search.

Contact maintenance strategies need to be reviewed and followed. Reactive responses to violations will result in fines and suits. It may surprise you how easy it is for individuals to create the exact scenarios that equip them to file a civil suit against a business. Do Not Call (DNC) violations under section 5 of the FTC Act have increased to $40,000 per instance. If you weren’t following DNC best practices, it’s time.

Despite your efforts to maintain industry compliance on a daily basis you may feel exposed on many fronts. The regulatory scrutiny has found its way into many business operations and expense columns with seemingly no reprieve. To help mitigate risks everyone must take an active role and reduce exposure. Lead generation as an industry is strong. Remember, you are not only equipped to be successful while being compliant, but you are in a good position to write the narrative.

Before large financial institutions evolved in the current banking world, it wasn’t uncommon for individuals that had a good relationship with their neighborhood bank to take out a short term loan.  By definition, that meant borrowing funds for one-year or less for an unexpected expense or to purchase a needed commodity.  Interest rates were typically higher, however banks could make hundreds of loans and earn a small profit on each which added up to a decent profit line.  Paperwork was minimal and, because they had established relationships with their customers, the risk remained relatively low.

Today, the need for these loans is just as common if not greater than before. The landscape has changed dramatically following the introduction of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act  after one of our nation’s biggest financial crises. Small loans from a community bank now require pages and pages of onerous loan documents and the time involved for the banks to comply with new regulations make the practicability of these offers not worth the risk.  In response, the short term lending market has changed with an increase in higher risk payday loan, title loan, and cash advance lenders.  This has now grown into a $46 billion industry.

With a mandate from Dodd-Frank, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has responded to this market with a proposed rule to more clearly define terms, limits, and lending practices to help protect consumers.  While there are concerns expressed by both regulators and industry, the importance of knowing how this impacts consumers and lenders is vital.

The CFPB’s proposed ruling is “aimed at ending payday debt traps”.  Essentially the CFPB proposes to implement regulations that help ensure consumers have the ability to repay their loans and don’t fall into a cycle of re-borrowing at very high interest rates without the ability to ever repay the original loan.  At the CFPB field hearing in Kansas City on June 2, 2016, proponents of the ruling argued that all short term loans are designed to keep borrowers in this never-ending repayment cycle.  However, the industry pointed to supporting data to demonstrate that not only was short term lending essential, but only a small percentage of their customers fall into that cycle.

Well before the CFPB released its proposed rule, industry leaders began executing self-regulation efforts to protect consumers.  Advocacy organizations such as the Online Lenders Alliance (OLA) and the Community Financial Services Association of America (CFSA) formed to establish best practices, eliminate deceptive marketing and advertising, and work closely with regulators and legislators to provide quality products and services to their consumers.

What does this mean moving forward and finding new customers in this space?  The backbone to acquiring new customers has been through the use of lead generators and affiliate marketers.  These are companies that advertise products for a lender, gather potential customer information and then sell the lead to a lender.  As one strategy to advertise services to a wide audience, this can lead to one of two results:

  1. Generate a large volume of customers and provide legitimate leads on a potential borrower.
  2. Unscrupulous companies may use one particular company brand to drive traffic to another company.

In the second case, a customer is deceived into thinking he or she is submitting a request to a particular lender, yet the information never reaches that lender and other companies are provided the lead data instead.

The proposed CFPB rule will undoubtedly place additional restrictions and regulations on this industry, from requiring limits on advertising claims to narrowing the channels available to promote products and services. To sustain and grow the short term lending industry, brands must provide customers a truthful and honest shopping experience that delivers loans to the borrower as intended. As a result, the importance of protecting ones brand from misuse and using technology to remove unwanted and false instances of their brand will be paramount.

Information on the full CFPB proposed ruling can be found here:

http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/CFPB_Proposes_Rule_End_Payday_Debt_Traps.pdf

Online Lenders Alliance:

http://onlinelendersalliance.org/

Community Financial Services Association of America:

http://cfsaa.com/

When most people think of attorneys, they envision John Grisham books come to life though the magic of Hollywood. A well dressed, impressive attorney, arguing in flawless form in front of the jury and providing the final “gotcha” moment that turns the case in their favor and creates the perfect ending. But in reality, the work most attorneys do is all about keeping you from seeing the inside of a courtroom.

Think about it. When circumstances arise where clients have been faced with defending allegations or regulatory infractions and the end result is a favorable outcome due to the diligence and research done by their attorney, aren’t those the best cases where the client is spreading high praise and word of mouth about their attorney? It makes the most sense to seek out an attorney that has all the tools and resources available to them to counter allegations with factual data and evidence to prove that you, as a client, have done nothing wrong.

In the case of brand compliance and digital advertising, the key to avoiding litigation is operating in a Safe Harbor. Safe Harbor guidelines afford protection from liability or penalty under specified circumstances or if certain conditions are met. Typically, in the case of brand compliance, documentation and establishing a defined path to remediation is the key to favorable outcomes.

Here are a few considerations that you or your attorney should think about to make sure your digital advertising is documented, verified, and will be remediated in the case of an infraction.

  • What systems do you have in place to inventory all your content?
  • Do you know who is publishing your content?
  • Do you have a technology solution in place to identify infractions?
  • What documentation are you keeping when infractions are discovered?
  • Are you providing a permanent record of your remediation attempts in order to operate within a safe harbor?
  • When an infraction is identified, do you have adequate resources to remediate the issue?

Being able to answer these questions and document your system and process will help prevent that “gotcha” moment from happening to you.

Compliant digital content has become a hot topic in many financial blogger circles. We recently sat down with Phillip Taylor, CEO at FinCon, the peer conference for the financial media community, to discuss the industry’s key compliance pain points. Below are the five topics that bloggers need to manage to maintain compliance.

Ability to add URLs and Editorial Content

Financial Bloggers sometimes struggle managing their entire URL inventory because of tedious manual updates required on each link due to content or offer changes. To combat this process you may minimize the number of URL’s or those with editorial content—limiting the potential to drive additional revenue. This does not have to be the case. By using an automated compliance monitor, you can continue to develop and build on the number of URLs and content. Don’t be a slave to the process anymore. Spend time on what’s important: Increasing your presence and growing your revenue.

Credit Card or Offer Feeds

Keeping up with credit cards and their offers can be challenging. Some blogs have lender feeds incorporated directly into their site. While this makes being compliant easier, it can limit the material they want to present to their audience. Others will manually incorporate the information into their sites, which again requires continual discovery and maintenance as these offers can change on a monthly or even weekly schedule. Top industry bloggers have found compliance automation is the key to spending less time on discovery and more time adding blog content.

Content Inventory

With the vast number of contracted publishers, affiliates and free publishers in the market, many bloggers struggle with maintaining an accurate inventory of their content and where it is located. Unlike larger companies or corporations that may hire compliance teams to review and maintain content, bloggers often are on their own to manage this task. Don’t be a slave to spreadsheets anymore. Identify strategies to automate your search for URL lists containing specific brands, content, or links.

Search Phrases and Link requirements

There are many variables on how content can be presented to stay compliant. Do you include links to drive traffic to other URLs? Creating an efficient system to display content regarding links and where they point creates additional challenges to the blogging industry. Compliance automation will not only pick up the link copy as shown on the URL, but can also display where it being directed. To assist with requirements for certain language before and/or after a link, seek technology that is smart enough to search and flag instances of potential deviations to the required content.

Disclosures

Bloggers must be mindful of exact wording and phrasing mentioned with offers. Include additionally required disclosures from other regulatory bodies such as the FTC, FCC, CFPB and State Attorney Generals. A good compliance monitoring partner will have rule sets to help you navigate policy and guidance to mitigate your risk.

Considering these five areas will help bloggers maintain compliance in this growing industry. Take control of your digital content to avoid compliance infractions and protect your brand. As you develop a process to manage this content, remember: consistency is key.

For more information on compliance monitoring, contact IntegriShield at 888-547-7110.

All marketers are familiar with the wide-sweeping TCPA legislation that has been consumer focused regarding unwanted calls and text messages. Now, the FCC wants to close loopholes and has indicated more restrictions are on the horizon.

Are you unsure of the impact this may have on your organization? Watch the short 4 minute clip below as IntegriShield President Jennifer Flood answers the questions we frequently get from marketers and clients.



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In the past year, for-profit schools in Minnesota have been coming under increased scrutiny. The state’s Office of Higher Education has created a new watchdog which sends out “secret shoppers” to monitor whether schools are misleading or dealing honestly with prospective students. Schools giving misleading information about job-placement rates or how much money graduates could earn in their field are just a couple of examples that would raise concerns with these shoppers.

The new state watchdog has started to compare notes with Minnesota State Attorney General’s Office.   This this office can suspend or shut down a school that gives students misleading information, including institutions that a court or government proceeding concludes they have engaged in fraud or misrepresentation.

Monitoring your staff can shield your institution from potential fines and penalties. Some areas to proactively monitor for compliance may include:

  • Scripts: Providing scripts for your representatives to follow enables them to touch on key benefits of your institution and direct the conversation toward enrollment.
  • Citing Statistics and Job Placement: When a prospect inquires about job placement or expected salaries, statistics provided must be accompanied by an official source such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment can never be promised.
  • Financial Aid: Not every student will qualify for financial aid. It is important to provide this clarification and transfer prospective students to a financial aid representative to receive further information.

Get more tips for analyzing and improving the performance of your admission staff, email Shawn Graybill or call 888-547-7110 today.

Minnesota Increases Scrutiny of For-Profit Colleges

Do you use bloggers and social media to promote your company, school or products? The FTC has released new monitoring method requirements.

Watch as our president, Jennifer Flood, explains how that may impact your organization:

Follow IntegriShield on Twitter and LinkedIn for more compliance news.

Career Colleges have been called into question by the policy community regarding the quality of data used to estimate the value of student outcome.  To restore credibility, ACICS has introduced an improved placement verification and quality assurance process.   The largest fundamental change is member institutions will be required to record and maintain placement information and meta-data beyond what is required in the ACICS Campus Accountability Report.

Key ACICS Council Changes to Implement:

  • Maintain sufficient supporting data for placement verification. This information must be submitted to ACICS upon request
  • On a recurring basis, maintain supporting documentation to provide to an ACICS visit team, state or federal agency; should minimally include the following:
    • Placement by Title – the student’s job title, the published list of titles for which the program prepares students, and a list of the skills required by the graduate’s job.
    • Placement by Skills – a description of the skills taught in the program and a list of the skills required by graduate’s job.
    • Placement by Benefits – Student attestations are required only for students whose placements are based on “the benefit as a catalyst in obtaining or maintaining the position.”

In addition, ACICS has modified the visit team process to be more robust to verify files of graduates who are classified as placed or unavailable for placement.  IntegriShield can help your institution manage the new robust files with:

  • Written documentation such as Verification of Employment form, Waiver of Placement etc…
  • Recorded MP3 audio of all phone calls
  • Email correspondence and detailed notes about each graduate

Contact IntegriShield for more information on how we can help with these new changes.  Call us at 888-547-7110 or send us an e-mail at sales@integrishield.com.

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Institutions are under strict scrutiny surrounding their online advertising efforts. But, it’s also imperative for the institution’s website to be in compliance with the standards and regulations set forth by the Department of Education (DOE), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), your accrediting body and industry standards. Below is a checklist of points to consider when reviewing the information provided on your website.

Compliant Website Checklist:

Accreditation

  • Visibility of accreditation statement
  • Representation of accreditation – full and complete accreditation information – acronyms and banned terms omitted
  • Easily navigable – at least within one click of the homepage

Admissions

  • Provide all required criteria expected to be completed prior to enrollment
  • Include all educational requirements
  • Contact information provided for prospective students

Career Services

  • Detailed and clear explanation of offerings that the Career Services department provides
  • No job placement guarantees
  • Omission of banned terms, such as “career placement”

Gainful Employment Disclosures

  • Clear presence of disclosure information
  • Disclosure information is in the required Gainful Employment Disclosure Template developed by the DOE

Financial Aid

  • Qualification rules
  • How applicants can learn about qualifying
  • Financial aid eligibility disclaimer present

Program Descriptions

  • Timeframe for completion listed correctly
  • Program length disclaimer

Program Listings

  • Listings are accurate and approved by the DOE
  • Acceptable states for admissions
  • Citations provided for statistics listed on the page

TCPA Requirements

  • Consent language present on lead form
  • Language must include all components within the FCC definition

Testimonials

  • Must be actual statements
  • Some accreditors do not allow institutions to use testimonials from current students on their website

Stay tuned for our next webinar where we’ll cover this topic in more depth! Get early access to webinar information. 

Since it’s onset in 1995, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has amended the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) several times in order to respond to developments in telemarketing schemes. The amendments allow for liability for third parties. For example, education lead generators that have provided “substantial assistance or support” to any seller while knowing, or consciously avoiding knowing, that the seller or telemarketer is engaged in activity in violation of the TSR.

What do these amendments mean for lead educators and for-profit schools?

  1. The TSR covers calls made with multiple purposes, if one of the purposes is the sale of goods or services. So, companies who use robocalls to sell goods or services risk violating the TSR.
  1. Liability is broad under the TSR. Liability is not limited to the company that made the calls. It’s also illegal to “provide substantial assistance or support” to a seller or telemarketer when you know or consciously avoid knowing they’re violating the Rule. The TSR makes it clear that “but I wasn’t the one doing the dialing” isn’t a defense.
  1. The states and feds are united in the fight against illegal telemarketing. The FTC, Department of Justice, and State Attorney Generals remain committed to working together to protect consumers from illegal telemarketing.

How can you avoid a violation?

  • Make sure the prospective inquiry gives the educational lead generator company express written permission to call, even if their telephone number is on the national Do Not Call Registry.
  • The educational lead generator or school will not require any purchase of goods or services in order to obtain student consent.
  • Written consent must include the student’s telephone number and signature.
  • The student will receive phone calls as a result of submitting the Request for Information (RFI) form on the educational lead generator’s website (or other collateral) and checking the box that gives express permission.

One of the prominent marketing uses in the education industry today is the use of testimonials to endorse a school. The power of a testimonial shows that success at a particular school not only can happen, but that it has happened. Using case studies to show the effectiveness of an institution’s training program certainly speaks volumes to individuals considering the lengthy commitment of returning to school.

Testimonials can go so far as to endorse a school that they can easily be used to mislead and entice individuals with exaggerated or false claims. Due to excessive use of testimonials the FTC has written guidelines on the dos and don’ts to shape education marketing compliance. Here is a list of guidelines to comply with when using testimonials in marketing materials:

  1. If a testimonial endorses a service and the result for that endorser was not a typical result, the advertiser must disclose the expected results of that service
  2. Any transaction that is made between an advertiser and the endorser must be disclosed in the advertisement
  3. Endorsers not representing “actual customers” must be adjoined with a disclaimer stating the testimonial is not from an actual customer
  4. Testimonials have timetables. If an endorser provided a testimonial at a time when they were an actual user, the testimonial must still reflect a “current” opinion of that endorser
  5. Wording cannot be distorted to endorse an advertiser

Testimonials are important as they serve as a connecting point between a successful user and a potential user. Staying in compliance for use of testimonials is just as important and can be followed given thoughtful consideration.

Happy New Year! Looking back, 2014 was an exciting year for IntegriShield. We more than doubled our client base, grew our team significantly, expanded our software services and developed some fantastic new products for our clients. Relationships were strengthened as we continued to listen to our clients and understand the political and regulatory climate in which they operate. As with anything, we must look back to find our lessons, take note, and MOVE FORWARD!

Access to Results-Driven Experts

 

We have an exceptional team of professionals that work for IntegriShield—each is dedicated to the client’s needs and finds a solution to every problem. That is true professionalism and I am very grateful for the group that continues that make this a successful company. Many of them have been with the company since its inception, and the new faces have helped drive us harder into 2015. We have a culture in our company that lets the individual choose and create his or her career path. If you can think it, you can achieve it!

Setting Goals with Integrity and Innovation

 

Our success thrives on producing results for clients and we are on pace for 60% growth across the board. While these 2015 goals are aggressive, I remain confident that we will hit them. We can do this in the following ways:

  1. Put the client first.

We build solutions for our clients. If we continue to put them first and listen to different needs of each client, both parties will be destined for success.

  1. Continue to learn.

IntegriShield is also a consulting company providing insight for clients and others in the industry. We find opportunities to collaborate with thought leaders to enrich in the industries we serve. Visit our Webinars page to find out more!

  1. Go above and beyond.

Anyone can do just enough to get by, but IntegriShield has always been driven to do more. Work harder. Put in that extra hour. Do more research. Build one more product. We do not compete—we win.

IntegriShield has all of the tools necessary to put us over the top, which is an experience we are pleased to share with our clients. After careful preparation, the company is ready to absorb rapid growth. The processes are in place and the right staff dedicated to driving success is ready. I’m excited for 2015 and honored to be on board with them.

All The Best,

Jennifer Flood

With the recent requirement changes imposed by the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA), your school may need to revisit your policies for reporting crimes on campus.

VAWA has imposed these changes under its Campus Sexual Violence Act making it mandatory for colleges and universities to report on domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. Other requirements include adopting certain student discipline procedures and policies to address and prevent campus sexual violence.

Although reporting on such events may be embarrassing, honesty is always the best policy when it comes to these issues. Hiding incidents will only hurt your school in the long run. Having a solid message on the web side-by-side your reports allows student to feel secure knowing that you’re doing your best to keep them safe.

Not only will your students, current and prospective, feel secure; you will as well knowing that your school is compliant with these regulations.

Your admissions staff is the face and voice of your institution, the first people to speak with your prospective students and inform them about the excellent opportunities that your school offers.  What training and initiatives are you taking to ensure that they are making every effort to bring more students in the door?  How are they answering questions surrounding compliance-related topics that have gotten so many schools into trouble?

Monitoring your staff can lead to a significant increase in conversion rates and shield your institution from potential fines and penalties.  Some areas to monitor may include:

  • Scripts: Providing scripts for your representatives to follow enables them to touch on key benefits of your institution and direct the conversation toward enrollment.
  • Setting Follow-up Appointments: With each individual communication, a representative should be scheduling the next step with the prospective student whether it be a follow-up phone call or inviting them in for a campus visit.
  • Citing Statistics and Job Placement: When a prospect inquires about job placement or expected salaries, statistics provided must be accompanied by an official source such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment can never be promised.
  • Credit Transferability: Credits will never transfer 100 percent of the time, and it is essential to clearly state that credits are subject to review by the school and cannot be guaranteed.
  • Financial Aid: Not every student will qualify for financial aid, and it is important to provide this clarification and transfer prospective students to a financial aid representative to receive further information.

Monitoring your admissions team to pinpoint areas in need of improvement is essential to overall business productivity. Not only are you able to protect your institution from the price of noncompliance and making false guarantees, you are also helping increase enrollment numbers and therefore directly amplifying your institution’s revenue.

To learn more about analyzing and improving the performance of your admissions staff, contact our Sales Team at sales@integrishield.com or call (816) 994-1313 today.

Knowing where and how your school appears is virtually a full-time job in and of itself in the vast community of online marketing. Whether or not your school contracts with a third-party vendor for the purpose of lead generation and online presence, the unauthorized use of your brand is a consistent problem.

Many schools are typically unaware of the extent of their brands’ presence on third-party websites and lead forms. Even institutions that do not buy leads still exist on the web and lead forms are readily available when paired with certain key terms. Unauthorized use of your school name allows room for the possibility of bait and switch techniques.

You might ask yourself:

  • We don’t work with this website, so how heavily is it actually trafficked?
  • How many potential students per month or per year are utilizing the lead form found on this page?
  • Since we don’t purchase online leads, who receives this information?
  • What is done with lead information after it is submitted by the prospective student?

Deceptive advertising is a growing problem in the EDU space, and it is important to stay ahead of the game. A prospective student’s information in the hands of someone else or a competitor is of no use to you and can serve as a direct cut to your company’s revenue.

In order to prevent the possibility of baiting and switching of your brand, it is important to employ routine monitoring to identify how and where your school is being advertised. If you buy leads from online vendors, confirm that sites you find are part of their affiliate networks and that they’re meeting compliance regulations.

To learn more about compliance monitoring and brand management, call 888-547-7110 or email IntegriShield today.

The FTC joined forces this week with the Obama administration’s fight against private sector colleges. The agency released new guidelines this week in hopes to crack down on deceptive advertising, promotions, marketing and sales made by private sector colleges featuring vocational programs.

The new guidelines followed the tip sheet recently released by the FTC to help veterans better scrutinize private sector colleges, in hopes the same guidelines can help all students.

Seven of the eight comments received by the FTC submitted by numerous accrediting agencies were in favor of retaining the guidelines noting, “Many instances of fraud in the industry and urged that the guides be strengthened and enforced more vigorously.” APSCU however commented against retaining all guidelines, suggesting rather retain the guidelines only for unaccredited or unlicensed institutions stating that the guidelines were unnecessary, “and would create additional burdens for institutions that are licensed by a stat or accredited by a DOE recognized accrediting agency.”

Overall the Commission proposed four modifications to the guidelines including:

  1. Guides addressing misrepresentations of salaries, job placement, completion rates and time frames.
  2. Guides addressing misleading statements indicating that a program would render a student eligible to take a licensing exam.
  3. Guides stating that misrepresenting a student’s admissions test score as a deceptive practice, hindering their success to complete the program.
  4. Guides to address transfer of credits, assistance to language barriers, source of funding for student loans and crime statistics.

The FTC’s new guidelines went effective November 18th 2013. Contact IntegriShield today and make sure your institution is in compliance with the new guidelines.

Maintaining the integrity of brands online has become a difficult task for many companies with limited resources and expertise of online copyright infringement. The internet offers an enormous platform for third-party websites to infringe upon privileged material for the purposes of financial gain. Isolating infringing material online and enforcing timely action to remove infringing items from Internet Service Provider’s websites can be tedious and inefficient. Brands with online presence are at risk of having their privileged material copied, recorded, or imported causing significant financial losses.

Bloombergi reported, in June 2013, that a man named Li Xiang plead guilty to copyright conspiracy in Wilmington, Delaware resulting in a sentence of 12 years. The government estimated that Xiang’s web-based business infringed upon a total retail value of over $100 million in software products from U.S. based companies, and sold to customers all over the globe.  Xiang operated out of Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan providence of Southwest China.

Case U.S. v. Li, 10-cr-112, U.S. District Court, District of Delaware (Wilmington).

In August, 2013, The New York Timesii published an article explaining the extensive copyright infringement of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The MTA is North America’s largest transportation network based in New York, and issues approximately “600 notices a year for copyright infringements to protect trademarks on trainline logos and other system imagery” (Flegenheimer, M.T.A.)iii. All of the MTA’s subway, rail, and maps are copyright protected, and violators range from desperate artists to the upper echelons of the online retail industry. The MTA’s licensing income is a heavily needed source of revenue for the New York transportation system’s bottom line, but the authority has not been able to place a precise value on its losses from copyright infringement.

Copyright infringement in the digital era poses a great risk for brands to protect their privileged material online from anonymous users around the world. Companies need the right resources, time, and expertise to protect themselves and their bottom lines.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-06-11/chinese-national-sentenced-to-12-years-over-pirated-software.html

ii http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/24/nyregion/c-train-cafe-the-mta-may-put-up-a-fight.html?_r=0

iii Flegenheimer, Matt. “M.T.A. Guards Against Copyright Infringement.” The New York Times. 23 August

2013. Web. 4 November 2013.

Accreditation agencies are cracking down on inaccurate job placement figures and claims made by private sector colleges. Just in the last few months numerous colleges have fallen victim in Federal Trade Commission and Department of Education accusations. Resulting in large fines and loss of accreditation needed for federal financial aid. In August 2013 Career Education Corp. settled a $10.25 million settlement with the New York attorney general for allegedly inflating job placement rates. Are your institution’s job placement rates accurate and up-to-date? Avoid the large penalties and ensure your figures meet accrediting agency standards by utilizing a third-party unbiased employment verification service.

IntegriShield’s Employment Verification service seeks and contacts all graduates to verify employment and provide up-to-date and accurate post-graduation employment information for clients. IntegriShield’s verification experts collect all information based on client needs and accrediting body standards, to guarantee the correct information is provided for annual accreditation audits. Tracking graduates is a time consuming task that is crucial for accurate reporting. IntegriShield provides weekly and monthly reports tracking the number of employed students, unemployed students, reasons for unemployment and number of waived placements to save your Career Service Department time and money.

Providing inflated or inaccurate graduate employment information is detrimental to your school’s accreditation standings, reputation and finances. Contact IntegriShield today to ensure your graduate employment information meets the expected standards.

Telephone Consumer Protection Act 2013 Updates: Are you Prepared?

Effective October 16, 2013: the Federal Communications Commission’s rules implementing the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

The Federal Communications Commission’s TCPA rules will require “prior express written consent” before a business may:

  • Send advertising or telemarketing text messages using an “automatic telephone dialing system”;
  • Initiate an advertising or telemarketing phone call to a mobile phone number using an ATDS or an artificial or prerecorded voice;
  • Initiate a telephone call to a residential line for commercial purposes (unless those commercial purposes do not introduce an advertisement or constitute telemarketing).

The FCC’s new rules will also eliminate the “Established business relationship” exemption no longer relieving advertisers of prior unambiguous written consent requirement also, effective on October 16th. In most instances, only “prior express consent” is required. Prior written consent should be a clear and conspicuous disclosure requesting the consumer’s consent to be contacted.

What This Means for Companies?

Advertisers will be held responsible for all unsolicited telemarketing and autodialed calls and messages. Each unsolicited call or message will now require prior written consent from consumers that must be maintained by the advertiser for at least for four years.

Proof of internet provided consent includes but is not limited to:

  • Email, website form, text message, telephone key press, or voice mail
  • Website pages that contain consumer consent language and fields.
  • Associated screenshot of the consent webpage as seen by the consumer where contact information is collected.
  • Complete data record submitted by consumer with time and date stamp.

The TCPA enables individuals to file lawsuits against companies that place telemarketing calls or use autodialers without prior consent from the consumer. The FCC’s definition of “autodialer” is very broad leaving many advertisers unknowingly at risk. Once effective the majority of the “opt-in” language that you are currently using will not meet the new rigorous cell consent standards. Penalties range from $500 – $1,500 per unsolicited call or message. October 16th is right around the corner, IntegriShield can ensure that your company is prepared.

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"The quality service that IntegriShield provides gives me peace of mind regarding compliance. They work as an extension of my department to identify and resolve any misrepresentation found and serve as a resource to me regarding specific compliance questions. I highly recommend them for institutions who need a partner not a vendor." - Mary Wetzel, Central Penn College

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