The National Honor Roll is a marketing scam.
Today, we received a letter from the National Honor Roll, offering my oldest daughter the opportunity to be inducted into the Roll. My daughter’s school’s name was featured prominently on the letter, lending it an air of legitimacy, and at first making us think the letter had come from her school.
Of course, in order to be inducted into the National Honor Roll, my daughter must complete a detailed survey about her interests. If we want, we can buy the book that will list her name and bio. We can give the Honor Roll addresses of her grandparents who may want to buy the book. We can add a picture to your profile, but that will cost extra.
“Please”, I hear you thinking. “Don’t tell me you fell for that!”
Of course, I didn’t fall for it. As Jean Hagan said in Singing in the Rain: “Wadda’ think I am? Dumb or somethin’?”
But that’s not the real scam, you see. It’s just the tip of the iceburg. Because the National Honor Roll is a front for a nationwide mailing list of young high school students. A mailing list that the Honor Roll and its partner organizations then sell for profit to whoever will buy.
Each year, thousands of unsuspecting high school students are offered induction into the National Honor Roll. What is the qualification for this prestigious award for academic excellence? Not too stringent – a B average or above.
THE SCAM BEGINS IN YOUR CHILD’S CLASSROOM
How does the National Honor Roll find out your child’s name, address and personal information? Your child’s school provides it. That’s right. The school provides it, along with data mined from your child as part of in-class surveys handed out and collected by your child’s teacher. In my daughter’s case, she now remembers being asked to complete a survey in her Math class earlier this year. She was told it was for college.
I can’t entirely blame my daughter’s teacher (Well, I do blame him a bit). Most likely he thought that the survey results were being used to offer his students scholarships and college information. The surveys are sent to teachers from a “non-profit” organization called the Educational Reseach Center of America. ERCA is associated with something called the Student Marketing Group.
SMG is a direct marketing company that targets the youth market. ERCA does the dirty work for SMG, sneaking into our schools to mine our children’s personal data, all in the name of harmless surveys. To keep up their front, ERCA does publish the results of these surveys on their web site, and claims to send them to colleges, who probably file them in the wastebasket.
THE LEGAL RESPONSE
Elliot Spitzer filed for judgement against ERCA and SMG in 2003 for fraudulent and deceptive business practices. The Federal Trade Commission issued a judgement and a consumer alert against ERCA in 2003.Depite these rulings, it looks to me as if the ERCA and National Honor Roll are still up to their dirty tricks in 2006.
IT’S ALREADY TOO LATE FOR US
Even though I didn’t get caught in the National Honor Roll scam, it doesn’t matter. My daughter’s personal information is already on ERCA’s database, collected by her math teacher, and now being sent out who knows where. I have no idea if my daughter signed something on that survey that permitted her information to be used, and neither does she.
What upsets me is that we parents trust our children’s teachers and schools to protect them. And they are failing in that duty. I know it is not just my daughter’s school that has failed in this regard. These companies are thriving because they have found inroads into our schools nationwide, using the educational system as a marketing goldmine.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Feel free to link or email this post, or to pass this information on to anyone you know who has a child in school. And not just if they are in high school. The ERCA has collected personal information from children as young as 10 years old.
Tell your PTA and your school principal. Tell your child’s teachers. Work with your child’s school to develop policies that protect your child’s and your family’s privacy. Help develop curricula that teach kids (and their teachers) how to know when their privacy is being threatened or their personal information mined for profit. And simply, tell your kids not to fill out any surveys at school without them being sent home first.
Stop your child’s school from unwittingly mining your children’s personal information for profit-making entities.
UPDATE: Click here for new information about the National Honor Roll.
I just realized that this the second time this week that someone has tried to involve me in a scheme that invades personal privacy. (See April 3 post) Okay, who wants to be third?