I’ve been helping people with debt advice or assistance since 1994 but this marketing just revealed in public filings is creepy as hell. If I had not seen the images myself I would not have believed it.
This material was made public in the suit brought by the Federal Trade Commission against American Financial Benefits Center, AFB, AF Student Services, Ameritech Financial, Financial Education Benefits Center, and Brandon Frere.
Allegedly, consumers were receiving marketing mailers from the Plaintiffs that used personal photos from their Facebook accounts.
Melissa Bussewitz is a teacher in New York. She says, “In mid-January 2018, I received a postcard offering student loan forgiveness. The postcard featured a photo of me and my daughter reflected in a creepy man’s glasses. I was upset that a company used my private photo without my permission. I was very alarmed by the postcard and took a photo of it.”
By the way, the green man is an image from the movie, The Matrix. If you watch the clip from the movie below and substitute Matrix with Ameritech Financial and it gives it a whole new meaning.
Truly Melissa is a champion here in bringing this postcard to the attention of the FTC and others. She is really brave, really pissed, or a combination of both.
Melissa said, “I was upset when I saw my personal photo on the postcard and called the toll-free number at the bottom of the postcard. The woman who answered my call said she worked for a company called Ameritech Financial. I told her that Ameritech was using my personal image without my permission. She dismissed my concerns and said the postcard from the company’s marketing department. I asked to speak with a supervisor and she transferred me another person. I shared my concerns with the supervisor, but he also dismissed me and said Ameritech was getting a lot of positive reaction to the marketing campaign. The operation seemed like a scam and I did not discuss my student loan with either agent.”
But Melissa was not alone in the creepy marketing mailer effort.
Gloria Holmes is another brave person to come forward with her own Ameritech Financial hella of a marketing postcard story.
Gloria said, “In early 2018, my daughter called me and said she found a strange postcard with my photo in our mailbox. When I got home, I examined the postcard and thought it was scary. The front side of the laminated postcard had my address and a small photo of me. The flip side had a larger photo of me in what appeared to be a personal file. The mailer included accurate information about my student loan amount and said I qualified for student loan forgiveness. A logo for “Ameritech Financial” was at the bottom of the postcard.”
She also said, “The postcard contained a photo of me that I had posted on my Facebook account several years ago. I selected “Private” for all my Facebook settings and do not know how Ameritech obtained my photo. Currently, my Facebook profile image is a photo of my grandson. My Facebook profile contains photos of my children and grandchildren, and I felt scared that a random company had gone through my Facebook account. it made me feel like I was being stalked. I felt like I had exposed my children and my grandson to people that could use their photos.
I was upset when I saw my personal photo on the postcard and called the toll-free number at the bottom of the postcard. I spoke with someone named Scott at Ameritech Financial. Scott told me that I qualified for student loan forgiveness. At the time, I worked for the State of Tennessee. I told Scott that I did not qualify because I had not worked for a public entity for the right amount of time. Scott seemed frustrated and aggravated with me then started to try over talking me.
I also told Scott that I was upset about the postcard and that Ameritech did not have permission to access my private photos. Scott responded, “well, we can do that.” When I insisted that Ameritech could not take my confidential photos, he said “everything we do is legal” and that I had a “beautiful family.” He was very creepy and thought it was comical. I asked him to stop accessing my photos and he said he was “just going to send more and [that] was his job.”
Here is that photo Gloria took of the postcard with her Facebook picture on it.
According to the FTC, “Defendants claim they no longer potential clients via mailers. This is surprising, given that consumer complaints as recent as January 2018 indicate that Defendants were scraping consumers’ Facebook accounts to find pictures to use on personalized mailers.”
The Defendants will certainly have a chance to respond to the information put forward by the FTC and that should be interesting. But until then, this FTC document reads like a “How Not To” guide in student loan assistance marketing.