A group of Democratic senators is requesting that the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) investigate third-party online marketing companies – so-called “lead generators” – used by private-sector schools.

The FTC is “well positioned to protect consumers from deceptive practices used by lead generators,” Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) wrote in a two-page letter sent Friday, September 21, 2012 to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.

“The FTC can and should take several steps to better protect consumers from deceptive lead generators both by educating consumers and by investigating their practices,” wrote the senators.  According to the letter, an updating by the FTC of its Guides for Private Vocational and Distance Education Schools in a “timely manner would be an important first step to help provide consumers with accurate information.”  The Guides were last revised by the FTC in 1998.  The senators also “encourage the FTC to create meaningful guidelines for lead generators and strengthen their oversight.”

At issue is the use of third-party online marketing companies for recruitment by private sector schools.  The senators’ letter comes on the heels of the release of a report in late July by the staff of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, chaired by Senator Harkin, that concluded a two-year investigation of private-sector schools.  Private-sector schools are highly-regulated, including specific rules on advertising, and subject to supervision and examination by the Department of Education.