The office of Attorney General Bob Ferguson warned parents on Wednesday about a consumer scam that allegedly involves an education software company claiming to be affiliated with an area school district, the Lake Washington School District in Redmond.
A news release from the attorney general said at least four Spanish-speaking families—one of whom is homeless—have been targeted by Brainstorm USA and asked to purchase up to $2,400 in education software, only to learn later on that the materials are not required by the district. Brainstorm USA, LLC is based in Atlanta, according to the Better Business Bureau, and is not accredited with the bureau (accreditation is optional). The BBB has assisted in resolving 26 complaints about the company over the past three years.
Kathryn Reith, a spokesperson for LWSD, which also has schools in Sammamish, said the district became aware of the problem last week when a parent brought up the software during a parent-teacher conference. Reith declined to name the schools that have been affected out of respect for the families' privacy, but said they are all elementary schools in Redmond, and that all the solicitations have targeted families who use Spanish as their first language.
Since then, the district has sent out recorded voicemail messages to its Spanish-speaking families to warn them about the scam. The district has told parents they are not required to buy the software and that it's up to them whether or not they want to purchase supplemental education materials, Reith said.
“Frankly I don’t know whether the materials are good bad or indifferent—it’s not about that,” she said.
Reith said one family was convinced to buy the software but she isn't sure whether they paid in full for the products. A second family had made a down payment to Brainstorm USA and a third was about to sign up for the program, she said.
The company told the Attorney General's Office that its salespeople are not directed to claim they represent a school district and requested that families contact Brainstorm USA at 1-800-595-5561 with the name of the salesperson if they experience such a solicitation.
The Attorney General's Office issued a similar warning in 2006 when Brainstorm USA attempted to sell products to Spanish-speaking families in Yakima. According to the news release, a salesperson with the company claimed he was affiliated with the Yakima School District in order to gain access to families' homes.
Ferguson said parents should always check with their child's teacher before purchasing education software or other materials.
The Attorney General's Office provided the following information for people who think they might have been a victim of the scam:
Consumers who have purchased items from Brainstorm USA and believe they may have been deceived should file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office. Complaints can be filed in English or Spanish online at www.atg.wa.gov or call 1-800-551-4636 to request a form by mail.
· Link to Spanish complaint form: https://fortress.wa.gov/atg/formhandler/ago/ComplaintForm_es.aspx
· Link to English complaint form: https://fortress.wa.gov/atg/formhandler/ago/ComplaintForm.aspx