Lender Ranking Website Accused By FTC Of Misleading Rankings
LendEDU, a Hoboken-based company that lists and ranks loan providers, came under fire this week after the FTC filed a complaint detailing how LendEDU charged businesses for higher positions in its rankings of lenders and promoted fake testimonials. Providing ratings for student loan refinancing, personal loans, and mortgage lenders, it is the first of these loan types that is in the spotlight.
While LendEDU initially denied that it received any compensation for its lists, saying, “ratings are comparatively objective and not influenced by compensation in anyway” and that “research, news, ratings, and assessments are scrutinized using strict editorial integrity,” this assertion was disproved by the FTC’s investigation.
Emails were discovered which featured CEO Nathaniel Matherson and Vice President of Products Alexander Coleman discussing with a business the pricing per click to hold the #1 spot on the best student loan refinancing company list, as well as what sort of traffic could be expected at this ranking. Accompanying this was a contract between LendEDU and a student loan refinancing company, revealing that in return for compensation the company would drop “[n]o lower than position three” in the rankings. It was also found that if businesses who were already in the rankings refused to pay for the clicks they received, they would drop down in the list.
The testimonials that featured prominently on LendEDU’s homepage, which noted alleged consumers’ names, colleges, and years of graduation, were found to be wholly false, with the people portrayed in them being nonexistent.
And the reviews of LendEDU that were found on Trustpilot and subsequently posted to the company’s own website, were also shown to be fake. Of the 126 reviews, 123 were found to be 5-stars; and only 11 were proven to be from customers (this was confirmed as the emails matched those used by customers), the other 115 were deigned to be written by friends, family members, and associates of LendEDU members, as well as by LendEDU employee’s themselves under false names.
All this is coming after LendEDU landed in hot water following a controversy in 2018 that saw Matherson admit to working with others to create a fictitious expert on student loans, named Drew Cloud, who would give interviews and comments to publications, creating a pro-student loan refinancing discourse. According to Matherson, Cloud “was created as a way to connect with our readers (ex. people struggling to repay student debt) and give us the technical ability to post content to the WordPress website.” Cloud was even given a pixelated face and backstory that extended into high school, imbuing him with a passion for journalism even in his teenage years. Neither Matherson’s comments on Cloud nor his fictional biography do anything to explain how or why his creators decided to give him a name that is quite clearly fake.
LendEDU promptly agreed to settle the charges and pay $350,000 while not admitting or denying the allegations. The public has 30 days to comment on the settlement prior to it becoming final.Last modified: February 7, 2020