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The state of New York went to court Thursday to stop direct marketers from gathering information on students by allegedly tricking them into filling out forms purporting to help advance their education. Nearly 100,000 college-bound New York teen-agers filled out surveys over the past two years alluding to scholarships and loans to mask their real purpose, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said. In 2001, teachers at 1,800 schools were duped into handing out the forms in the belief they were legitimate, he said. A cover letter told the teachers “your participation is critical to your students’ post-secondary future.” The forms ask for a wide range of information, including personal interests, college preferences, religion, career goals, sports activities, ethnic background and languages spoken. The lawsuit charged Student Marketing Group and the Educational Research Center of America Inc. with deceptive business practices and other violations. “The company’s ultimate goal was not to help students or to research educational issues. Instead the goal was to collect personal information about students and provide it to direct marketers,” Spitzer said. A lawyer for Educational Research Center did not return calls seeking comment Thursday. A woman who answered the phone at SMG’s headquarters declined to comment. Student Marketing Group is a direct marketing firm that collects data that it sells to other companies, Spitzer said. It has used the survey since 1999. ERCA, a self-described “nonprofit entity,” uses a Washington, D.C., address to send its “annual student survey” to more than 14 million students nationwide. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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