A St. Louis Park family got an urgent letter from College Admissions Assistance last month. The family's college-bound daughter, who was identified by name, was "scheduled to participate in an educational group presentation followed by a personal interview to help determine college admission and financial aid eligibility."

The family was given two dates for an interview, and it was indicated that "you need to attend in order to receive assistance in making critical decisions that will arise in the next few months." Both parents were invited, but "at least one parent or legal guardian must attend with your student."

The letter was signed by Brenda Watkins, "director of student services" for College Admissions Assistance. Nowhere does the letter actually disclose what this Arlington, Texas-based institution is: a for-profit company that holds the free workshops so it can ask parents to pay nearly $2,000 for advice on how their kids can get into college and land financial aid.

The Better Business Bureau in Fort Worth, Texas, gives College Admissions Assistance a C- rating. The BBB has logged 48 complaints against the company, including concerns about "questionable and high pressure sales tactics," among other problems.

Marilu Kernan, chief marketing officer for College Admissions Assistance, said that number represents a tiny fraction of the customers served.

"I wish we didn't have any complaints, but clearly the picture painted by the BBB is not accurate," she said.

Kernan said she was puzzled that Whistleblower found the letter's language misleading.

"In regards to our marketing approach, our workshops have successfully educated many families on the college process and our method works in making sure we have an educated family client," Kernan said in an e-mail. "Our follow-up surveys with families that don't enroll indicate that they appreciate the knowledge they received at the workshop."

Read the letter, at www.startribune.com/a160 and judge for yourself.

Problems with duct cleaners

A Minneapolis couple called an air-duct cleaning company last October after receiving a coupon in the mail for a $99 service. When the cleaners arrived at the house, they told the couple that the air ducts had excessive dirt and mold, so they would be charged an additional $370. The couple agreed, but when the 91-year-old husband got the final bill, it was for $3,500.

The couple complained to state Attorney General Lori Swanson, but the company didn't respond to the attorney general's office. The Better Business Bureau issued a consumer alert last year about air-duct cleaning companies that don't honor their advertised prices and can sometimes damage heating and cooling systems.

We'd like to hear from you if you've had a bad experience with an air-duct cleaning company. If you're interested in telling your story to Whistleblower, call Lora Pabst at 612-673-4628.