Nights at the Nicoloro home in Redding, Conn., are spent working on homework. When mom Kathleen Heller does not have the answers to some of her children’s questions she turns to the Internet. That's how she found TutorVista.Com
“So I clicked on it and it said live tutor I said how great is this. Phenomenal,” said Heller.
She started a chat with a representative from the company known as an Academic Coordinator. Heller says the initial chat was very friendly but then the Academic Coordinator started to mention pricing.
“My warning bells went off,” said Heller.
The mother of five decided to pose as one of her 10-year-old daughters to see what would happen. She wanted to know if the TutorVista employee she was chatting with would discuss financial matters with a little girl.
“It led to please pay me with a credit card, take your mother’s credit card from upstairs even though she doesn’t know about it and she’s outside but don’t ask her kind of thing,” said Heller describing how the chat unfolded.
During the chat the TutorVista representative does ask for parental assistance, but when Kathleen informs him that the parents are busy the representative says he is fine taking credit card information from someone he thinks is 10 years old.
“I expected him to say, well, when you can come back but instead he continued his sales pitch,” said Heller.
The "Today" show profiled the company in a story showing how Americans were using the site, which is based out of India, to get help with homework. The students interviewed enjoyed using the service and their parents said it was helping to improve their grades.
When NBCNewYork emailed a copy of the transcript to TutorVista they told us there was a mistake in procedure. They said their representative should have made sure a parent was aware of the financial transactions. They described the incident as very rare but said it’s not uncommon for some of their students to help their parents navigate their site. They say many of their clients are the children of Hispanic immigrants who do not speak English. The children end up translating the payment process for their parents and assist in credit card payments.
Heller says the experience has shown her how easy it is for children to make the wrong decision when surfing the web.
“Have your child ask about going on Google to research things and when they find something they’re interested in check with a parent first is this a good site for me to go on.”