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JPMorgan scammed by startup that lied about its user base

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JPMorgan acquired Frank in 2021 for a then-unknown sum, but a lawsuit filed in December 2022 reveals that the company paid $175 million for the acquisition.

JPMorgan acquired Frank in 2021 for a then-unknown sum, but a lawsuit filed in December 2022 reveals that the company paid $175 million for the acquisition.
Image: Lewis Tse (Shutterstock)

We all make bad deals here and there, but JPMorgan did one truth bad. The financial services firm alleges that the acquisition of startup Frank was built on a lie in which the startup’s young owner stated that the company had millions of users.

Frank is a software startup aimed at helping students make the most of the student loan process, helping them navigate the barrage of confusing forms with a TurboTax-like process. Frank raised $5 million in April 2020 and the startup was acquired by JPMorgan Chase in September 2021 for a then-undeclared sum of money.

But the relationship was supposedly built on a lie and, according to a Bloomberg report, with JPMorgan now regretting buying Frank for $175 million. JPMorgan alleged in a lawsuit filed in December that Frank CEO Charlie Javice misled the megacorporation in true Elizabeth Holmes style when it approached JPMorgan for a sale. Upon introducing Frank to JPMorgan, Javice allegedly claimed the startup had over 4 million users, when in reality it had over 300,000.

“Defendant Charlie Javice founded a small start-up known as Frank which apparently had the potential to grow into a successful company in the future, and appeared to have was proven successful from the start,” says JPMorgan in its complaint against Javice, which was filed in Delaware under number 1:22-cv-01621-MN. “But in order to profit, Javice decided to lie, including lying about Frank’s success, Frank’s size and the depth of Frank’s market penetration, in order to induce [JPMorgan Chase] to buy Frank for $175 million.

In his submission to JPMorgan, Javice claimed that Frank had 4.25 million users and 35 million visitors to the site since its founding in 2020. To back up those claims, Javice produced a list of 4.265 million students who allegedly started the free app for the Federal Student Aid Process (FAFSA) through Frank, with 2.1 million students fully completing the application, on a case-by-case basis.

JPMorgan says the company requested a comprehensive list of customer account data, including full names, dates of birth and home addresses. Javice initially rejected the request citing privacy concerns, before producing a complete list of all data. After an engineer Frank refused to create tampered data, this list was created for $18,000 by an unnamed data science professor in New York City based on the list of 300,000 real customers. At the same time, the lawsuit alleges Frank’s Director of Growth, Olivier Amar contacted a student marketing company and purchased a list of 4.5 million student names, addresses, and phone numbers for $105,000.

“[JPMorgan Chase] paid $175 million for what it believed to be a deeply engaged deal with the college market segment with 4.265 million customers; instead, it received a business with fewer than 300,000 customers,” argues JPMorgan. “Javice and Amar’s fraud materially harmed [JPMorgan Chase] in an amount to be established at trial, but not less than $175 million.”

When asked for more information, the JPMCPokesman Pablo Rodriguez told Gizmodo in a statement, “Our legal claims against Ms. Javice and Mr. Amar are presented in our complaint, together with the main facts. Mrs. Javice was not and is not a whistleblower. Any dispute will be resolved through the legal process.”

frank not immediately responded to Gizmodo’s request for comment, but lawyers for Javice, who is also suing JPMorgan to pay his legal fees, told Bloomberg that the bank ran to buy Frank without performing due diligence in trying to divert attention from his violations and student privacy laws.

frank’s website is officially closed with the message “Frank is no longer available. To register your free application for federal student aid (FAFSA®), visit StudentAid.gov.” Likewise, the Twitter accounts for Frank, @with_frankand Charlie Javice, @charliejavicedo not exist anymore.

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