A teenage girl with a mental illness, a learning disability and no internet access was assured an online course was "just perfect" for her and she could not fail.
The girl, 19, admitted she was concerned she was not smart enough to study but was talked into signing up for a course during an unsolicited marketing call in which she was also promised a free laptop.
She is one of eight vulnerable victims of "disgraceful exploitation" that earned vocational education broker Acquire Learning a $4.5 million fine in the Federal Court on Tuesday.
Judge Bernard Murphy said Acquire had engaged in unconscionable conduct through unfair sales tactics, undue pressure and false or misleading representations in relation to eight job seekers.
The proceeding, brought by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, alleged Acquire breached Australian Consumer Law between July 3, 2014 and March 24, 2015.
The court was told Acquire targeted job seekers, whose personal details it received through a deal with online job advertisers.
The company's misleadingly titled "career advisers" made telemarketing calls to them, using high pressure and unfair sales tactics to enrol them on the spot.
The job seekers were told that by enrolling, they'd find a job in the role of their choice in any industry and be paid significantly more.
Judge Murphy said the "career advisers" pretended the only reason for the call was to help job seekers find employment when in reality it was to enrol them in a course.
Job seekers were told the course could be completed in one to two months and successful completion was guaranteed.
It was also suggested to them Acquire was affiliated with the government and they were not properly told the circumstances under which they would incur a Commonwealth debt by enrolling.
Each job applicant incurred a significant debt of between $9900 and $21,000.
In some cases, Acquire's conduct was "particularly egregious" in its treatment of vulnerable job seekers desperate for work.
Some had learning disabilities, mental illness, difficulty in speaking and reading English, and limited education.
The judge said the courses were unsuitable for most of them.
"I consider Acquire's motive was not, as it pretended, to help job seekers out of the unemployment queue and into employment, but to maximise its profits through fees it received from course providers," Judge Murphy said.
"Its activities resembled those of an unscrupulous fly-by-night operation than those of a prominent and market-leading provider of student recruitment services, as it describes itself.
"Its conduct was disgraceful."
The judge said he would have considered ordering a higher penalty if not for Acquire's now "parlous" financial position.
Acquire was ordered to pay $100,000 towards the ACCC's costs.
Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham said the Turnbull government has put in new safeguards through its VET Student Loans program to boost protections for students and set tougher benchmarks for training providers.
From July, a VET Ombudsman will also investigate and resolve student complaints about training organisations.