How to Avoid Coaching Scams
Life coaching is a profession that is growing at a rapid pace, without a doubt. It seems as though everyone wants to be a coach or has information they can sell and create value in people’s lives. It’s hard to spend any amount of time on Facebook without seeing an opportunity to join a course, program or webinar.
I’m Sarah and I’m a life coach.
It appalls me that as I write this article, I know that there are people who don’t share my values in this incredible industry, dedicated to positivity and furthering people. And these people (or “scum bags” as I refer to them) are instead using this vibrancy as a way to scam people for tens of thousands of dollars.
How can I be so sure? Because it happened to me.
I have never been so disgusted in feeling the need to write a blog about my chosen profession in order to help people NOT get scammed by scum bags. But here I am. Why? Because I got scammed! And they knew exactly what they were doing. Fortunately it all turned out OK in the end, but this was not because the scum bags were willing to negotiate with me, this was because I followed these steps that I’m now sharing with you for no other reason than I hope this never happens to anyone else.
There are two parts (and purposes) to this blog post:
- I want you to know what to look out for so you DON’T GET SCAMMED
- I want you to know what to do in the case that this does happen to you
If you’re here because you don’t want to get scammed, then you’ve come to the right place. Welcome! And thank you for protecting yourself and keeping the industry as safe and clean as possible. This article is specifically designed for people in Australia as it follows our guidelines and laws – coaching is also relatively new to Australia, with many skeptical FOR THIS REASON! Having said that, if you are outside Australia you could still follow similar steps and hopefully get a fair result. It’s free – you have nothing to lose!
Before we start, none of this information is foolproof or guarantees you a refund: I wish I had that power for you, but I don’t. All I can say is these are the steps I took and it helped me, so I hope it helps you too!
PART 1: HOW TO AVOID A COACHING SCAM
- ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
Don’t get carried away with the sales speak – it’s so easy to do. I am usually exceptionally skeptical but there was just something about this particular scum bag that earned my trust. And that could’ve been the most hurtful part of being scammed – I don’t trust easily as it is.
The questions you need to ask:
- HOW MANY people have they helped get to where they say they want to get you
NOTE: They may be honest and say none, don’t let them then spin off stories of other people well on their way, take this ZERO response into consideration
- IS THERE a cooling off period? If so, what is it?
NOTE: They may avoid this question and tell you IF you decide to back out they will gladly work with you to get through it. That’s not enough! Get a promise. Anyone who honestly believes is their product will offer money back in the case it may not work within the cooling off period time, give or take a small administration fee.
- WHAT DOES the package specifically involve?
NOTE: Whenever you go to a world-class coach’s website, it’s no secret what they tell you in their courses. They will tell you all the modules and what each module includes. It should all be there, easy to access and the person selling it to you should have no problem telling you about it. WHY? Because the program should already be made, created and designed. It shouldn’t be a spur-of-the-moment thought for them.
- HOW SOON will it impact me? How soon will you see results?
NOTE: Again, they may give a very realistic answer in order to build more trust with you – don’t fall or this. Whatever answer they give, take it at face-value and decide if this is something you want to proceed with.
- CAN YOU access ALL the content?
NOTE: You may like working at your own pace. Sure, you may not work fast… you may not need to jump to the end – but once you pay your money, you should have full access to all the materials you have paid for. This obviously excludes content such as live webinars etc. There should not be room for surprises, because it should all be honest and open – like the life coach’s values.
The scammers I dealt with loved doing phone calls and Skype calls, which meant I had all the answers I needed. Wow! Did I feel reassured! They were such good people and they genuinely cared for me and my wellbeing – they had all the time in the world for me! They were going to help me every step on the way. Don’t get me wrong, they were happy to write to me on Facebook as well – but looking back, this interaction was just to organise the best time for them to call or tell me how wonderful my “energy” was.
- GET IT IN WRITING
It’s OK to ask your questions over the phone, particularly when you’re dealing directly with the life coach who is “very busy” and selling the program. However, they should be able to back up all their sales-speak with WRITTEN content. Before you sign, pay or commit to ANYTHING – you need it in writing.
Ask the person to email you through the proposal or offer, or more details including the information specifically included in each module of their program. Also, get them to email over how much it will cost in total. Are there any contracts or hidden costs (such as tax) that need to be considered? Get it all in writing so you can properly review it before you make your final decision.
Where someone is honest they won’t mind providing this to you BEFORE you sign on the dotted line. You may even finish the call with the person and say “Thank you for all that information, I’ll follow up with an email and would just like you to respond in writing”. Where they have made “promises” or told GREAT stories that seem insane (ie. attending a coaching workshop that cost them $135k – yet never mentioned where that was held or what it was called) – this is the time to ask these questions IN WRITING.
You also want to receive their response in writing. No response in writing, no going ahead – simple as that!
If they call you back to “talk through” your responses, this is the point where you respond “Actually, I’m just heading out the door, if you could get that to me in writing but the end of the day I’ll be able to make my decision faster for you and it will give me a point of reference if I need it at any time” you will be in a much better position. Also tell them you would prefer a point of reference in case you need to refer to it later on for any reason. You are entitled to this! If the person refuses, it’s NOT REAL. Don’t waste any further time or energy here.
DO NOT let the person try to tell you that all the information you need is in the welcome email or in the welcome pack. What happens if you pay your money and there IS no welcome email and NO welcome pack?? The issue is that if it’s not in writing you can NEVER dispute it by law. You can’t make any complaints with Fair Trading etc. This is why these people try to avoid putting it in writing. Including on websites and Twitter etc. They will refuse to “sell” anywhere where it can be permanently seen that they are selling a specific program.
- ASK HOW THEY TAKE PAYMENT
Do they take payment by card over the phone? HANG UP! DO NOT give out your card details, as trustworthy as they appear. DO NOT pay in cash at their office. Try to make your payment through a TRUSTED third party source such as PayPal. This means if you have a dispute for WHATEVER reason, and you decide you want a refund, and the scum bag won’t have a bar of it – you have the additional option of going through your third party and lodging a complaint. Paying by card is also preferable as it will provide a paper-trail of what has occurred and how quickly you responded with a request for refund. Generally our laws are pretty reasonable, but this is also why you need to call the bank IMMEDIATELY if you feel you have been scammed.
- SPEAK ABOUT IT
If you have mutual friends with someone in a program, put a call out. Speak about it loudly – write a post on your Facebook, you never know who on there may know something or someone about the program. People may be able to tell you another solution or another way to do it – they may say it’s great or whether they think you should go in that direction or not. Get as much input as you can. While you may feel silly because of the program name, you will feel sillier if you get scammed out of your money: TRUST ME! Talk about it as loudly and publicly as you can.
- RESEARCH THE COMPANY
Do as much research on the company as you can. Your first step should be looking at their website, but also look to see if you can see any complaints anywhere. Any reviews? You should also look to see if the company is legitimate – is it registered? Spend at least 72 hours following the sales call ensuring everything is legitimate and thinking about whether or not this really is for you. It does NOT need to be a well-known company or brand but it does need to be legal and legitimate!
- MAKE THE FINAL CALL
Once you’ve decided you’ve followed all these steps and it’s still definitely something you think will benefit you, by all means proceed with payment and sign up. And enjoy it! Because not all coaching courses are scams and they can be exceedingly beneficial, particularly where the person hosting has legitimate experience in this area or field. Do not surrender to high-pressure sales, allow yourself time to really consider if it is right for you before you hand over your money.
PART 2: WHAT TO DO IF YOU GET SCAMMED
OK so you got scammed … welcome to the club. It sucks! You’re probably feeling panicked and really down and out. Or “feeling the pinch” was the expression the scum bag had used with me about handing over several thousand dollars. Try not to panic yet – you’ll need your energy for the fight! Let’s get past the fact that we want to go through that phone and our computer and tear them a new one and start taking action. First be really clear what you want: I wanted a full refund and I put a time-frame for when I’d call off the quest to get it … you can’t obsess forever, it will hold you back.
- CALL YOUR BANK
IMMEDIATELY you find out you have been scammed first call the bank! Hopefully it’s only 24 – 72 hours after payment has been received.
If you gave out your card details over the phone and it’s an ongoing payment (sheepishly raises hand), call your bank immediately and cancel your card. They can reissue a new one within the week and you’ll just need to get by inconvenienced until then if you only have one card and one bank. Think of it as a strict budgeting exercise! You may wish to cancel your card even if this wasn’t the case, for the simple fact that you have been scammed and you have identified that.
Also ask to be put through to someone in the fraud department so you can ask them what the procedure is if you would like to make a claim. Raise the banker’s attention to the specific amount that was taken and the time-frame. Be really honest about your story and how it happened to you. Tell them you would like time to negotiate with the terrorists and if there is no luck, you will contact them again within 24 hours to lodge an investigation.
NOTE: This does not necessarily guarantee you a refund, but it’s worth a try!
- WRITE TO THE SCAMMERS
As soon as you get off the phone to the bank make the scammers think you’ve innocently decided not to go ahead with the program for whatever reason – make sure you’re being reasonable ie. It wasn’t the product they sold to you (hopefully you have what they proposed to sell in writing) and there’s no way they can successfully fix it. DO NOT LET ON THAT YOU KNOW IT’S A SCAM!
This letter should copy a format or template created by the Department of Fair Trading, Consumer Affairs or other governing body so the scammers know you are proceeding with action and serious about it.
In your letter include your bank details so they have the opportunity to refund you and, as part of the template, you will tell them that you will give them seven to ten days to give you a refund. This is a reasonable amount of time for them to deliver. This does NOT mean you get to kick back for seven to ten days, it means you have seven to ten days and a lot of hard work ahead of you if you want to ever see your money again!
Hopefully you have the original program information in writing. If so, at this point you have more options for obtaining a refund and can proceed legally. Don’t give away all your game plan, just stick to one story and one script about the issue (for example, the program I was sold wasn’t what they had sold to me – which is where my complaint started. In further investigation I discovered the coaching practise was also fraudulent: it literally didn’t exist – I never mentioned this to the scammers, I just stuck to the original issue which was that they didn’t provide what they promised). By keeping some in reserve it gives you a back-up plan and prevents them from finding another way to try to fix something that isn’t going to work for you.
Stay calm and play dumb on these little things, because the scammer will think you’re dumb as they already scammed you and they think they got what they wanted. Remember, to them, you’re just a dummy who handed over your money. It’s ok … I did it too. Now is when we start to get smarter about it!
- NEGOTIATE WITH THE SCAMMERS
Yes, I said what you have dreaded. You know in the movie ‘Taken’, when Liam Neeson says “They’re going to take you…” and you just feel the panic? I know – it feels like that. Stay calm. The fact is: they have your money – you can’t lose any more than you already have, worst case scenario.
It’s now in their hands.
And they’re terrorists! They literally are.
But if you want any chance at getting your money back – try to negotiate with them: ON THE PHONE. Find ways to pick holes in their product and service delivery and express your concerns and desire for a refund. DO NOT LET ON THAT YOU KNOW IT’S A SCAM.
It’s so tempting to scream at them and warn others against them – do everything you can to avoid this while you’re trying to negotiate with them. Talk about it loudly once it’s resolved but first give the scammers a fair chance to resolve it. Where you are not getting anywhere, explain politely “It appears that we cannot reach an agreement here, so I will have no choice but to take this further” … my scammer screamed and hung up on me at this point. This gave me more power because it showed they weren’t as experienced as they had first appeared and they were SCARED.
Meanwhile, BE SMART this time. Some terrorists don’t give up very easily. My scammer’s initial response was to scam me for more money. I received (this time in writing – by Facebook message and email) an inconsistent message that I needed to pay $5,000 to opt out of the program. Pffft, based on zero contract signed – and this is the first time I receive this information? Uh … no! In the Facebook message I was told I would need to pay for the total value of $5,000 by the prime scammer, and in an email his associate told me I needed to pay an ADDITIONAL payment of $5,000 … as with any business, consistency is key – this really stood out to me. Say what? Point is: you don’t owe them a cent! And I knew I didn’t because I literally hadn’t received a thing. So again, stay calm.
If they agree to refund your money – in part or in full – well done and good negotiating. If you are happy, you can stop here. If you are not happy, be clear that you will be proceeding with further action. DO NOT TELL THEM WHAT THE ACTION IS OR WHO YOU WILL BE DEALING WITH.
If they don’t refund you as requested, move to the next steps…
- CONTACT THE BANK AGAIN
The moment you get off the phone from the terrorists, immediately contact your bank again and ask them to lodge an official complaint with the fraud department with the hopes of retrieving the full amount they took. This is the only way to go if you don’t have any promises in writing and it will disturb the funds and alert the scammers you’re up to something, so this is your step if you know for sure that your scammers are unwilling to negotiate with you. If they can retrieve all or some of your money – that’s a bonus – at this point consider the money gone.
- SEEK LEGAL ADVICE
If the scammers won’t come around tell them that you will be forced to take further action and seek advice on your specific situation.
Note: I am NOT a lawyer, I’m just someone who experienced this first hand.
First start with free legal advice from legal aid. Any advice to help you put together a case for a tribunal will be helpful – THESE PEOPLE NEED HARD EVIDENCE, THIS IS WHY YOU NEED IT IN WRITING.
Get as much legal information you can about all points of your argument. Get referrals to other solicitors (local ones to you), find out where you can get more information about your specific case (paid and unpaid). Again, ask all the questions you need to and take notes – at this point you want a fair and reasonable outcome (which may still be a full refund, you don’t need to say at this point).
If you are told there is no case for whatever reason (some scammers are water-tight in their methods – which is even more frustrating), don’t give up just yet: hang in there! Do not let anyone give you the final ruling at this point.
If you have been told you can’t proceed legally or if you don’t have the funds to proceed legally, your bank is really your best option. My issue was I had already spent $2,000 on nothing … why would I pour more money into it if I still may never see that $2,000 again? There were many times I wanted to give up: DO NOT GIVE UP! You can communicate with the bank as often as you like to get updates, my bank was particularly amazing!
- CONTACT ASIC AND THE ATO
If you have noticed any fake information on an invoice, don’t hesitate to contact ASIC and the ATO to raise the alarm of possible fraud. You can do this by calling, filling in online forms or for the best results, go in to their office.
Have a copy of the invoice and any other information handy. If at any point you feel guilty about bringing down their operation for any reason – I did, I can be empathetic to a fault at times – consider the fact you’re doing a public service and stopping other people from being scammed. Provide all the information you can and tell them you’re happy to assist further if you can. Be honest!
Take screenshots as well. My scammers were doing some really interesting things with their ABN number after I told them I wanted a refund. They first added the company name, then they took it away … it was all on record, but I kept a close eye on it and every time it changed, I took a new screenshot to show the ATO exactly what was happening.
Note: If someone has nothing to hide, they generally won’t have a need to update their ABN information.
- DO SOMETHING FOR YOU
OK you feel really bad, you’re probably bankrupt and it feels as though the scammers got away with everything and there is absolutely NOTHING you can do about it. My best advice is to do something nice for yourself that will distract you from what’s happened – self care is particularly important NOW.
Also remember to treat yourself as a friend and with compassion: you made a mistake, you have learned from it, now go and continue being good to the world – shine your light and let karma catch up with the scam artists. You DO NOT want to associate with these scam artists or be associated with their business.
If you’re successful and get your refund, you could contact news and real-news/lifestyle programs. Unless you REALLY know what you’re doing, I would recommend avoiding any promotion of this issue or incident on social media or otherwise.
If you don’t get a refund – I’m sorry they got you: they are absolute scum bags!
Getting scammed is full on traumatic – it really is. Don’t let it make you bitter or hold you back. Use your experience to inspire you and to really bring fourth your values, as you move forward and be more wary of that company and the people in it going forward. Make a note to yourself not to associate with that company ever again and you could list the people involved if you need a reminder down the line … like a black list of who not to deal with when you seek that sort of support, in case they come up again. And the only thing left to do is just to continue to concentrate on being your best positive self!