Silent No More: Online Business Coaching Scammers Beware

04/09/2015 03:53 pm ET | Updated Jun 08, 2015

(Photo credit: Alisa Simonson)

Have you ever felt an itch to leave your job and create a life by design? One in which you can freely travel to exotic locations, choose your own schedule, organize your day according to your desires, have more time with the family, have the ability to spend more time with the kids--and anything else that might apply to your situation--instead of being locked inside a cubicle working hours without end and fulfilling someone else's dream? In short, a dream life with financial abundance that allows you to be present and enjoy everything on your own terms?

It's an appealing life, for sure. And one that, more and more, people all over the internet are trying to peddle. Anyone involved in the Internet marketing world knows that there are plenty of amazing mentors to learn from: Melanie Duncan, Marie Forleo, James Wedmore, Brandon Burchard, Chalene Johnson, Amy Porterfield, and Ramit Sethi, to name a few. There are also plenty of less famous and entirely legitimate people out there truly interested and engaged in changing the world, one client at a time, through quality service offers.

But then, as always, there are also the bad apples--the ones who ruin it for everyone else doing good work, giving the industry a bad reputation.

Unfortunately, these bad apples are out there making great fortunes at the cost of other people's sweat, blood, tears, and dreams. They sell high-priced programs (in the $10,000's to $100,000's), appealing to emotional triggers through brilliant marketing strategies and high-pressure tactics enticing people to cash out 401K's, drain savings accounts, etc. These unethical apples manage to get social proof and use the success of a handful, as well as monetary success, to establish their credibility.

These are not the types of scammers who take people's money and run, though. Instead, they appear legitimate and actually have a service to deliver. Only this service is extremely subpar, especially in proportion to what was advertised and the price tag of the "investment." They also create a suite of upsell programs--which are presented as necessary to learn what should have been taught in the original purchase. Through strategic and emotion-driven marketing, people are then convinced their original investment will be for naught if they do not invest further. Thus, these scammers successfully lead even unhappy clients to pull out their credit cards again. And again. It's a sophisticated brainwashing of sorts.

I was caught in the web of one such scam (thankfully didn't go for the upsells!), purchasing a $10K transformational coaching program that promised to deliver a high-end experience in teaching me to become a great coach, to build my business the right way, and to gain a legitimate pathway to International Coach Federation (ICF) certification. Now, just so we are clear, I do not consider myself a gullible person, quite the contrary. I have worked in the higher education industry for well over a decade, and spent the last seven years building online curriculum for university programs across the US as well as teaching undergraduate courses in--oh, the irony--critical thinking. I performed my "due diligence" when signing up for this program, but recent events have shown me that even those precautionary steps weren't sufficient in protecting me against this scam--which has victimized hundreds of women worldwide and, in the process, made one transformational coach a multi-millionaire.

Now that I know the extent of the deceit, I'm taking action--staying quiet is no longer an option! Because, integrity matters a great deal to me, as I know it does to many, and I sincerely do not wish this upon anyone.

An elegant fraud is a difficult situation to come to terms with.

Still, as strange as this may sound, I wouldn't trade this experience for anything. The main reasons being: 1) I have learned a lot about what never to do in my own business--and must admit, the crooked have a way of teaching this far more powerfully than the honest sometimes; 2) I might have never crossed paths with dear friends who are now so important to me. Together, we are standing up for truth and integrity. Intimidation tactics, particularly appealing to defamation and disparagement contract clauses, often stop people from ever going public with these cases. But the thing is, truth and facts will always be just that--truth and facts--not defamation or disparagement.

In the end, I should give credit where it's due by saying this program has lived up to its promise in one way: I have transformed. In the past, I chose to stay silent in certain situations. Not now. Not anymore. It takes courage to take a stand against a charismatic, internet sensation with many followers under some kind of spell. It's a lonely place to stand at first when you're the equivalent of David going after Goliath. Well-meaning people try to dissuade you from doing something about it. Which is precisely the reason these scams get to continue. Because people feel blame and shame, and fear standing up to the scam that has been perpetrated on them, as if somehow they were responsible for being defrauded... THAT is not the TRANSFORMATION anyone signed up for. So I'm fiercely taking a stand for integrity, ethics, and justice. The world has enough people sitting on the sidelines and waiting for others to take action before they'll make a move. We need more people who take a stand. And I can promise you, there's nothing more liberating and empowering than that.

Note: Although I cannot disclose the name of this coach at this time, I decided to share this story because so many feel lost, betrayed, and paralyzed when confronted with the reality of being defrauded or deeply deceived. If you find yourself in a similar predicament, know that you are not alone and that, as you seek to find your path with integrity, you will come out stronger on the other side.