Coaching Scams and Spiritual Grifters: All About Lawsuits against Life Coaches and Business Coaches
It's time to tell the truth about scams in life coaching and business coaching.
You might be here because you are a life coach who has overpaid for a program, workshop or retreat that overpromised and underdelivered. Or worse.
Sadly, some in the coaching industry, particularly in high-ticket business coaching, engage in predatory and unlawful tactics to get you to buy, and stick around — and pressure you to engage in the same tactics yourself.
You might be wondering if what happened to you is against the law, and if you are entitled to a refund.
Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself, from a consumer protection lawyer who is also a life coach with two certifications.
First, what's good about life coaching?
A lot. Coaching has been around as long as there have been people helping other people reach their goals and sort out their personal issues, but it has only been in the age of the internet that life coaching has exploded as its own field.
Over the 20th Century, some smart folks realized that psychotherapy and drugs are not the solutions to every problem, and there are people of “normal” psychology who still need support. Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, and coaching was born.
Coaching has a lot of overlap with the personal development and self-improvement industry that has been around a lot longer.
A lot of it came from the New Thought movement of the early 20th century and the American Transcendentalist movement that incorporated some Eastern belief systems. And you can follow those threads further back in human history.
Much coaching, as you probably already know, is derived from a particular school of thought in psychology called cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT for short.
Coaching generally focuses on the practical application of CBT with a dash of “woo” — the power of intention and other similar philosophical or spiritual approaches to better living — to help people without an acute mental illness improve their lives.
The basic message of empowering you to create your own reality is fantastic, and so are a lot of the methods.
And, it is true that a skilled, ethical life coach can help a person create desired results in their lives faster than that person could do on their own.
There are life coaches on the planet who have far greater skill to deal with trauma than some therapists. It is substantive training and experience, and not a title, that makes someone an effective human helper.
I have changed my life for the better and created wonderful things by using coaching principles, getting coached, and yes, certifying as a coach and coaching others.
It was a couple of 1:1 coaches who helped me resolve some personal and family trauma that had resisted other approaches.
So why am I publishing an article about grift, scams, egos and ripoffs? Because unfortunately, life coaching is not specifically regulated, and so there’s no clear line for the consumer to easily discern which coaches are professional service providers and which coaches are primarily internet marketers with inflated promises.
Just because the life coaching industry is "unregulated" doesn't mean it is beyond reproach.
For better and for worse, life coaching has come of age at the same time as social media marketing.
Anyone can call themselves a “coach” — that’s not a term of art. You don’t have to have any particular training or background. There is no regulation. There are no standards. There is no test.
Social media algorithms have enabled some people who are highly skilled at preying on peoples’ “pain points” — fear, uncertainty and doubt — to make staggering amounts of money in exchange for relatively little substance. Such people are in it for the money first, and the actual helping of the person a distant second. And sadly, some of them don’t realize they’ve lost their way.
This is how really effective, but fear-based marketing works: It speaks to those pain points enough to get the clients to show up, believing that it must be a great solution because they paid so much. This is the placebo effect and the sunk cost fallacy. The person calling themselves a coach doesn’t always have an effective solution for the client’s problem, however.
What’s even more common than just an outright scam is something way more slippery: a coach who started out small, with good intentions, but who lost her way and let the money go to her head.
Here’s a common pattern. The coach has a few “stars” and early adopters who have really succeeded in the coach’s early programs, and those are true success stories. The tales are not bullsh*t. It’s not Paul Bunyan. They’re real people who got in at the right time and have done well. Good on them!
But like a gold rush, only the first few who showed up found gold, and then follows the “rush” of people who aren’t getting anywhere near what they are investing in terms of money and time.
And the bigger someone gets, often the more they have to broaden or water down their core message in order to reach a broader audience. (This has been skillfully pointed out by Rachael Kay Albers, the “marketing muckraker.”)
That results in a negative cycle where the more famous a coach becomes, and the more they are compensated, the less value people are actually getting.
The coach might not actually have the state of mind necessary for a rightfully disappointed customer to state a claim for fraud. Common law fraud requires a fraudulent intent.
Thankfully for the aggrieved consumer, you don’t need to prove a fraudulent intent to have grounds for a refund or other relief. There are other avenues described later in this page.
So what about the other “bad apples?” Have they simply consumed way too much of their own kool-aid? How is it that they think they are so right, and the disappointed customer so wrong?
How do they get away with charging so much, give you so little, and then claim all the results are on you?
It comes down to the errors in those coaches’ thinking — and their questionable ethics.
the business coaching industry is rife with astronomical fees stemming from logic errors and ethical iffiness.
Before I get into the vast majority of high-ticket programs that are overpriced at best, first, there are certain scenarios where it is completely justified to charge, or pay, a “large” fee for a coaching program:
First Scenario: There is significant substantive training, support, feedback and hands-on practice time designed to take your skill from one level to another significant level at the end, and you intend to use what you learn in your work either as a coach or in some other profession where coaching is an important part of your job. The program is marketed to you as a skill-building program without promises about income levels. You pay a lot but it’s worth a lot.
Second Scenario: You are wealthy already. You are at the income level where $10k, $20k or more is not that big of a deal. It’s not nothing, but you are not going to sacrifice your lifestyle or put your business at risk when you invest in the coach. You and your business are already at that price point where this makes sense for you. (Attention: most coaches are NOT there and many will not get there. And this does not make them less of coaches.)
And the coach who is charging this? Totally fine if this coach is very advanced, experienced, reputable, and in high demand. Additionally, this is necessarily going to be one of two kind of folks: (1) someone with at least several years’ experience coaching, or (2) someone with many years of professional experience mentoring and coaching as part of their duties in a substantive and relevant field that gives their coaching depth.
Now for the discussion of the logic errors, ethical iffiness and questionable tactics used to justify and sell high-ticket programs that overpromise and underdeliver. We’re gonna talk about life coaching scams.
Logic error #1: high-ticket coaching programs and masterminds are the best way to "serve" women
High-ticket pricing has become widespread in the coaching industry. And boy is it enticing. Your social media feed is probably full of coaches flouting a luxury lifestyle in the name of “empowering women” while wrapped in the trappings of patriarchal “one percenter” type capitalism, completely devoid of the irony of it.
I love seeing women become rich and live fully, and it’s fun to buy nice things as your standard of living increases.
But the way some of these women are getting there is a perversion of the very feminist American dream they espouse. Here’s what I mean by this.
Some of these coaches lean heavily on the “feminist” justification for charging fees that are higher than similar services in other industries. Why is coaching so special? (It’s not. Great coaching is no more special than great therapy, great lawyering, great doctoring or great whatever-ing.)
But, the “girl bosses” of the world claim that it is “feminine leadership” or “empowering” or “alpha femme” to unilaterally decide the “value” of what you are offering and then have people just give it to you because of an inherent right to prosper.
They claim they are empowering you instead of a corporation or industry deciding for you how much money you make.
But with this is the implication or explicit message that if you are uncomfortable paying or asking for a fee that most people outside the coaching world would find excessive, it’s not your conscience, it’s some “block” or psychological problem. They usually suggest next that you need to get yourself psychologically and emotionally “aligned” with the high fee you’re demanding, and “step fully into your power” in order to do so.
While there is some truth to this — often women do not ask for as much money as they deserve, and unnecessarily deprive themselves of things that they can afford to do, this is used to manipulate people into ignoring their conscience. No woman wants to be less of a feminist, or less “ready,” or have “blocks,” right?
This leads the women who can’t stomach asking for astronomical fees to blame themselves, and often pay for even more programs.
Guess who this serves? The people at the top who got into the game early.
Gatekeep, Gaslight, Girlboss...and Grift.
The client, not the coach, should come first. Other professions that have "clients" require a fiduciary relationship.
This brings us to another thing that is wrong with having no brakes at all on fees.
In professions where there are limits on what the practitioners can charge, such as the law — where we have an ethics rule that a fee must be “reasonable” — then the customer is primary, not just the wishes of the seller.
This fosters a more honest marketplace with happier clients, and in the end, happier sellers of services because the happy customers come back.
Now, some people might think it’s ridiculous that I use lawyers, of all people, as the standard-bearer for “reasonable” fees. But those people probably have no experience with lawyers or coaches.
Without some external check, even the vague “reasonableness” standard, the fees just get higher and higher, and the next level of women under the ones at the top have to turn around and charge that to their own clients. (I am still unsure what services, if any, are actually being provided by anyone in many of these spaces.)
In other words, your success in the program is contingent on doing exactly what the person above you is doing, which sounds an awful lot like a pyramid scheme.
And the crazy part of it is: some coaches who use this approach are teaching that making someone have to rise to the occasion for such fees is actually for the client’s own good. The terminology they use is that this is “in service of” their clients. It’s essentially copping that they’re teaching people to care more about themselves than their customer, which is the opposite of a professional and a fiduciary.
At other times, it’s just the same people trading large sums back and forth. That happens when attorneys share fees on multiple cases, however, there are ethical speed bumps in place to make sure this doesn’t happen in a closed universe without recourse to the person who ultimately matters: the client.
Hey, but what's so bad about high-ticket coaching programs that aren't pyramid schemes? Don't you believe in abundance?
You might be convinced that it’s only the programs that are like pyramid schemes that are bad, and that in the hands of the right people, you can be a consumer and seller of high-ticket coaching programs between consenting adults, and “the rising tide lifts all ships,” etc.
The proponents of high-ticket coaching for average middle-class folk claim that it promotes lifting people out of middle-class obscurity and “changes their family tree.”
There’s still a problem. These are justifications employed specifically to sell to people who are not appropriate for a high-ticket price point into the system.
Once there, the only way they can recoup their investment is to rapidly scale either in cost per unit sold or number of units sold. And the actual resources involved to accomplish this are hefty. That part is downplayed or hidden until the program has your credit card number. Let’s look at the tangible and intangible resources.
(1) Changed Facebook ad economics:
Facebook ads used to be a cost-effective strategy for acquiring leads, and some people got rich that way, but that’s largely because they were early adopters. It’s a very expensive strategy for people entering the market in the 2020s and using that strategy for the first time. You can have a “working” funnel and have really small margins or not even break even.
Pushers of high-ticket programs don’t tell you that on the sales call. They point to their success stories and attribute the success to following the formula and working hard.
The people who bought real estate in 2008 and 2009 worked hard too, but they had amazing timing.
Facebook ads are not a “magic ATM” like they used to be, unless you are already established, or are Mr. Zuck himself.
The answer usually given to people who are breaking even or losing money is to invest even more, which causes them to blame themselves when it still doesn’t work.
(2) The ethical, moral, and practical problems with high-ticket programs:
The bulk of many high-ticket programs is simply a demonstration of how to make money by doing the same thing to others that your program is doing to you. You are a participant in a laboratory of how to hype people into investing longer/more with them. If you can swallow that, you could then turn around and use the tactics on your own people.
A lot of time in these programs is spent coaching participants to justify and rationalize why these tactics are “good” and not out of integrity. Why does it take up so much airtime in these programs?
It’s not because you must overcome ingrained toxic scarcity beliefs. If you are underearning as a life coach or as anything else, it’s childish to place all the blame on your “scarcity consciousness” or some other form of “toxicity” that then you need to go on a quest to “purify.” If you feel “blocked” or uncomfortable selling high-ticket programs, it is probably because your potential clients are not appropriate candidates to spend that kind of money, and if you have a conscience, it’s gonna feel bad to sell that way.
So these programs spend a ton of time on the brainwashing — er, mindset coaching — because it actually takes a lot of energy to talk an ethical person into doing something unethical, which is sell someone something that they either don’t need, or engage in serious price gouging to do it.
Cult-like tactics are often used by unscrupulous group business coaching programs
How do you know if you’re surrounded by well-meaning coaches trying to cure you of your horrible scarcity mindset, or if they’re using cult-like tactics on you? While a full discussion of cult-like tactics is beyond the scope of my work and this website, a strong clue is feeling emotionally whipsawed during coaching calls and group events.
If you feel anxious when you hear the leaders/coaches talking about how wrong the people are who don’t take their advice, or stop taking their advice; if they break you down until you’re crying and then “love bomb” you and tell you how wonderful you are and how rich you’re going to be if you just keep going with the formula…these are cult-like tactics.
The outlier success stories are vividly on display while the crowd is whipped into a pep-rally type frenzy so that they are weakened into accepting the standard answer given to the unprofitable coach: keep doing the same things that are keeping you from being profitable (i.e., spending money on the mastermind, pricing your services out of reach of most of the people who most need your help, and pouring more money into the ads even if the algorithm boat has already sailed).
This causes coaches to blame themselves even more when it still doesn’t work. It drives a deeper wedge of distrust in oneself.
At the end of the day, if justifying and rationalizing a strategy requires constant “mindset” work, group events that whip people into hyped emotions, and other cult-like, brainwash tactics, maybe that’s a clue that the high-ticket aspect is absurd at best, like the infamous Dutch Tulip Bubble of the 1600s.
The longer this goes on unchecked and unregulated, the more you have the cliche of “coaches coaching coaches, who coach coaches.” Eventually, people in many other professions like doctor, lawyer, banker, teacher, etc. can no longer afford the services (unless it is a “loss leader” type program to get people into coaching certifications or other higher-ticket experiences). Good coaching is then not accessible to the people who need it. It’s all behind an ever-climbing astronomical paywall.
And many of these smart women are then enticed away from perfectly good careers, trying to follow the yellow brick road of coaching, only to find there’s no wizard behind the curtain.
If the coaching industry had some ethical standards or regulation for its fees, it might actually care about its clients again and help them use those coaching tools to create better experiences within the career they already have.
Right now, it’s just up to the coach. And that’s a problem. It makes the industry more prone to having too many life coaching scams that confuse consumers and tarnish the reputation of the industry as a whole.
Logic error #2: the coach gets to unilaterally decide the value
The coaches who teach this are ignoring basic economics.
I’m just old enough to remember when college and even law school were relatively inexpensive.
The cost of higher education skyrocketed exponentially over the last couple of decades, but the degrees aren’t worth any more, and graduates aren’t commanding salaries that effectively service their student loan debt.
Some big-name coaches just completely gloss over this economic reality. They tell you a business program is worth more than college, because you can learn how to “charge whatever you want.” But this does not work for every single person due to the quality of their coaching, the price point of their likely pool of customers, or their conscience.
You might have also heard to “charge what you are worth,” which contains a disgusting presupposition that your worth is somehow tied to the money you are asking people to give you.
Some fine thinkers, such as Tad Hargrave of Marketing for Hippies, have dismantled this.
I will add that for someone with a conscience, that can be really difficult when you know the person can’t afford it, or you don’t have enough experience yet to command such a fee or be the right coach for the people who are the appropriate candidates to pay that kind of fee.
The long-term worst effect on women is that that somehow you still have more “work to do on yourself” to “step fully into your power;” see #1, supra.
Equating how much you pay for a program or how much you are charging for your own program with how evolved of a feminist you are, in so many words, is deeply offensive and manipulative.
You might also hear that you should “believe harder,” and take “massive action” — including going into significant debt for programs. For most people, this necessitates that you need to charge more than you’re comfortable asking for in order to pay off your tab at the end of the night, so to speak. It becomes a ridiculous cycle of robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Logic error #3: if the coach is rich that means therefore they created that much value for others
Such big-name coaches who got their riches by teaching the above tactics are under the delusion that “because I am making X amount of dollars, I therefore produced X amount of value.”
On one level, this is accurate: people valued it enough to buy it; the coach named a price and was able to get the market to say “amen.”
But what is really the value?
A fast food hamburger chain might accurately claim that they have “served billions.” But when you factor in the public health costs of billions of nutritionally bankrupt calories, you have to question that value. When you look at the health costs to that individual, and yes, we could get an economist to crunch numbers for this — it could even be a net loss.
So when a coach claims that she is what is “possible” — that you can get rich using her methods, she is correct, but leaving out some material facts.
It’s like telling a little league baseball team, “you can grow up to be an all-star if you just take batting practice exactly as I say, and do infield drills with my specific proprietary method.”
That “specific proprietary method,” by the way, is nothing more than a well-packaged derivative of other coaches’ tried-and-true methods. Like baseball, business has changed a lot, but some things never change. There is nothing new under the sun, and all content is derivative of something.
Some in the industry anticipate this objection, and justify the repackaging of well-worn material by stating that the clients are paying for access to the coach, because something is so special about the coach’s intangible attributes that it is worth whatever that coach wants to charge.
I agree that value is largely emotional and irrational — luxury brands are priced the way they are priced for very shrewd reasons. And maybe those intangible attributes might have been a legitimate asset and benefit years ago.
But a lot of the justifications used by people selling high-ticket programs (on how to turn around and sell your own high-ticket programs) smack of the tactics used by some celebrity preachers who have gone down in the flames of financial skulduggery and other scandals: Jim Bakker, the televangelist from the 70s and 80s, Hillsong Church, and Mars Hill Church, among others. There’s plenty of good journalism about fleecing the flock that you can read online or watch on your favorite streaming service.
Often, there is narcissistic manipulation designed to get you to think it is going to benefit you in some magical way if you keep giving those folks your time and money. There’s gaslighting you into thinking you’re the oddball who isn’t getting results or isn’t “fully in her power.” You might even pay for additional programs in the same place in hope that “this time you’ll finally ‘get it.'” You are blaming yourself for your lack of results.
While it’s true that your attitude and your self-belief go a very long way to create your success, your doubts are often the voice of your discernment screaming at you to put away your credit card.
If you have doubts about whether some tactic that costs tens of thousands of dollars to learn is going to work for you, it’s not that you are “in scarcity” or in a “low vibration.”
And even the fact that the person trying to convince you to buy is richer than you are does not mean they are “higher vibration” — or even know something you don’t.
They only want you to think that so you will part with your money. Your doubt is your wisdom telling you that you don’t need that program or coach.
To live up to a high-ticket price, the coach better be really good, and really care about “the kids on the team,” or their clients, and nurture every single one of them if they’re charging a lot of money. They should add benefits and be generous; not take benefits and perks away while raising the price. Any training should prepare you for working for yourself instead of just training you to work for the company store.
Unfortunately, not every coach gives a high level of service in exchange for a luxury price point.
Spiritual girl boss? Love and light boss lady?
Feminine leadership? Priestess of prosperity and pleasure?
Some programs don't even qualify as real coaching.
An influencer is not a "coach" just because they're famous.
Such people are entertainers, not coaches.
And some are dangerous.
Unfortunately, some of the highest-ticket programs currently available are so far from anything resembling actual coaching that it is deceptive to call it that.
Such programs are really just overpriced quasi-spiritual entertainment provided by influencers with no coaching credentials, hawking wholly derivative or outright ripped off content — with an astronomical admission ticket.
They’re charging $10,000 or $50,000 or $100,000 for what you can get from a handful of ten-dollar self-help books. (And the spiritual aspects? You can get that for free. Light a candle and get your own divine download.)
Girl bosses, spiritual boss ladies, feminine leadership teachers: if someone like this is pitching a high-ticket “coaching” program laced with sexy pictures of themselves and their consumer goods — rose petal bath water, boudoir photo shoots, expensive handbags, champagne — and their messaging sort of jumbles stuff about getting men to fall all over you while making lots of money — rest assured, this is not coaching. It’s just entertainment, and guess who is laughing all the way to the bank?
Logic error #4: there are many factors at play that create outlier results like those touted by marketers
In addition to the issues with early adopters vs. late adopters covered above, there are even more circumstances outside one’s control that business coaches like to gloss over.
“If I can do it, you can do it too:” When the “it” is rich and famous, here’s why this statement omits material facts.
Fact: if everyone is rich and famous, nobody is rich or famous.
Fact: not everyone gets to be the best. It’s logically impossible.
Back to the sports analogy, not every kid who can play baseball is going pro, even if they have the very best coach, spend the most money on coaching, believe the hardest and take massive action.
Beyond the coach’s program, there are a whole lot of other factors at play that neither the coach nor the client can take full credit for. Not every kid becomes Ronald Acuña or Aaron Judge, and when we are getting into 7- and 8-figure coaches, we are talking about a statistically similar, rare level of success.
That does not mean that nobody else gets to play pro ball. There are 975 Major League Baseball players, and thousands more in the minor league system. It is just reality that not everybody is the star.
It would be more accurate to say, “any one of you could possibly be rich and famous, but not all of you. There are factors outside your control that we cannot predict.”
Law school is a lot more honest than what’s too common in the coaching industry. In orientation week, they say, “look to your left, look to your right — one of those people will NOT be graduating from law school.”
I still remember that moment. And they were right. They couldn’t predict with certainty who would succeed, so they extend the invitation to more people than they know will stay. That’s just how it is. I doubt it would have served anyone if they had bullsh!tted us and said, “all of you are just AMAZING, you are ALL going to be RICH LAWYERS (woo! fist bump) if you just do as we say.”
Business coaches would serve coaches much better if they would just say, “I will help you do your best with the factors within your control and mine. You will have a better shot because of me if you apply my advice and coaching in earnest.”
Trouble is, being an honest marketer is a longer-term business strategy. Unfortunately, there’s tremendous upside for leaving out the full truth for those who are willing to step into ethical gray areas or be downright dishonest.
here are some additional red flags when considering any coaching program or mastermind.
- Claims that you will “calibrate” to a “higher level” in someone’s “container” just by virtue of your giving them an amount of money that, relative to your circumstances, could put you in financial peril. (This is culty bullsh!t. A real coach makes the coaching about YOU and not some magic aura they supposedly have.)
- Marketing copy that emphasizes “codes,” “downloads” and “seeing what comes through” while being vague and non-specific about strategies.
- A bunch of hype and lots of reminders about how famous and rich so-and-so is, with fear- and scarcity-laden messages that you’ll miss the boat to riches if you don’t sign up today. (You’re an adult signing up for a high-level professional service, not a fan girl.)
- Pressure to engage in any sexual activity with other participants or workshop leaders, or pressure to ingest mood-altering substances. (Call 911 and get the hell out of there.)
- Confrontational or “radical truth telling” that crosses a line into verbal, emotional, psychological or physical abuse. (Heed your intuition. If you feel like something is off or wrong, it is. Leave, or call 911, no matter how much money you “invested” in this.)
- It resembles movies and TV shows like “The Hunger Games,” “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” “The Apprentice,” “The Bachelor,” “Real Housewives,” “Mean Girls,” “Grifters,” “The Road to Wellville,” “The Paper Chase,” “Girls gone Wild” or MTV’s “The Real World.”
- Every event is an upsell for something else where they’ll finally tell you the real guru secrets. You buy the entry-level program on claims that it is a complete program or solution, but turns out it wasn’t. (A coach with integrity is upfront about their pricing, and gives you tons of value no matter what you’ve paid. Yes, for those who are appropriate candidates, quality coaching can be a medium or large investment, like regular massages, or adult orthodontics. But you should never feel shamed or FOMO-ed into doing it, and different price points are appropriate for different people.)
- A coach who plays “big me, little you” head games, or around whom you feel small and broken from the moment you first get on a call with them. (A good coach knows how to hold space and is trauma-informed. A good coach does not coach without your consent. Feeling triggered is not proof somehow that you should work with that person. It is probably your inner voice of better judgment talking! Their unilateral claims to have the answers is just a high-pressure sales tactic.)
- A coach whose best answer to all your troubles is that you should quit the day job ASAP and “burn the boats” and go all in on your coaching business without a safety net, and just believe. (That is definitely NOT everyone’s answer. We need big-hearted leaders in every industry and we need to change those industries from within — and your coaching skills are valuable beyond just being the next big influencer or entrepreneur.)
- They are a for-profit business soliciting volunteer labor, dangling the opportunity to basically “kiss the ring” of the guru and be closer to her in exchange for free labor. (For-profit businesses are generally prohibited by law from using volunteer labor, minus some very narrow exceptions. Read for yourself at the Washington State L&I website and the U.S. Department of Labor website.)
- Need more validation of your experiences? Check out the July 26, 2023 Episode of the Love & Light Confessionals Podcast, “The Fall of the Coaching Industry” and the January 21, 2022 episode of the Love & Light Confessionals Podcast, “How the Grift is Grifted,” by Katya Weiss-Andersson.
If you feel like you were scammed by a coaching program, it's not just a thought.
And, It's not your fault.
It is really common for people who are victims of scams to blame themselves. “I should have seen this coming,” they say.
And, a lot of us who have done coach training do believe that we create our results, and that what we are thinking will manifest in our life or show up in it somehow.
On some level, part of you might have known, and you chose to override an icky feeling in your gut.
None of this means that the person or company who withheld material information from you to get you to sign up, or didn’t deliver commensurate with the large sum of money you paid, is not primarily responsible.
You can take radical responsibility in your own life and stand up for your rights. These ideas are not in conflict. In fact, standing up for yourself, asking for a refund, filing consumer complaints and even filing a lawsuit can be part of you taking radical responsibility.
The law is based on the “least sophisticated consumer” standard. This acknowledges that while you might be educated and sophisticated in how you function in your career or your life, you might not be wise to the tactics of people who are skilled marketers.
Consumer protection statutes replace the old standard of caveat emptor — buyer beware — with the “unfair or deceptive” standard. This applies to all business, even ones like life coaching that aren’t specifically regulated.
Now let’s talk about some of these laws. This isn’t legal advice; this is for informational purposes only.
here are a few of the laws that could protect you if believe you have been scammed by a coaching program.
Each state in the United States has some version of what’s called a “UDAP” — unfair or deceptive acts or practices statute.
In Washington State, we have the Consumer Protection Act, RCW 19.86 et seq.
Basically what these statutes do is protect consumers from unfair or deceptive acts or practices taken by businesses in the marketplace. Some states have the additional requirement that the offending activity be capable of repetition and against the public interest, in other words, not just a one-off, isolated incident.
Some states’ UDAP statutes have additional protections for the elderly, disabled, military and veterans.
If you want to look up what your state’s UDAP statute is, the National Consumer Law Center is is an organization that publishes material on this subject as well as a library of regularly-updated legal treatises on consumer law. You can read a report below:
Speaking only to Washington State’s UDAP statute, it includes the following remedies: you can seek an injunction (a court order to make someone stop doing something they shouldn’t do, or do something they should do), actual monetary damages that can be trebled up to $25,000, and your attorney’s fees paid by the other side if you win. There is no “pain and suffering” in Washington State’s UDAP statute. Questions about this or any other state’s statute? Contact a lawyer!
The Fair Credit Billing Act
Consumers who paid for goods or services using a credit card have rights under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act, and a process to dispute and have fraudulent charges reversed. Consumers may have claims against the merchant or credit card issuing bank under the Fair Credit Billing Act if the charges remain after the dispute. You might have heard of this referred to as a “chargeback” process.
Questions about credit card billing disputes? Talk to a consumer protection lawyer.
You can also complain about your experiences to the Attorney General in the state in which you live, or the state where the business is located. (The Better Business Bureau is not part of the government.)
You can also complain to the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC regulates “business opportunities,” the conduct of influencers, and other business activities: https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/
I've been a "volunteer" in a for-profit business and I'm just now finding out that violates labor laws. What do I do?
Report this immediately to the relevant states’ Labor & Industries and to the U.S. Department of Labor. Then consult with an attorney to get advice on your rights and protect your interests.
Here is a list of each state’s Labor department. Then look up where to submit a labor or wage complaint.
You can also look for a employment lawyer at NELA: https://exchange.nela.org/memberdirectory/findalawyer
What about the fine print in the contract, or the "no refunds" policy?
Just because a company says they don’t do refunds does not mean that you’re out of luck. It could be part of what is unfair or deceptive about their actions.
You might have remedies of your own under the contract, or basic contract law — such as the right to rescind (undo) the contract. It depends on the facts, so consult a lawyer.
Fine print in contracts sometimes contain an arbitration provision — a term where you already agreed to have any dispute heard outside of court. That may also limit your ability to bring claims as a class action with other people similarly situated as yourself. But this generally should not stop a person from seeking redress for their individual grievances. Consult with a consumer protection lawyer.
But what if I live in a different country from the person or business that scammed me? Can I still demand a refund?
There are consumer protection organizations outside the United States who should be made aware of your ordeal.
Also, a person who is an “alien” — terrible term, I know — but someone who does not live in the United States — may still have standing to bring a case against a United States citizen person or corporation and have that case heard in federal court.
Someone who is not a U.S. citizen might in certain circumstances be subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.
Consult with a consumer protection lawyer in your own jurisdiction and also in the jurisdiction where the business that wronged you is located. Dispute the charge with your credit card. Be persistent in seeking answers and help.
Hiring a lawyer to help you get a refund -- or even filing a lawsuit to protect yourself -- does not make you a "litigious" person.
Cliches like “there are too many lawsuits,” “hot coffee,” “runaway juries,” “litigious society,” “victim mindset,” etc. are not particularly empowering for you if you’re standing around scrambling to get your money back from someone who scammed you, oversold you or engaged in price gouging. (By the way, much of this rhetoric originated with the insurance industry, which spends millions of dollars on advertising and lobbying to poison the public’s perception of people who have legitimately been harmed.)
And “don’t be a victim” is kind of hard to stomach if you’re not sure how to extricate yourself from someone who is unlawfully having you doing free labor for them.
We’ve all heard of stupid lawsuits. But there’s absolutely nothing stupid about you asserting your rights. If you want to be empowered and change your family tree, one way to start is by standing up to people who take advantage of people.
How do I find a consumer protection lawyer?
NACA lawyers are dedicated to helping consumers.
I am a member of NACA, but in posting this link, I am not endorsing any other NACA-member lawyer.
I am an attorney licensed in Washington State and Alaska. My practice is devoted to consumer protection.
You can contact me on my law practice website and discuss your situation confidentially. There is no charge for the consultation. Feel free to email me directly at s a r a e l l e n [at] s a r a e l l e n h u t c h i s o n . c o m (take care with that spelling).
Please understand that I am not your attorney without a signed fee agreement.
I take many cases on contingency where there’s a statute that helps the consumer that could cover my fees. I cannot quote a fee without speaking to a potential client first.
I think maybe what's going on is criminal...what should I do?
I might have trauma from my experience getting scammed, ripped off or abused in a coaching program or business opportunity. What else can I do?
It’s very sad that the coaching industry, which should be here to help people, has become so enmeshed with influencers, grifters, network marketing, pyramid schemes, bro marketers, and other unfair and deceptive “dream merchants.”
Even if your economic losses aren’t significant, you might be experiencing anger, sadness, embarrassment, shame, and trauma from your experiences. And being in a truly safe space where you are validated, and not gaslit, is critical for healing and moving on.
There are therapists who focus on the needs of clients who are victims of financial crimes and fraud, or are on the journey of cult recovery. Those are some terms you might want to use in your search, e.g., “_____ therapist near me.” I am not a mental health professional, so talk to someone who is.