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Avoiding Scams and Shady Deals Targeting Coaches

Posted by Steve Mitten | April 12, 2017 | Comments (36)

One day, out of the blue, you get an email from someone who identifies herself as a mother. Apparently, she has been looking to hire a coach, and, after much research, has chosen you from your website.  She goes on to mention she is recently divorced from a successful businessman and wants you to coach her three young adult children to move forward after the breakup of the family. She asks you to forward an invoice for a full six months of coaching for all the children, and she will have the father send you a check.  Does this sound interesting?

Well, as you might have guessed, it’s a scam. If you want to talk to her, she turns out to be deaf and unable to talk on the phone. If you want to talk to the children, they are traveling right now.

If you do send her the invoice, you will receive a check back for the full amount plus, say $4,000. When you ask her about the overpayment she explains she asked her husband for more money in case the coaching needed to go longer. However, she has just found out she has a medical emergency, or her alimony has been delayed, and would you please forward her back a check for the extra $4,000? And of course, if you do that you will be out the $4K because the first check will eventually bounce.

This is the latest scam that specifically targets coaches. Why are scammers picking on coaches?  Coaching continues to grow quickly and is now over a billion dollar a year industry. Many coaches are in business for themselves for the first time and are not familiar with many traditional business practices. Many coaches are very interested in acquiring more clients.  Many coaches have websites or social media profiles that make them easy to contact. Finally, and I acknowledge the possibility of bias, a high percentage of coaches tend to be kind and considerate human beings. These are more than enough reasons for coaches to be targets for scams.

However, beyond the outright frauds, there are also a number of shady or questionable business practices that regularly impact coaches.  A partial list includes:

  • You get a call from “Google” saying they noticed your website is not doing well, and for a small monthly fee, they will help you show up on the first page of search results for your main keywords. (Google does not do this. The caller is from an unrelated company that will take your $200 a month, put $50 into setting up a poor performing Google Adwords ad campaign for you, and pocket the rest. By the way, paid ads do not work well for most coaches.)
  • You get an email from a publisher wanting you to contribute to a book that includes some celebrity authors.  This book is going to be big, possibly the next “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” All you need to do is chip in a paltry $5,000, or commit to buy a significant quantity of books. (There is little to no marketing for the book, so you get little to no business from it and end up with a garage full of unsold books—and no, your friends and relatives do not want them for holiday presents.)
  • You get an email or phone call saying you have been carefully selected to host your own radio show.  You have never heard of the company or network, but it does feature a show by a prominent person you might recognize.  All you need to do is cover the cost of producing the show, which turns out to be thousands of dollars. (You later learn it is an internet-based show that has no established audience and thus does not deliver the imagined business.)
  • You get an email from a coach you might know, or you stumble onto a social media ad or website, describing an expensive program for coaches with a multitude of incredibly enthusiastic, compelling testimonials.  (What is not disclosed is that should you join the program, as much as half the tuition cost goes back to the person making the enthusiastic testimonial. In fact, many of the past participants have made more money promoting the program than they ever did from applying the content they received in the training itself, and many feel no need to disclose the conflict of interest.)
  • You find a coach, a coach training or a marketing program you are interested in.  Unfortunately, because they are well-established, they are expensive and require you commit to six months and pay everything in advance. You get started, only to find the coach or program is simply not a good fit for you, but you have no recourse.  (No coach, program or approach is going to be a fit for everyone.  Look for opportunities where this is understood, and work with people who are sufficiently confident in their services that they offer a prorated refund policy or let you pay as you go.)
  • You are researching coach training and find a number of very well promoted programs at half the price of many others. Some even offer you a coaching certification after three days of training. Being new to the industry, you do not notice that the program is not an ICF ACTP (Approved Coach Training Program) or is otherwise rigorously accredited. Nor do you notice that the staff have little to no coach training themselves.  You pay your money and end up with an inferior set of skills or a certification no one values.
  • You are new to coaching and find that there are some groups that heavily promote a turnkey coaching franchise for a mere $30,000–$50,000.  You sign , only to find out you are overpaying for inferior training that is not accredited by the ICF and your “franchise” offers no actual territorial protection from other coaches.
  • You are bombarded by trainings, offerings, assessments, certifications and programs that infer you are not sufficiently trained or otherwise equipped to succeed in coaching. So, you sit on the sidelines, spending all your money on a series of advanced trainings, and never fully commit to actually begin coaching clients.  (I greatly encourage continuing education, and there are many wonderful programs and offerings out there that can enhance your ability to add value to clients and help you build more successful practices. Just know that the sooner you start coaching paying clients, the better. And as to advanced trainings, it is very wise to pace yourself and “grow” as you “go.”)

These are just a few of the many scenarios that coaches encounter every day.  So how do you navigate through it all and protect yourself?  Here are a few suggestions.

One of the benefits of the digital revolution is you can instantly access unprecedented amounts of information. If you are unsure of any offering, such as the “This is Google calling” scam, simply type into any search engine something like “phone calls from Google scam.”  In other words, Google a description of the program or situation with the word “scam” added to your search phrase.  This will give you quick access to any information that might exist on identified scams.

Secondly, there are many networks and forums where coaches congregate to ask questions and support each other.  The LinkedIn “International Coach Federation” main group has over 86,000 members. Many ICF Chapters have LinkedIn or Facebook groups. The coactivenetwork.com has over 27,000 members and is a great place to get questions answered.  Facebook has many other coaching group Pages where coaches connect.  You really are not alone. Find a good coaching group, where you can enjoy the support of thousands of other coaches.  And in a pinch, don’t be afraid to send a short email to an experienced coach you know. Most coaches are approachable and won’t begrudge a brief inquiry from a fellow coach.

Finally, even if you are new to coaching and new to being in business for yourself, never discount your own intuition and common sense.  If something seems too good to be true, tries to make you feel inadequate, pressures you to “buy now” or simply doesn’t feel right, keep looking.

It is a challenge to start and run your own successful coaching business. Don’t let anyone make it harder. Do your homework on any major purchase, trust yourself, and ask for help when you need it.

Be wise and safe, people.

Steve Mitten

Steve Mitten, MCC, CPCC, ICF Global Past President (2005), 2007 Canadian Coach of the Year, is an internationall recognized coach who enjoys doing transformational work wih individuals, leaders, solopreneurs, and business owners. He helps his client get clar, get a plan and enjoy far more success, meaning and happiness in their lives, careers and businesses. Steve is also an expert mentor on the marketing of coaching services. He is the author of Marketing Essentials for Coaches, a yogi and a longtime student of developmental and positive psychology, myth, neuroscience and the wisdom traditions. His website is http://acoach4u.com/.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

Comments (36)

  1. Excellent piece and great advice. I know an artist who was scammed by the same check bait and switch, except in her case it was someone pretending to buy a painting for his wife…

  2. Regina Bazuaye says:

    Thanks for the wonderful and thoughtful advice and guidance. I’m sure a lot of us will find it helpful.

  3. Rey Carr says:

    Good article summarizing the primary scams that have plagued coaches and others. I wonder if somewhere in this article you might have acknowledged the sources that helped you develop this list?

  4. Steve Mitten says:

    Great suggestion Rey. I am very grateful for the coaches who emailed me directly or responded to posts I left on a few coach forums. I hope I acknowledged them directly, but should have put something in the article. s.

  5. Shelly Logan says:

    Thank-you Steve and contributors to this discussion. I have in a very short time had two scammers from the examples you have listed here. Having some awareness of the type of scams targeting coaches helps enormously.

    Shelly

  6. Great article, Steve. One other reminder, if anyone contacts you and claims they are partnering with ICF, don’t hesitate to contact ICF at icfheadquarters@coachfederation.org and confirm. Many companies will say they are partners of ICF to make you less skeptical of their offerings. Don’t hesitate to confirm.

    Todd Hamilton
    ICF Assistant Executive Director

  7. Andy says:

    I was scammed by an ICF coach who, in my opinion, attempted to steal my intellectual property, as well as doing other shady stuff like posting a job for $50/hr on Craigslist and then quoting $30/hr in later communications.

    I emailed him and the president of ICF who, upon seeing that the life coach had replied to me, said something to the effect of, “Looks like you guys are working this out,” conveniently washing his hands of it.

    Then the life coach proceeded to ask me to stop posting “mean” Tweets about him and agreed to pay me a nominal fee of $50 which I demanded as at least a show of respect for using my idea.

    Scummy stuff. This was two years ago but I still harbor resentment toward the ICF, which is unfortunate.

    I was treated as a potential scandal to manage, rather than as a real person with a real complaint against someone who had been certified as a life coach trainer by the ICF.

    I am guessing no one from ICF leadership cares or wants to do anything about this, but it is sad to have been victimized by such evil.

  8. Steve Mitten says:

    Hi Andy.

    I haven’t been part of the ICF Leadership for a decade, but I do know there is a formal ethical complaint process, and the ICF Ethics committee takes this stuff very seriously.

    Here is a link to the section of the ICF site where you can read about the process and download a form, if you choose to take this further. https://coachfederation.org/about/ethics.aspx?ItemNumber=853

    Cheers,

    Steve

  9. Andy says:

    Thank you, Steve. It felt good to vent, but I’m not sure what lengths this individual would go to to protect his reputation, which appears to be a little “too perfect” for me to mess with, and I don’t want to keep trying to expose him. I simply wished to comment on the general hypocrisy and willingness to silence a problem I observed from the president at the time, to let others who have been burned by the ICF know that they are not alone.

  10. Dear Steve,

    Thank you very much for posting this very helpful article. I realize the work that went into this, and appreciate you would spend the time and energy to help our community be a safer place. I am forwarding a link to this to our past and present students and mentees — we own an ICF Accredited coach training school.

    Many thanks. I hope to meet you sometime on the ICF circuit!

    With respect,
    Justina

  11. Linda Maul says:

    First hand experience with the book situation – paid in advance and it took over a year and a half to get the books after many promises of delivery. It turned out a colleague of mine had the same book cover and we were marketing in the same arenas. They have been great ‘give-aways’ but an expensive learning experience.

  12. Steve Mitten says:

    Do not feel bad Linda, I know quite a few coaches and consultants that have their garage or storage lockers full of books. One fellow I know gave them way to everyone he knew for a year. (Not a great idea. People receive an unsolicited book, about as well as they receive unsolicited advice.) 🙂

  13. Dwain O'Dell says:

    This is such a great article. Every Life Coach and Service Provider should read this.

  14. Steve,
    Thanks very much taking the time to assist the coaching community in deepening our awareness of these fraudulent scams. After reading your post, I wondered where such an accumulation of dishonest tactics are found, and could you have possibly had firsthand experience with so many? I guess I need to be more vigilant than I already thought I am because I really learned something from your report. Thanks, again!

  15. Steve,
    Thanks so much for this information. My email box is filled daily with these unsolicited scams. I even get weekly calls from Google. The scammers are having a monumental invasion in the coaching community.
    One good recommendation, before you commit to any unsolicited offer is to check with ICF and ask questions of other coaches.

    Great information!

  16. Steve Mitten says:

    Thanks for the comments everyone. As to your questions Larry, when you have a few profiles online, such as a website or listings in LinkedIn or Facebook, you start to receive many more solicitations. Over the years, I have seen all of these practices. And also, before writing the article I went out to a few coach forums and asked for input from other coaches, to see if there were other scams I had not seen yet. Cheers, Steve.

  17. Chris Padgett says:

    Steve, great to “see/hear” you again. If there was an ICF “Coaching Hall of Fame,” I think you’d be in it with Laura Whitworth and Thomas Leonard. Thank you for all that you have done and do to actualize the vision of the profession.

    I wanted “Yes, and” everything you said and also suggest there is a more active role for the ICF to take in educating and safeguarding coaches — particularly the new ones — and shining a huge spotlight on those known who are targeting them. There is a cottage industry of spammers and scammers in this industry the likes of which I have rarely seen. It deserves to be revealed for what it is and how it behaves.

    It feels to me ICF spends an inordinate amount of time promoting membership and promoting the credential (and then tweaking the credential ad nauseam). I’d like to see the same level of intentionality put into educating and safeguarding new coaches. The current efforts feel extremely anemic to me.

    Keep up the good work, Steve. You’re awesome.

    With all my best,
    Chris Padgett, PCC
    Past President, ICF Ohio Valley

  18. Steve Mitten says:

    Thanks for your comments Chris, and thank you for your advocating and volunteering on behalf of other coaches.

  19. Mary siddall says:

    Thank you! Yes I am a new life coach and I was in contact with a man who was going to pay for 24 sessions in advance. After many mails and not really answering me questions, he asked for a favor. He said he was in the hospital and he was going to send me a check for 4000 and to get my fee from there and then send 3000 to a limo driver who was going to make sure his 3 daughters would get the sessions. Crazy!!

  20. Steve Mitten says:

    Yes Mary, it is Crazy. Last week there was another big malware scam targeting anyone with an online presence or email account. It showed up on a few coaching forums. You get an email from someone you know asking you to open the attached Google Documents. Here is a link with the description and suggested fixes. http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/google-docs-gmail-phishing-attack-1.4099238

  21. Maja Karlsson says:

    This is a great article, Steve, and I agree with one of the other comments that this is info ALL coaches need to hear about! I wanted to add one more thing. I got the email from someone who was wanting to buy coaching for her 5 daughters, she was deaf and in the hospital…etc. The person then asked if I took credit cards – the rest of the story from above was the same, but apparently there is a scam that also involves credit. Not sure how it works on the scammers end, but I think that it might involve stolen credit cards. End result is the same – if you agree to pay a limo driver you’re out the money that is then not actually paid to you. Fortunately this scam didn’t go that far for me, but I was shocked!

  22. […] and posted a longer, more detailed article on the ICF Global website outlining some of these scams. Here is a link to his helpful […]

  23. Although it is now six months after publication of the article, yesterday I received a similar email from a hearing impaired “woman” with a foreign accent (haha — even in writing) wanting coaching for three women in her family, twice a week for four weeks.

    Thanks for publishing this — happy to add to the experience.

  24. I write to provide a little insight to what this actually looks like, and as fresh as this morning:

    ME: Thank you for taking the time to write the message, and also for your interest. As I understand it, you would like coaching for your three young adults. You would like for me to speak with them twice a week, for 2 months. Please let me know if I missed or misunderstood a detail. Before I provide a proposal to you for my services, I need to understand what has brought you to coaching for your children. Can you provide me with a brief explanation of your intentions for the coaching relationships, i.e. what you’d hope to accomplish? I would greatly appreciate the insight, and it will ensure that I can serve you. Thank you again for reaching out and I look forward to your response!

    THEM: their needs & goals Presence of/too much of a NEGATIVE condition (they lose their mother may 2017and ever since than they are depressed ) I want 3 each individually session 60mins per person two time in a week morning session time 11am for 2 months., Let me have the total cost for the whole session do you accept credit card payment ? What is your cell phone number Douglas ? Thanks.

    ME: Thank you for your response and I am very sorry to hear for yours and their loss. I do not have specific experience or ability to handle depression or in working through such a traumatic experience as I would imagine losing one’s mother could cause. It may not serve your children to create goals and needs for the future, when there is the potential for healing and processing necessary for the past. Have you considered, or have they worked with, other mental health professionals, such as counselors, therapists, or even speaking with a general medical practioner? While I am a professional coach, and would enjoy this opportunity, I think it may be in their best interest to seek, or at least for me to understand their experience with, other mental health alternative, before working with them. I wish you the best and thank you for the opportunity.

    THEM: They have seen a medical practitioner so he suggested I hire a life coach for there situation, I am sure you can handle this for me,let me know your charges.

    ME: Thank you for your prompt response. However, I would reiterate, despite your welcomed confidence, that I have not developed the skills nor have been trained to coach individuals suffering from depression or from having experienced trauma. If these issues are present, it may be in your children’s best interest to seek assistance from a professional trained to handle them.

    THEM:…

  25. Jackie says:

    I got caught up in one of these scams… what is the best way to report it? Thank you for this article btw!!! 🙂

  26. Elyssa says:

    It’s so unfortunate that people want to scam coaches out of money. I’ve come into contact with many scams on this list. I’ve received some emails asking if I accept credit card for services, but this one is taking the cake. This article confirms my suspicions about an email I received the other day!

    I was tipped off when the emailer’s contact photo was of someone’s ID. He said he “found my information online as an experienced coach” and asked how much I charge. I was like, hmm…that’s a legitimate question, but I proceeded with caution. I told him I have varying packages, but would like to have a free discovery session first to see if coaching would be a good fit for the both of us. When I asked him about scheduling the discovery session, he said it’s for two ladies in his family who want to be coached on work/life balance. He pushed to get my pricing. At this point, my senses were heightened. I gave him some general ranges, but emphasized AGAIN that a discovery session is required before starting the coaching relationship. I asked when the ladies would like to schedule their discovery sessions. Then, he said he’s okay with the pricing ranges but is out of town for medical attention. He also said he hired a driver to bring the ladies to their session. (DEFINITELY not giving out my address.) It was hard to sift through a couple grammatical errors, but I gather he was trying to tell me that all he wanted to do is pay and schedule the ladies’ sessions. I told him that the discovery session could be done over the phone and asked him when the ladies want to have their free discovery session. I haven’t heard back, but I expect him to ask me to send him an invoice next. Then, he probably plans to send me that check (that will probably bounce) and want me to send some of that money back for his medical expenses or something. Thanks to some things that didn’t seem right and this article, I’m more aware about some of the scams out there! I know this is a SUPER long comment, but this is very helpful for us coaches. Thank God for this info and thanks for sharing!

  27. Scam Alert! You interview for a coach’s job. They tell you you have to just take their training course. You have to pay for the course as a pre- requisite of the job. 12 weeks later you finish course. Client platform not what they said. Leads are garbage. Company is hiring more coaches than they have clients…

    • Claire says:

      I had that exact same experience with Sixstar Coaching. They treated me very rudely and in my opinion, clearly did not respect me as a North American consumer. They proudly hide behind their Tel Aviv laws. In my opinion, this company should not be allowed to operate anywhere other than their own country if they will not respect the Better Business Bureau or respect international consumers. They did not deliver on their service and then expected an apology from me for complaining about what I believed to be their false claims and misleading me. Buyer beware. It’s a pity that there’s companies taking advantage of the coaching industry.

  28. Adel says:

    greetings
    i would like to know about six star coaching if its true?
    if they give you a job as the mention it?
    is there anyone who applied and work with them?
    thank you

    • Iris says:

      Great article. I just had contact like this and was checking online for similar scams. Thanks for validating my suspicions.

    • Claire says:

      My classmates and I fell for the claims Sixstar makes in their “recruitment” interview. We all were told that we will be supplied with clients after we take their training course. Course finishes and after signing contracts not one of my 11 classmates received a paying client. They provide you with cold leads. One of my classmates even received a cold lead that resulted in a homeless person needing mental health intervention. They are based in Tel Aviv and any complaints are bound by the laws of Tel Aviv, Israel. You also unknowingly sign legal terms and conditions that are hidden when you pay for the course. So beware. Read their Terms on their website carefully.

      • Claire says:

        Sixstar coaching has changed its name to 6S Coaching to stay in the business of scamming customers.

        • Nichole says:

          I had a feeling Sixstar was a scam when the training was incredibly poor quality. Eventually I didn’t even bother wasting my time with it.

          It really is difficult to understand what course is credible in the coaching industry. I did my research and Sixstar used all the right language. Unfortunately I think I will stop pursuing this as a career until there is better regulation.

  29. Joanna says:

    HI,

    Thank you for a great article! Is CPD accreditation much less worth than ICF? I cannot find the answer anywhere. I have an opportunity to do the course with CPD Accredited company that will apparently give me internationally recognised certificate.

    Please advise
    Many Thanks

  30. Here’s a scam I received yesterday and today’s follow up:

    Thanks for writing back, I’m only available via email or text due to
    my hearing problem okay.I want to make an appointment for personal
    life coaching and Improving confidence for my kids.I want you to get
    back to me with the total estimate for 6 weeks private coaching for 2
    people (Female) aged(18) and (Male) aged 17 years old, for 6 weeks 1
    hr each daily 2 times per week, They are into sports(Volleyball and
    basketball) respectively. They need to Improve confidence and
    Overcoming obstacles, fear, and Creating a plan to reach their goals
    faster and they will be coming with a private transportation for the
    full sessions.

    I’ll appreciate if you can secure the appointment for my family at
    your place.I believe you’re the best and i want my family to work with
    you.I want you to know that am doing this as surprise for my
    children. I entrust you with this and i hope you wouldn’t let me
    down.They are going to starts sessions 26th of this month and I’ll
    prefer Tuesday 4 pm and Thursday 4 pm for their appointment.. Will you
    be available those days ?

    They are also open to work with your availability.What is your
    full-name, your cell phone and the address for the private transport
    driver i’m organizing to locate your place when they are coming. Can i
    make reservations with my credit card cause i won’t be coming in with
    them due to my current health status?. I’m currently under intensive
    care in preparation for my surgery. I’m doing the booking since the
    whole surprise is my idea and i will be responsible for all payment.
    Kindly get back to me with the total cost for your service. Looking
    forward to hear from you.
    Thanks
    Respectfully

    Bill Sanders

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