FTC blows the whistle on business coaching program

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Rockne, Lombardi, Landry, Shula. Behind every sports dynasty, there’s a legendary coach. But according to the FTC, marketers of “business coaching” services took consumers for millions by using offside sales tactics that will likely disqualify them from the Truth-in-Advertising Hall of Fame.

One notable feature of the cases is that it took two pages just to list the interconnected companies and individuals involved in the operation, but it boils down to this. The complaint alleges that a Utah-based company called Guidance hired telemarketing outfits – “sales floors” – to pitch its supposedly personalized business coaching services. According to the FTC, based on misleading promotional materials and testimonials supplied by Guidance, telemarketers used a host of deceptive practices to get people to pay thousands of dollars on the false promise that the services would enable them to start their own successful internet businesses.

Here’s an example from a videotaped testimonial of the kind of claims the defendants used to get consumers on their team: “I’ve grossed over $12,000 last month alone. Everything gets better all the time. I’ve got a whole stack of orders over here to prove it. Right behind me, this laptop, I bought this to start my online business. Before that I never owned a computer, I never touched a computer.”

The pleadings includes details of other tactics the defendants used to recruit customers. According to the FTC, telemarketers pitched the coaching services as an exclusive one-on-one program of business know-how and specialized market research available only to a limited number of qualified people. Under the guise of screening to see if consumers “qualified,” telemarketers probed for their story – their financial status, personal hardships, or other circumstances the defendants referred to behind closed doors as the person’s “pains.” The defendants then used that information to tailor the sales pitch and to set the price where a prospect was likely to bite.

If consumers appeared interested, they were transferred to a “closer” who encouraged them to use their credit card to pay for the program as part of the OPM (“Other People’s Money”) strategy. In other words, put it on plastic, pay it back with the big bucks you’ll rake in from the program, and then pocket the profits. Once people signed up – the initial cost sometimes topped $10,000 – the FTC says the defendants blitzed them with pricey upsells.

The FTC alleges in two separate complaints that Guidance, its predecessor Thrive Learning, and two of the sales floors – Discover and PLI – violated the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule. According to the lawsuits, most people didn’t get the advertised services or the promised earnings. If anything, the only “coaching” they got was basic info about online auctions and PayPal accounts – pointers available for free on eBay. In fact, the FTC says that the overwhelming majority of people who bought the defendants’ business coaching services were never able to establish a business. In addition, the lawsuits charge the defendants with collecting consumers’ financial information under false pretenses. The complaint against the Thrive defendants also includes a credit card factoring charge.

To settle the case, the defendants have agreed to broad injunctive provisions and lifetime bans from business coaching or work-at-home opportunities, with narrow exemptions for certain lawful business activities. (Thrive will be banned from credit card factoring, too.) The orders include financial judgments which, based on the defendants’ financial condition, will be partially suspended after they turn over a total of $2.1 million in cash and assets worth as much as $300,000.

Aside from the usual reminders about the breadth of TSR liability and the need to substantiate earnings claims, the complaints in the case offer insights into the behind-the-scenes world of the lead generation industry. One of the primary “products” the defendants were buying and selling were the names of consumers amenable to business opportunity offers, some of which were obtained from companies whose conduct was at issue in other FTC actions.

It’s understandable that people facing fourth-and-long financial prospects would look for ways to supplement their income. But if you take a snap from a questionable “coaching” offer, you could be dropped for a big loss. Before doing business with a business “coach,” consider these extra points from the FTC.
 

Comments

Thanks to the FTC for catching these crooks. I was scammed out of apx. $33,000 - all starting from these fake business training/work from home scams. The FTC is doing a great job of putting these crooks out of business. I only wish more of them would be caught. I would also like to see the operators of such scams do some prison time. They have committed crimes against so many people and done such harm to innocent people that they really need to be punished. Money is one thing, but I think all of us as victims would like to see them pay - in prison.

Thank you for sharing, now i concerned about “business coaching”. I fell this is really helpful for harm and innocent people

I am grateful that a firm who scammed their clients is gone.

This business was designed to cheat and scam. Our system must reward these crooks with time behind bars, otherwise they will merely close shop and move to the next scam. It is important that these crooks lose more than their money! The pain and suffering they inflict on society demands they serve time.
Thank you FTC

I am so pleased that these scammers have been brought to justice but how do we get our money back - I was involved with the following scammers -
Advantage Education, Ignite Web Services , Focus, Gogo dropship, Prime Corporate services
Apllied Builder
Malibu Marketing

I bought into this scam, thinking I would be able to work from home and learn from coaches how to run an e-commerce business. I was scammed out of $22,000. I explained to the person on the other line that the money i was spending had been my inheritance and I was unemployed and needed $$ because I had no income, being that I was the executor of my mother and fathers trust. I had so much to do and I thought I was investing in my future. This scam has left me with no financial future. I am broke. I have no savings, nothing!! I was told that I would be making great money in a 3 month period and I would be fine with this program. I cannot believe I was so stupid! I was very vulnerable and grieving my mother's death when Pinnacle Learning Institute called me and fed me a whole lot of bs. I mentioned that my mother had just passed away and I really should not be making these kinds of decisions but they talked as if they were concerned and wanted to help and that this was a great opportunity to support my future. I am facing becoming homeless because I lost $22,000 believing these bastards.I know, ultimately, it is my fault, but these guys were so very convincing. I have been looking for a job even when I signed on to this scam, but have yet to get one and I am penniless and scared.

I too am so grateful to the FTC. Soon after I signed up for the program I became very uncomfortable. I contacted the PLI telling them I was not comfortable and wanted my money back. They refused and said I made a commitment to the program. They continued to "sell" me on how much money I would be making soon if I continued. I had only done one session at this point. I continued to say I wanted my money back was told someone would get back to me. "Someone" did and it was a sales pitch all over again. I then contacted American Express and requested they get my money back. American Express did! It was wonderful. But them I received a very uneasy call from PLI saying they had an attorney in place and they were going to go after me for doing this, then they became super friendly and personal again and telling me how great their program is. I was so foolish. I became scared of their "attorney" and told them they could charge my card again. They promised six coaching/teaching sessions. Everything they taught I knew, if I didn't know it my 17 year old son did...it was all basic information as to how to sell on ebay. My son would laugh at me (not in a mean way), but would often say, "Mom how much did you spend on this? You could have paid me $50 and I could have taught you this." It was sickening. Thousands of dollars gone. I had no idea the FTC had been investigating. I received the settlement check in the mail today. It was small in comparison to what I lost, but I truly am grateful that these awful individuals are done and are paying the price for taking advantage of people in financial need. I am also sad because it is difficult to know who to trust. Anyway, thank you FTC. Thank you so much!

I echo what Brigett Lindsey said -- almost down to the letter except while she was in a situation where she was grieving the passing of her Mom, I had just been laid off of my job. Because of these scam artists, I lost all of my savings and 2 years later I'm still unemployed. She could actually have been writing MY STORY!

I was scammed by Pinnacle Coaching to learn how to set up an internet business. I was duped into enrolling and in les than a week I wanted to cancel and they fought and charged my credit card over $2000.00. I feel like I was screwed twice, once by them and the other my credit card for not fighting for me and not them. I called today to my card company, 23 Jan 2017 to inform them about the class action suite. $295.80 is all I get back.

My story is identical to Mary Eastman's, as far as all the same "company" names used to try and coerce me out of even more than mu original 10K. I put put though about an hour long conversation where they were searching for all my weak spots so they could figure out how much money they could scam from me. I was recently widowed and forced into a position to bring in a regular income and this program sounded wonderful, so promising. So I was set up with another speacial phone conference a few days later. This women that talked to me was so pleasant and nice, she infact had recently lost her husband too she said. I trusted her. She knew and understood what I was going through. So I bought into this coaching program for 10K. I was even guaranteed that if I done the coaching program and was willing to commit a few hours a week into establishing an online business, there was no way I could loose. I was excited and couldn't wait to get started. I did as was told and put in 40 - 50 hours a week. I was always reading and studying up on the best and most effective ways to make this work for me. After a while I realized it wasn't working and they said that my coaching sessions had all expired. My time with them was up,,, unless I wanted to purchase more. My Discover Card bill was still coming in. I contacted Discover and told them about the scam and ask them to do a chargeback, they refused, so I refused to pay them which meant I would loose my outstanding credit rating but I had no other choice. I've gone onwith my life, got a job where I get paid weekly, promised myself that I would be more careful when making future decisions, so far so good. I'm just grateful that something is being done about these theives and I hope they don't just move onto another scamming device to hurt more people. I had to learn the hard way that this world is full of evil people doing evil things. Everyone will get their "due" in time, whatever it may be. My thoughts and prayers are with you all.

It's so difficult to make life changing decisions when unforeseen challenges pop up in our lives. I had lost my amazing job, I was getting denied at every turn for unemployment, medicaid, disability benefits, food assistance and the list goes on. Here comes this opportunity that made me feel that I had everything it would take to be my own boss, get ahead in life and do the things that I thought were completely out of reach, like buying a new car (which I have never been able to consider) and to finally be successful enough that I wouldn't have to worry anymore about how to pay just my basic bills but that I could finally look forward to retiring comfortably and do the things I have always wanted to do and then...The bottom fell out from under me and I was taken for thousands of dollars that I didn't have to begin with but felt confident enough to take the leap and invest in myself and my future. At first, I was receiving one 1/2 hour training calls per day and a list of homework that I needed to do and complete before the next call but as the weeks continued, the calls became more scarce and other phone calls were coming in from other marketing people and the like who wanted more money to get advertisements put together, websites, LLC's and anything else they could throw your way to impress upon you that the only way that your business was going to be successful was to spend more money which at this point stressed me out SOOO badly that it had affected me physically to the point I got very sick and depressed. Now everything has become much harder for me to get back on ANY type of track. Although I am very grateful for those fighting for us, a check for just under $300.00 isn't going to come close to getting out of the extreme mess I and others are in at this point. I have NO income coming in, no health insurance to get well needed medical help and now I will need to file for bankruptcy as I just received a judgement against me with the attempts to collect the mass debt that I am now in. I STRONGLY feel that ALL of us not only deserve to get ALL of our money back but in addition, a large amount for our pain and suffering that they so nonchalantly put all of us through. Maybe with a very hefty fine, paying everyone back in full AND paying out an additional amount for the hell they put us all through, maybe it would give pause to others in the future who might want to take advantage of those of us who are just trying to better our lives, our families lives and to actually live the American Dream. That would be a VERY happy ending to a dreadful embarrassment of being duped and taken advantage of.

I totally agree. I am in Australia and paid $5,000AUD on a scam, also I am grateful for the $295 refund but as you say a full refund should be in order. And very hefty fines for those involved.

I was sucked into this scam and it took three years of my life and financial hardship to dig my way out. Thank goodness for a credit relief agency that dug me out and restored my credit. Only thing I did not realize at the time that my forgiven debt turned into a huge tax bill. This sucked and unfortunately I will never see the thousands of dollars that I passed over to these crooks. Shame on them and hopefully they get penalized even more and we have more money turned over to us. I learned my lesson but I am glad these crooks got caught.

After reading all of the previous comments for 2018, a part of my own experience with these fraudsters is written by strangers unknown to me. I was taken for over $60,000 by multiple companies that shared my information when I was vulnerable and wanted to work from home as I am disabled and wanted/needed more money to just live.
Like a previous comment, I also got royally screwed when it came to filing my taxes that year because I had sold thousands of shares in my IRA investment fund to pay these criminals first by relying on their false and misleading stories of fortune (I thought I could put the money back in IRA within the year to avoid huge tax penalties).
I paid all that money to crooks for a business venture that never got off the ground and now I'm stuck with a $13,000+ tax debt.
First, I didn't know that I could file a claim with the FTC in an attempt to get my money back (even a partial amount) until I received a call from a guy working for 'CreativeConceptsGroup.co'. They were phishing for information about my losing money to scam companies (including business coaching opportunities), and they wanted to help me recover some of that money.
I looked at their skimpy laid out website with very little information about who they are and what they do, but I remembered in the voicemail message about a form I should have received from each of these companies that made verbal claims about how much money I could make.
It's a disclosure statement with important, mandatory details about the company so you can make a genuine evaluation / investigation on whether the company's claims about their business opportunity are validated by you (there is no guarantee). The company is required to give you the next 7 days to complete the evaluation, and only then will you make a decision as to whether you will work with the company or not.
If I or anybody else was aware of the FTC's rules regarding business opportunities (www.ftc.gov/bizopps), just maybe we could have saved ourselves a lot of headaches.
Please go to the FTC's website to learn more about all the hard work our Consumer Reporting Agencies do to keep all of us from being scammed or losing money we don't have, and maybe info on how to claim a refund if eligible.
I personally have been all over their website learning about all the frauds / scams the FTC has shut down and made attempts to refund money to consumers from these criminals current fortunes.
Good Luck!

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