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If you’ve ever thought about starting an online business, being your own boss, or earning a living from investing, you’re not alone. But many people looking for a different way to earn money are finding scams disguised as legitimate business offers, coaching programs, and investment opportunities.

Examples of Business Offer Scams and Coaching Scams

How can you tell if a business offer or coaching program is a scam? If it promises guaranteed income, large returns, or a “proven system,” it’s likely a scam. Even a free or low-cost “system” to get your business started can quickly turn into a money pit — costing you tens of thousands of dollars for mentoring or other services that promise to increase your business’s success but leave you deep in debt.
Here are a few examples:

Online business coaching

In this type of scheme, the promoters claim you can make big money with no experience. They say their “experts” will teach you a “proven method” for building a successful business on the Internet. Many say they’re affiliated with well-known online sellers when that’s not true, or say things like:
  • “You can make 5-6 figures if you follow our system.”
  • “Learn from the experts how to generate income.”
  • “You can be making money now. Guaranteed!”
The scammers make it sound like it’s easy to make money, and say that, for a fee, they can show you how to do it. What you don’t find out — until you’ve already invested thousands of dollars in business coaching — is that the scammers lied about how easy and lucrative the business model would be, and you’re left with nothing.

Real estate seminar and investment coaching scams

Promoters of these schemes often use free live or online seminars where so-called real estate investment or securities trading “experts” talk up the success of their “students.” The energetic atmosphere makes it seem like a great way to learn how to make life-changing money. Sometimes they use “success stories” and statistics, claim a guaranteed return on your investment, or stress how cutting-edge their offer is. Your questions about investment strategy get vague answers. They often try to get you to focus on the money they say you’ll make, rather than on how you’ll get there. And they’ll often try to rush you into making a quick decision to buy in.
If you do sign up, you're likely to find that what you paid for is worthless and your money is gone. Read Real Estate and Investment Scams for more on real estate seminars, investment coaching scams, and how to spot them.

Pyramid schemes

The promoters of a pyramid scheme may try to recruit you with pitches about what you’ll earn. They may say you can change your life — quit your job and even get rich — by selling the company’s products. But if the focus is on recruiting, not how much product you sell, what they’re selling you is a scam. Pyramid schemes are set up to encourage recruitment to keep a constant stream of new distributors — and their money — flowing into the business.
Pyramid schemes can look remarkably like legitimate multi-level marketing business opportunities. But if you become a distributor for a pyramid scheme, you’ll be involved in a scam that can cost you and your recruits — often your family and friends — substantial time and money. People who become involved in pyramid schemes typically lose everything they invest, and some also end up deeply in debt. Read Multi-Level Marketing Businesses and Pyramid Schemes to learn more.

Avoid Business Offer and Coaching Scams

Before you pay for a business opportunity or coaching program:
  • Take your time and talk to someone you trust. Scammers will try to pressure you to get involved now or risk losing out. It’s always a good idea to get a second opinion from someone who has your best interests in mind.
  • Do your research. Search online for the name of the company and words like “review,” “scam,” or “complaint.” Check with your state attorney general for complaints. No complaints? It doesn’t guarantee that a company is legitimate, but complaints can tip you off to possible problems.
  • Know that success stories and testimonials might not be true or typical. Glowing stories of success could be fake or misleading, and positive online reviews may have come from made-up profiles.
  • Check out your coach’s credentials. There’s no licensing requirement to become a coach, but there are some certification programs. Business coaching scammers often lie about their credentials. Do some online research about the type of certification your business “coach” says she has, and even talk to some former or current students about their experiences with the business coaching program.
  • Be ready for the upsell. If the business promoter or coach asks you to pay even more money to help your business succeed, stop. Hang up. Then take your time to talk with someone you trust. Consider the details of the offer. Many of these offers are scams, especially when the caller pressures you to make a quick decision.

What To Do Before You Join a Coaching Program or Buy a Business Opportunity

Anyone who sells legitimate business opportunities should give you detailed information. Be skeptical of a seller who only offers vague descriptions of what the business is and how it will work. Sit down and ask yourself some critical questions, like:
  • What would I be selling or doing?
  • How and why would shoppers find and use my website?
  • How would the business generate income?
  • What would my specific expenses be? Can I afford it?
  • When would I expect to turn a profit?
Answer these questions before you consider paying for any business opportunity, no matter how good it sounds. And don’t believe sellers who claim you don’t need to understand the details of the business because “it’s the internet,” “it’s a turnkey system,” or because their supposed experts, coaches, or mentors will “take care of everything for you.” Profitable “turnkey” businesses are rare, at best.
Scammers want you to give up your credit card or bank account information first and ask questions later. They know that if you do some research, you’re likely to find reports of rip-offs and back out of the deal. In fact, a quick internet search often is enough to show you alarming complaints. Legitimate business opportunities don’t need to use high-pressure sales tactics — an offer that’s good today should be good tomorrow, too.

Report Fraud

If you suspect a business offer or coaching program is a scam, tell the FTC at And report it to the attorney general’s office in the state where you live, as well as the state where the business offer, coaching, or investment promoter is based.
You may be able to get legitimate business development advice and counseling through agencies like the Small Business Administration and its SCORE program.