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Instagurus: what to watch out for and what to do if you’re not happy

Nowadays, you can hardly venture onto social media without tripping over gurus offering to help you meet your goals. Everyone from personal trainers and nutrition advisers to wellness gurus, life and financial coaches have valuable tips to share, but often for a price.


Many of the courses, content and communities come with charges attached. Whether you are looking for workout regimes, relationship support, or a course on how to sell courses, someone out there will be selling it. Self-development has become big business, sweeping followers down sales channels, to sign on the dotted line.

The global personal development market across online and offline platforms is forecast to reach $57 billion by 2027, growing by more than 5.1% a year, according to calculations by Grand View Research, Inc.

Look before you leap

So, what should consumers bear in mind before paying the latest ‘Insta Guru’? The costs, every £30 subscription or £100 coaching call, can quickly add up, especially if they’re slipping out of your bank account every month.

Quality and qualifications can also vary widely.  Some influencers provide genuinely useful resources, sharing hints and tips based on their own ‘been there, done that’ experience.  However, it can be difficult to know what you’re getting, before handing over your hard-earned cash.

High engagement numbers like ‘views’ doesn’t guarantee high quality content. Online reviews may not be impartial, especially if the reviewer gets a cut of purchases they recommend.

" The global personal development market is forecast to reach $57 billion by 2027, growing more than 5.1% a year "

What to do if things go wrong

Some people offer good advice, but remember, you can always ask for a refund if you didn’t get what you paid for or got something that was different to the description of the service. Helen Dewdney, consumer champion from The Complaining Cow said: “Goods and services must be of satisfactory quality and be as described so if your purchase is neither then you can expect at least a partial refund.

“It may be difficult to prove that it is not of satisfactory quality, of course. The rule of thumb is what a reasonable person would expect."

Try sorting it out with the guru first, but if they refuse to help, or you can’t reach them, you may be able to get your money back if you paid by card or PayPal.

You could open a dispute with PayPal, you can ask for credit card payments of £100 to £30,000 back under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, or you can make a chargeback claim if you used a debit card. Chargeback is a voluntary scheme, so you will need to check with your bank whether they offer the scheme.

As a consumer, if you buy a course online but then change your mind, you can cancel within 14 days from signing the contract. [Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013]

If the course started within 14 days from purchase, you can still cancel, but you will need to pay for the value of the service provided before the 14 days is up. However, if the whole lot has been provided within the fortnight, you lose the right to cancel. 

Helen Dewdney has more expert info: "If you still struggle to get your money back from the trader or bank then you can go through the Small Claims Court. If you win, the trader should pay. If they do not, there are a variety of measures you can take to get the money.”

Beware larger losses

Depending on the content, you may also be risking far more than the cost of the sessions.  There’s been a rise in social media influencers posting about personal finance who promise to help dispel money myths and improve financial literacy.

However, brief posts on channels such as TikTok, Twitter and Instagram may be oversimplified, with limited space to explain details or include risk warnings.  Some ‘fin-fluencers’ offer questionable advice.

Sadly, stock tips from a YouTube trader, for example, could go badly wrong. Reddit users who piled in late to buy GameStop shares may now be nursing substantial losses.

If you invest with, or take advice from, firms that are regulated and authorised by the city watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), there are protections available if you are given bad advice or the firm fails.

However, if you use an unauthorised firm, you won’t have access to the Financial Ombudsman Service or Financial Services Compensation Scheme so you’re unlikely to get your money back if things go wrong.

If you want to find out if a firm or individual is authorised or regulated by the FCA, check the Financial Services Register on the FCA website.

Other content could actually be downright scams. For example, the FCA has warned about online trading, crypto and forex investment scams, pointing out that “fraudsters often use social media to promote their ‘get rich quick’ online trading platforms”.

Over £27 million was lost to scams involving crypto and forex investments in 2018/19, with victims losing over £14,600 on average, according to Action Fraud.

So, tread carefully when paying for expertise marketed over social media and beware of opportunities that sound too good to be true. A get-rich-quick scam could drain your life savings.

Don’t forget that while you may think that this article is brilliant, it is intended for information purposes only and should not be mistaken for financial advice or recommendations.

3 things to do
right now

1

If you have a problem, try sorting it out with the guru first, but if they refuse to help, or you can’t reach them, try to get your money back from your credit card provider or PayPal.

2

Remember your cooling off period. If you buy a course online but then change your mind, you can cancel within 14 days from signing the contract.

3

Before you hand over any cash or take any financial advice, find out if a firm or individual is authorised or regulated by the FCA by checking the Financial Services Register on the FCA website.

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