When looking for advice and motivation, many of us will head online to see what popular figures and professionals say. This trend in which we look to online gurus for guidance has led to a wave of scammers looking to capitalize on people’s trust.
So, what is a fake online guru, what dangers do they pose, and how can you spot them before it’s too late?
What Are Fake Online Gurus?
There are now online gurus for just about any industry, topic, or issue. Health, business, budgeting, travel, fashion, you name it. We often put online gurus on a pedestal, believing they are authoritative figures giving top-tier, well-researched advice.
Indeed, this is sometimes the case. There are many online gurus that have spent years, or even decades, in a given industry, so they truly know what they’re talking about. Licensed doctors, veteran stock traders, and other professional figures can fall under this safer category of gurus.
But a lot of online gurus tend to do their own, home-based research on the topic they’d like to give advice on. As we all know, the internet is full of disinformation, misinformation, and myths, which can lead a lot of people to believe things that aren’t true. An online guru is just a person, after all, so they’re likely no less vulnerable to online misinformation than anyone else.
So, if an individual is educating themselves solely using online articles, videos, and social media accounts, things can go wrong quickly.
Take the online health guru realm, for example. Every day, millions of people around the world are looking to improve their fitness levels, clear up their skin, lose weight, gain muscle, and so on. This desire to improve health has led to the popularization of online health gurus.
But the online health space, especially that which exists on social media, is often littered with rumors and misinformation. While some gurus push an all-raw, plant-based diet, others stress that a meat-based diet is the way to go. Certain gurus will recommend fasting, with the rest backing the three-meals-a-day method. All in all, it’s incredibly hard to know what’s right.
It’s this confusion that phony gurus can capitalize on, especially on social media. If an influencer markets themselves in a certain way, they can give off an air of legitimacy and trust, luring in followers. For instance, if a self-proclaimed business guru has a big house and fancy cars, their followers may assume they’ve “made” it in life and are therefore a solid source of information.
But this can be nothing more than a facade. Just because an influencer looks legitimate doesn’t mean they are. The influencer in question may not be actively trying to scam their followers, but giving advice to hundreds or thousands of people without any credentials or enough real-world experience can be highly damaging. Even if an online guru doesn’t make a penny, the information they spread can cause their followers to suffer.
On the other hand, some phony online gurus are just looking to make a quick buck. These individuals may claim to be highly knowledgeable in a certain topic, such as cryptocurrency or real estate, and then sell courses and seminars to advise keen onlookers looking to write their own success stories.
In the end, this can lead to people making very poor life decisions, solely based on the advice of an alleged guru. This can ruin one’s health, financial stability, interpersonal relationships, and more.
In short, fake online gurus exploit people’s desire to do better, be better, or feel better. So, how can you weed them out?
Signs of a Fake Online Guru
If you want some online advice but don’t want to risk dealing with a phony, keep the following red flags in mind.
1. A Lack of Credentials
If you’re going to take advice from someone, make sure they’re truly educated and experienced in what they’re talking about. No matter how well-versed a person may claim to be on a subject, if you’re going to take their word as the truth, credentials are paramount. This includes doctorates and other college degrees, professional experience, scientifically-backed research, and so on.
2. Unrealistic Promises
A crypto guru claiming to be making $50,000 a month? A health guru claiming this quick recipe can cause drastic weight loss? Think twice. Unrealistic promises may sound alluring, but they’re usually just that: unrealistic.
A phony guru will often use big claims to lure in followers and potential customers, so it’s crucial to question what they say. As the old adage goes, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
If you find yourself feeling unsure or suspicious when listening to what a guru is saying, follow your gut and take a step back. Do a little research on the topic at hand to determine how close to, or far from, reality a guru’s claims are.
3. Paid Courses or E-Books
A lot of gurus will make their money through the sale of online courses and e-books. Gurus often claim that the “secret” to their success lies within a paid course or e-book, urging the reader to pay up if they want to learn it all and reach success.
For the most part, no one guru has the “secret” to anything. In the end, you may end up paying hundreds of dollars for something that can be found on other platforms for free.
On YouTube, for example, you can find recipe ideas, business tips, cleaning hacks, workouts, and so much more, without having to pay a penny.
Again, you should do your due diligence even when using a free platform like YouTube, as creators can give shoddy advice. But there’s often no need to spend money on a course or e-book when there’s a fountain of knowledge available for free elsewhere.
4. Unprofessional Websites
It’s not hard to design a website well nowadays, especially with all the tools available online. Even if you’re a tech novice, creating a well-rounded website shouldn’t be a huge challenge.
So, if you spot a guru with a poorly designed or buggy website, think twice. A lack of effort into their online marketing or e-commerce platform can sometimes be a sign of general complacency, which doesn’t bode well for the service they claim to provide.
5. Past Controversies
If an online guru has been through one or more past controversies concerning their legitimacy or ethics, it’s best to steer clear. Occasionally, influencers become the target of phony hate campaigns or allegations. But remember that where there’s smoke, there’s usually a fire, and large-scale exposes or numerous allegations often come with some kind of real-world backing.
So, if you’ve come across a guru you like, make sure to do some background research. Is the information they provide credible? Are they known to treat followers or customers poorly? Can you find their paid content for free elsewhere? Make sure you have the answers to these questions beforehand.
6. Miracle Products
You may see a health guru selling a super-slimming tea, testosterone-boosting pill, herbal sleep aid, or similar. Products that have almost unbelievable properties should be considered with a grain of salt.
It’s one thing to buy a shoddy business course, but when it comes to your health, it’s paramount to ensure you’re not ingesting anything that doesn’t have solid clinical backing. No matter how much a guru promotes an ingredient or supplement, their word needs to be backed up by science, not just personal experience.
Fake Online Gurus Are Everywhere
It would be nice to assume that most online gurus are totally legit, but social media has allowed just about anyone to build a platform with their advice and tips, regardless of their experience. So, before you put your trust in any online guru, look out for the red flags above to make sure you’re not dealing with a phony.