Gobsmacked

Gobsmacked: adjective: shocked, astounded, astonished.

Gobsmacked is my favorite word of late, and unfortunately, myself and many other people in the massage world have been gobsmacked recently, to learn that a colleague who was admired and trusted has let us down. I am addressing this because I have had a very public relationship with this person. I have appeared on a blog she owns for several months, which incidentally she refuses to remove my picture from, as well as the pictures of the other women on the blog who would also like to be removed from it. It’s a childish and petty game designed to continue the illusion of credibility by association. She has announced many times over the past couple of years that I am her mentor. I am also addressing this now because I have just now received a thick letter from the MN Attorney General’s Office suggesting additional avenues of complaint for those who have been affected.

The first inkling I had that anything was wrong was a couple of months ago. A therapist attending a class I taught stayed after class to discuss a problem. She had ordered a book (and received it). Months later, she noticed another charge on her credit card. When she questioned it, she was told it was for shipping for a book–one that she had not ordered. It took several emails and messages to get the money refunded. Still, since that was the first report I had personally heard of any problem, I viewed it as an isolated incident.

If only that were the case. About a month ago, I started receiving emails with similar–and in some cases much worse–stories from therapists reporting incidents of unauthorized charges as high as $850 appearing on credit card statements.

There have been reports of therapists waiting as long as six months for books that have been paid for to be shipped, which they have been told were backordered. The books are actually print-on-demand from Amazon’s publishing arm, Createspace. There is no such thing as a back order. You pay, they publish and ship immediately. I have published four books there myself. I order books, they arrive within two to three days. That’s how it works.

There have also been many reports of therapists paying $350 for websites she was offering to build during a promotion, many of which are reportedly sub-par, full of grammar mistakes, have non-functional features, and to the un-web savvy out there, many have not realized that they were not the owners of their own websites, but rather that ownership was retained by the contractor. I received an email from her stating that anyone could request to have their website returned to their ownership. I have also personally seen correspondence that was extremely rude and hostile to a person who had requested that. I have received reports that websites that were ordered (and paid for) months ago have still not been put online, but when the person tried to cancel, were told that they could not because work had already started on it.

Other complaints have included the inability to access webinars that have been promised at the rate of one per day, for a total of 260 webinars…most people have said that they were only to access 8 webinars and some were not able to access any at all. She was also making the offer to do social media marketing for massage therapists, and most were disappointed to find that the posts did not cover the subject matter they had asked for, were again full of typos and/or incorrect grammar, and were not made the frequency they had been promised.

To add fuel to the fire, a newspaper story of a 2010 arrest for swindling a Mankato, MN businessman started circulating on Facebook. Several resourceful massage therapists, including myself, started doing a lot of investigating. I personally called the man who had her arrested. I have also personally spoken with or emailed with numerous massage therapists who have lost money and received no goods or services.

I have also received reports of taxes prepared that were not signed and no PTIN number provided. If that has happened to you, here is the complaint form. If you paid ANY amount of money to have your taxes filled out, the preparer is obligated to sign and provide the PTIN on the return. You may also report that to the Minnesota Department of Revenue, 600 North Robert St, Saint Paul, MN 55101.

In the event that she represented herself to you as being a CPA, as she did to many, you may also complain to the Minnesota Board of Accountancy, 85 E. 7th Place, Suite 125, Saint paul, MN, 55101.

According to the letter I received from the MN Attorney General, those who have been affected should file a complaint with the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, Attn: Sheriff Matt Bostrom, 425 Grove St, Saint Paul, MN 55101, and with the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, Government Ceneter West, Suite 315, 50 West Kellogg Blvd, Saint Paul, MN 55102.

The Attorney General also suggests filing a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Health, Office of Unlicensed and Alternative Health Care Practice, POB 64882, Saint Paul, MN, 55164.

If you have transacted business over the Internet and you have not received the goods or services that you have paid for, you may report that here.

You may also file a complaint with the NCBTMB.

When you use the complaint form, you must quote the section of the Code or the Standards that have been violated, so I am going to provide that here:

Code of Ethics:
VII. Conduct their business and professional activities with honesty and integrity, and respect the inherent worth of all persons.

Standard IV covers Business Practices. In your complaint, you should quote Standard IV and then whichever of these applies to the transactions you had.

d. accurately and truthfully inform the public of services provided

e. honestly represent all professional qualifications and affiliations

j. not exploit the trust and dependency of others, including clients and employees/co-workers

The worst of these offenses is ignoring customers…the massage therapists who believed in her and sent her their hard-earned money. The same story prevails over and over–that therapists who have contacted her to ask where their goods and services are have been ignored, blocked from her FB pages and messages, been thrown out of groups that she had organized on the Internet because they dared to question her, and have been subjected to her failure to return emails and phone calls.

I spoke to the person these accusations have been leveled at on the phone after all of this blew up on FB, and she told me that she was going to contact all the people that she owed goods and services to and make it right. A later communication from her told me that in fairness that I should mention that many people have ordered things from her and received them, so I will. A still further communication from her stated that she has hired attorneys in five states and a PR firm.

Any company can have customer service problems. My company could have a customer service problem. However, I am the owner of the company, and the burden falls on me to do anything about it.The buck stops here.

This is not the kind of post I enjoy making. There is nothing fun about seeing dozens of massage therapists out their money and disheartened over someone they believed was going to help them. There is nothing fun about seeing a colleague who is creative and smart fall from grace. The sad thing is, if all this energy had been applied to delivering what people were promised, she’d be a millionaire by now. I urge you, if you have been affected by this, to take the time to report it to the proper authorities. Your failure to do so will just make it easier for others to be victimized in the future. I cringe to think that someone right out of massage school has had, or will have, this kind of introduction to professional massage.

Cherie Sohnen-Moe and I have recently collaborated on an article that is appearing in Massage Today about how to avoid being a victim of Internet and other scams: An Ounce of Prevention Can Save You a Lot of Heartache.

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