How to Spot Spiritual Frauds Online

I hope, if I’ve done anything over the eight year span of writing this blog, it is to teach you discernment. Besides critical thinking, an essential part of discernment, and perhaps the core of it in this day and age, is how, why, and when to question unearned authority. In fact, when learning discernment (a.k.a. critical thinking), it is imperative that we learn how to question unearned authority.

What is unearned authority?

Unearned authority is any self-appointed position of power. This may also include positions of power ordained by popularity, because what is popular is not always what is right (morally) or correct (factually).

Anyone can become an influencer, and anyone can become a coach without any education, training, practice, or apprenticeship.

All they have to do is make themselves appear credible or popular, because coaching is an unregulated industry and “influencing” relies solely on number of alleged followers. But faking credibility on social media is easy to do, and this is, in fact, what many business coaches recommend.

Social media followers can be purchased (and often are), and social media engagement can be purchased (and often is).

Back when I was working with tech startups, they would almost always buy a huge number of fake followers to try to make themselves appear more credible in the eyes of a potential investor –– but then they’d realize that it kills their engagement and makes it difficult to build an audience organically and they were stuck using paid ads to try to grow an audience.

Self-publishing means anyone can be an “author.”

Just because you wrote a book doesn’t mean it’s content is actually worth anything, and likewise, just because a book is popular doesn’t mean it’s content is worth anything. It also doesn’t mean the person who wrote it is educated or trained in what they are writing about. Unless a book is researched and backed up with cited scientific or historical sources… it’s just someone’s long-winded opinion.

Professional graphics can be created from templates.

Looking professional doesn’t mean something is professional. Good branding and photography makes someone look credible because it’s like, “Oh, they must be making enough money to hire professionals. They must be good at what they do.”

Hey guess what? I designed and built this website myself. I also took all of my own photos. They’re just selfies. I don’t sell anything (besides these astrology readings to help cover the cost of hosting this site), but people assume all the time that I am running a major business, simply because my site looks nice.

Certifications can be earned in a matter of hours online.

Unless a certification has been earned through an accredited academic institution, it doesn’t really carry any weight. Be wary of certifications where all you do is learn another person’s method for doing something. Those kinds of certifications carry no credibility or authority and are pretty much only designed to make money for the person doing the certification.

If a certification doesn’t involve a certain number of hours of practicum, it’s also no guarantee that the person obtaining it will actually have any experience or be capable of doing whatever it is they were certified in.

Weekend certifications are a big time red flag.

You’ll also want to check the credentials of the institutions that people are touting. For example, someone with a “degree” from Santa Monica University:

Santa Monica University isn’t a real university, nor is it an accredited academic institution. It was founded by former Mormon John Rodger Hinkins, who also founded the Movement of Spiritual Inner-Awareness (MSIA), which is a spiritual church that borders on cult. The same behaviors that were problematic in MSIA have been reported at Santa Monica University, formerly known as Koh-e-nor University.

I don’t think anyone would want to work with someone who learned their methods from an institution known for abusing its members.

You can pay other people to write your captions and engage with your audience for you, so one-to-one relationships can also be faked.

I get constantly bombarded by marketing people trying to cold-sell these services on Instagram. One woman rolled up in my inbox uninvited, with an offer to help boost my instagram engagement. I used the tool I’ve linked to below to look up her engagement – because why would I trust someone else to do something for me that they haven’t been able to do for themselves, right?

Her engagement rate was .43%, compared to my own, which was over 8%. When I sent her a screen cap and asked her the very honest question of, “Why would I pay someone to help me with social media who isn’t doing as good a job at it as I already am?” she absolutely lost her shit on me, told me I didn’t know anything about marketing on Instagram, that I was a joke, my page is fake, I’m rude, I’m a failure, I need to work on myself, she is way more established than me, and that I shouldn’t be in business –– even though I told her multiple times that I DON’T HAVE A BUSINESS –– and that I clearly have some issues. One of us definitely has some issues, but I’m not sure it’s me…

AI programs can now write captions so coaches don’t have to demonstrate real expertise in their content.

This is actually a thing and besides the fact that everyone in this industry is taught to write captions the same way, it’s probably another reason why every coach’s content is essentially the same as all of the others.

Content can be plagiarized (and often is).

A number of New Age influencers with large followings have been caught plagiarizing content. Audrey Kitching and Jay Shetty are just two of them. I’ve had coaches rip off my content as well.

Podcast appearances/connections can be paid for via mastermind groups (and many times are).

In fact, this is the entire premise of Lewis Howes’ coaching mastermind. You pay Lewis thousands of dollars to network with him and other people who paid thousands of dollars to network with him, and then you can be on each other’s podcasts. And by paying him thousands of dollars, he will introduce you to celebrities he knows who may make appearances on your podcast.

Surprise, surprise… Jay Shetty is one of his connections that he regularly works with.

Self-reported sales can be lies. Statistics can be twisted or manipulated.

You can say whatever you want to on the internet and no one is going to police you.

Testimonials can be from friends, not real clients, or worse, they can be coerced or required as part of the program.

Pretty much all of the testimonials coaches post are a requirement for being in the program. I’ve talked to multiple people who gave a positive testimonial simply because they had to and felt they couldn’t be honest because it was expected of them.

Question submissions in stories can be self-submitted.

Those people who buy followers and have no engagement have to make it look like people give a shit about what they are saying, so they do those cutesy little Q&As in their instagram stories and submit questions to themselves. They also slip in questions that they can relate back to something they want to talk about, specifically things they are selling, just to give themselves an opportunity to talk about it in a way that appears to be organic, but is in fact, orchestrated.

Placements in major media outlets can be part of paid advertising opportunities or part of a PR service like You don’t have to be extraordinary to do this.

There are programs like this and Help A Reporter Out that let you sign up and bill yourself as an expert. If you’re a decent writer, it’s also not that difficult to get published in places like HuffPo.

The point is: you don’t actually have to be qualified or good at what you do to appear successful, especially online.

It can all be faked and much of it is because that’s what business coaches teach their clients to do to build traction. Many of these people are simply prolific marketers, not experts.

Here’s a few tips to protect yourself from these kinds fraudsters:

1: ALWAYS thoroughly Google them and look for what other people are saying about them, not just media placements. Remember, those can be paid for.

The only exception is investigative journalism. For example, if you Google The Holistic Psychologist, you will find multiple articles in Vice discussing her problematic behavior with regard to racism, trauma-education, and more. I’ve also written about her myself, here.

2: Watch “Fake Famous” on HBO for more unsavory tactics used by influencers to amass the facade of fame.

3: Check whether or not your favorite coach/influencer’s following is made up of paid bot accounts. Here’s a free tool [CLICK].

Everyone ends up with a few bots, but anything below 75% credibility is suspect. For example, if only 60% of the an audience of 470,000 is real, it means that 200,000 of them are not real people. Less than 1% engagement is also indicative that a large chunk of the audience isn’t made up of real followers.

I hope you find these tips, tools, and resources to be helpful in discerning the real folks from the fake ones.

PS: If you found today's topic intriguing and you're an entrepreneur or practitioner who offers services to others, I would recommend checking out my articles on conscious business and subscribing to get notified when there are new posts. Learn how you can work with me here and be sure to check out my new online course, Ethical Entrepreneurship.

Thanks for being here,



Enjoy this post? Subscribe to get ass-kicking inspiration delivered to your inbox.


If you benefit from the free educational content I provide and would like to further support my ability to provide these resources, you can purchase a business consultation, or make a donation:


Venmo: @akk4zd

Discover more from Ash Riley | In My Sacred Space

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading