After teaching a 3-day workshop on legal/ethical issues for online counseling, a middle aged psychologist walked up to me and turned his back to the other people, only to whisper something in my ear. He started speaking slowly and methodically, almost as if it was painful, “I want to tell you something, but I don’t want anyone else to hear me.”
I stepped to the side of the room, as I turned and asked the other people waiting to speak with me just give me five minutes. This is what the man said:
“I started working for a counseling company who wanted licensed practitioners for their online counseling service. I gave about 15 hours a week for six months. It was easy to fill the hours because whenever I had an opening, I could call the company and they would always find somebody for me to connect with from somewhere in the world.
The agreement was they were supposed to pay me quarterly, because they were a startup didn’t have much cash flow at the beginning. At the end of the first quarter they didn’t pay me in full, but rather, they paid me a substantial portion of what I was owed, and promised to pay the balance with 15% interest at the end of the next quarter.
I was happy with the influx of cash earned in what otherwise would be empty hours, and I had no reason to believe they weren’t doing well. At the end of the next quarter they had nothing to give me. I was told that one of the partners had barely taken off with cash and left the country. When I threaten to sue them, the remaining partner offered to give me a part of the company in exchange for what was owed. I accepted.
And this is the part I need you to know and tell others: because I was now an owner in the company they gave me the passwords to the back of the website. I’ve been a part owner for over a year now, and it’s only recently that I bothered to use the passwords I was given a look at some of the documents on the backend of the website, on the server. It was only after a weekend of looking at records from the beginning that I finally began to understand….
They had taken my name and my license number and assigned it to a number of cases that were seen during hours that I was not available. From what I understand now, they had forged my name and fraudulently been billing people’s credit cards who thought they were speaking with me, but the truth is, the person they were speaking to was not me. There were hundreds of hours billed this way. I’m serious. There were hundreds of fraudulent charges.
I have no idea who was using my name, and I’m not going to press charges, because the guilty party is probably the guy who left the country. No one knows where he went, so it seems futile to try and track down.
The other reason I’m not going to say anything is that I am now an owner of this company and need to make it succeed. There are a lot of things that can go on with these websites, and nobody is behind-the-scenes verifying who consumers speak with when they think they’re talking with someone who’s credentialed.
When people come to the website and pay their money, they really don’t have a clue who they’re really speaking to. All they know is that somebody is using a name of someone who has a license. If they checked by state licensing board, they would see that indeed my license is valid. But the reality is, they could be speaking to the janitor, who might just happen to be a good schmoozer. The the point is, a consumer and professionals like me can easily get bamboozled by ruthless business people who take advantage of us both.
I didn’t wear my name badge this weekend, and I’m leaving right now. Just don’t forget my story. Let other people know that the Internet is a wild West right now, and that assumptions can be dangerous.
How can you tell who’s who online? Your ideas are welcomed!