Looking to take an online course? Beware these 6 red flags that suggest a rip-off

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Sabina Hitchen, the CEO and founder of Press for Success, says you need to make informed choices in order to get the best bang for your buck with online classes.

Millions of Americans are forking out thousands of dollars for online courses, pursuing passion projects and acquiring new skills they hope will give them a competitive edge in a tight job market.

But with the average course costing $1,400, Sabina Hitchen, the CEO and founder of Press for Success, said you need to make informed choices to get the best bang for your buck.

“The opportunities, insider information, and experts, who are now at our fingertips, is like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” Hitchen, who is also a small business expert, told The Post Wednesday. “But just as with any new exciting field, you have to filter the bad out when consuming the good.”

The guru warns that there is “very little regulation” of the online education industry, and scammers and grifters are running riot, taking advantage of a lucrative market that feels like “the digital Wild West.”

Below, Hitchen shares six signs to watch for before you whip out your credit card and sign up for an expensive online course.

Sabina Hitchen, the CEO and founder of Press for Success, says you need to make informed choices in order to get the best bang for your buck with online classes. Ana Gambuto
Sabina Hitchen, the CEO and founder of Press for Success, says you need to make informed choices in order to get the best bang for your buck with online classes. Ana Gambuto

Beware of ‘influencers’ posing as experts

With a whopping 57% of Zoomers believing they can easily make a career in content creation, courses run by TikTok and Instagram influencers are becoming increasingly common.

But buyer beware: a large social media following doesn’t equate to being an industry expert or a successful educator, according to Hitchen.

She said it’s important to do background research on the teacher’s credentials and track record in the field, even if you recognize their name from social media.

“Try to avoid the ‘I did this once for myself, now I’m teaching it to others without any industry training,’ ” Hitchen said. “Would you choose a dentist or pilot that way?”

Lack of clear course offerings

Those who take an online course often have a clear objective in mind, so make sure there’s a detailed class-by-class program that will realistically help you achieve that outcome.

Hitchen urges people to avoid courses that lack a clear structure or seem disorganized.

“You’ll likely struggle to gain real value from them,” she reasoned.

Hitchen urges people to avoid courses that lack a clear structure or seem disorganized. Sabina Hitchen
Hitchen urges people to avoid courses that lack a clear structure or seem disorganized. Sabina Hitchen

Unrealistic promises

Similarly, beware of online courses that overpromise, as it’s more than likely that they’ll underdeliver.

For instance, if you’re taking a course led by an influencer, be very skeptical about claims that you’ll become just as successful on social media as they are.

Of course, that might be the outcome you’re seeking, but be realistic with your goals. That way, you’re going to be more judicious about the course you choose and where you’re investing your money.

“When people lean into the promise of suspicious results, it’s time to put up your radar and proceed with caution,” Hitchen said. “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Limited access or support

With the average class costing four figures, it’s reasonable to expect instructors to be available to help you with any concerns.

Before signing up for a course, think carefully about how much direct support you’ll need and check whether the classes offer such a service. If they don’t, you may not be getting the best value for money.

With the average class costing four figures, it’s reasonable to expect instructors to be available to help you with any concerns. Goffkein – stock.adobe.com
With the average class costing four figures, it’s reasonable to expect instructors to be available to help you with any concerns. Goffkein – stock.adobe.com

Nonexistent reviews or suspect testimonials

While some online courses may simply be lackluster, others are full-on scams.

Given that even fraudulent websites can now look ultra-slick, it can take a high degree of digital literacy to figure out whether something advertised online is the real deal.

“Check out their testimonials and ‘praise’ sections of their website and make sure the people referenced are actual people and not suspicious initials with no real proof of who they are or if they’re even real,” Hitchen advised. “Look for authentic reviews, social proof, or testimonials from previous students or customers.”

Avoid people or programs that pressure you

“Be concerned with people who hear your financial limitations and push you to do it anyway,” Hitchen said. “Pass on people who make you feel like if you don’t spend a lot of money now, your chance to learn is over.”

If you can, Hitchen suggested finding a course “sample” first.

“Most experts offer free ‘teaser’ courses and downloadables that will give you a feel for their content and tone,” she explained. “You can learn a lot from these.”

Hitchen is a huge fan of the online education industry and encourages everybody to expand their skills by taking a class — just be sure to do your homework beforehand.

“Sure, there are faux pros,” she admitted. “But there are also real-life industry people like yours truly who are working tirelessly to create access to opportunities and education that you can leverage to change your life!”