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When Vegans Go Bad: Beware of Scams on the Vegan Community
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When Vegans Go Bad: Beware of Scams on the Vegan Community

Being a vegan is about much more than just abstaining from eating meat. It is a lifestyle and mentality that many of us hold dearly.

We carefully scrutinize the foods and products we use. However, we can’t know everything. A certain level of trust must be established with the brands we use and the people we rely on.

It is especially hurtful when we learn someone has been pulling the wool over our eyes. Anyone who takes advantage of our trusting nature could be considered a villain.

Scammers in the Vegan Community

Sadly, there are several instances where people or companies perpetrated scams against vegans.

Sometimes, the scams were hidden behind questionable or bad behavior. Other times, vegans were provided fraudulent, inappropriate or dangerous advice. Occasionally, scams emerge as mislabeled products or services.

We have several examples of scams and fraud in the vegan community. Several of these situations may seem obvious—a bit of common sense might have prevented them. However, the point isn’t to make judgments or place blame.

It is important to understand what has happened in the past so we can avoid a similar fate in the future.

Real Estate Fraud

A married couple, the Taliferos, committed scams against vegans in Ventura County, California.

The couple asked people to invest in their spa—The Raw Vegan Village and Spa. They made promises to the investors that they never intended to keep.

In fact, the Taliferos hadn’t even acquired the necessary building permits—an acquisition process that is long and expensive.

Several real estate investors sued the couple, but justice was not served for everyone who lost money.

Vegan Lifestyle “Gurus”

Sadly, there are numerous examples of gurus behaving badly.

Many lifestyle “experts” encourage vegans to attend fasting retreats. While there are several that are hosted in the US, there are numerous retreats that happen outside the country (Costa Rica and Panama specifically).

These off-shore destinations imply faulty behavior and practices; international laws might not be as strict or implemented appropriately.

There have been numerous reports of retreat participants dying during or shortly after their experience. The “diet doctors” leading these gatherings recommend patients treat severe illnesses with a modified diet or fasting.

Several vegan or raw foods gurus have engaged in questionable activities in a previous life. Before becoming “experts,” many have been disciplined by state governments, cited for unprofessional conduct, or declared incompetent. Licenses have been revoked and credentials were never acquired.

One specific example is Bernarr Zovluck, a natural hygiene, vegan guru. Legal action was taken against him in 1967 and 1977Action outside court was pursued again in 2002. As of 2012, he was still peddling his services.

In one of Zovluck’s court documents, he admitted to listening to the Bible with a stethoscope and hearing the words coming from God that told him to treat people if they would pray with him.

According to his own bio, Zovluck is the “best laying on of hands healer in the world.” He also helps anyone be better instantly…feel better, function better and look better—immediately.” Among other things, his services include remote healing via telephone.

“Vegan” Dining

There have been several examples of vegan restaurants taking advantage of their clients’ trusting nature.

One meal delivery service, Cousin’s Incredible Vitality, provided services to vegans in Chicago. They suspiciously closed their doors when the owner moved (fled?) to Turkey. Customers who had subscribed to the meal delivery service were unable to get a refund on their unfilled orders.

Café Gratitude operated a chain of vegan restaurants. However, many employees reported a cult-like environment.

Employees were “highly encouraged” to take classes that were intended to empower people and participants parroted the same line: “the classes changed my life.” But not everyone was convinced; some felt the classes compromised personal beliefs. Additionally, employees were denied promotions and several were fired for not participating.

Recently, two independent food bloggers took it upon themselves to evaluate the local vegan dining options. They obtained samples from 17 vegan restaurants in the Los Angeles area. Of the 17, seven showed traces of animal products in the food.

Fighting Against Fraudsters

Fortunately, these are some of the most extreme examples of fraud that have plagued the vegan community. While they might be few and far between, we all need to do what we can to stay safe.

  • Discuss any major lifestyle or diet changes with your doctor before implementing them. Don’t change your medication or use holistic treatments—especially questionable ones--unless your doctor gives you the ok.
  • Carefully research any new diet or lifestyle fads. If something like “immediate healing” or a fasting retreat sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Check with online complaint boards. Haw anyone else expressed concerns over a particular vegan guru or company?
  • Research the credentials of any nutrition or lifestyle experts before working with them. Be sure to consult credible sources—not all places on the internet are reliable. Check to make sure organizations like the health department haven’t taken actions against them.

If you have been a victim of such a scam (or suspect questionable behavior), take action immediately.

  • If you’ve been working with a business that acts inappropriately, is mislabeling products or services, or overpricing vegan products, contact the Better Business Bureau. Contacting BBB isn’t a legal action, but notifying these watchdogs can help others stay safe.
  • You should also contact the attorney general in your state.
  • If you used your credit card to make a purchase and the merchant didn’t follow through on their claims or you are otherwise unsatisfied, you can get your money back. eConsumerServices helps people who have been victimized by online fraud, credit card scams or other unsavory practices.
  • If you came across the scam on the internet, there is a specific government agency prepared to fight against such scammers. The Internet Crime Complaints Center is a joint effort by several of the nation’s highest law enforcement agencies.

Do you know of any other vegan scams that have been making the rounds? Let us know and help keep everyone all safe!


Royalty Free image purchased from iStockPhoto.

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