Kevin Trudeau spent a night in jail last month and then his living expenses were cut off by a judge the following week, so I’ve decided to share my story. This is how I fell for Kevin Trudeau’s lies, how I realized I was being deceived, what I learned from it, and how I use my experience to try to help others. It’s not fun admitting you’ve been had, but not exposing this fraudster wouldn’t be great, either.
In 2005, I started experiencing severe pain that persisted even with strong painkillers. It became so bad that I had to quit my job and band, deplete my savings, ruin my credit, and put my life on hold to figure out what was wrong and to get treatment. I had to have several surgeries over the years and I continue to take medication for it to this day.
While I was going through the worst of this ordeal, I became very frustrated with the U.S. healthcare system. It took a long time to even find out what was wrong due to referrals and approvals, among many other issues, and I had some bad doctors, improper medication, and a failed surgery that made my affliction worse. Since my condition made me unable to work, I had to go a year with no income and without a life while I waited in pain. I nearly got evicted, all while creditors were hounding me for bills I could not pay.
I was beyond fed up; I felt hopeless. There seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel. I was optimistic at first, but after this treatment was promised to work and didn’t, and that surgery I waited months for made me feel worse, I became scared that this would be my new normal. I felt worthless. My life had previously revolved around my band, and since I was no longer regularly gigging or even working, I felt like I was contributing nothing to society. Many of the friends who were around for the fun concert nights and perks of being “with the band” had vanished. And there were some days the sharp, chronic pain of my illness was so unbearable – even with prescribed morphine – that I considered killing myself just to end the physical suffering. The multiple things I was doing weren’t helping and I felt something had to be changed if I was going to survive this.
Then I saw Kevin Trudeau’s infomercial for Natural Cures “They Don’t Want You to Know About. Listening to him talk helped calm my stress and worries. He knew that there were problems with the medical industry and promised not only to have cures, but ones that were affordable and easy. He hit on many of my problems and concerns and he seemed like a breath of fresh air. I was really curious what these secrets were so I went to the library and checked out his book.
Reading through the initial pages of the book, I felt like I connected with him. He wrote of a personal story from when he was 21 years old and was diagnosed with severe mitral valve prolapse, a valvular heart disease. His doctors in Illinois told him there was no cure. According to the book, he went to an alternative practitioner in Reno, NV who told him about supposed treatments that were banned in the United States but were available in other countries. He traveled to get live cell injections, went back to Illinois to get re-tested, and came up as not having the disease. He writes that he told his doctors that he was cured from the cell injections, to which they replied that couldn’t have been possible and he must not have had mitral valve prolapse to begin with, even though they were the ones who tested him and diagnosed him with the disease in the first place. He writes that his American doctors told him a “bold-faced lie”. I could believe and understand this story back then. Like me, he was young and did not want to accept what he was told about his health, especially when he had his whole life ahead of him. He was proactive in finding a way out of it and he overcame obstacles, at least according to the book. I found the story inspiring.
He seemed to really be compassionate and a consumer advocate. That sounds silly if you have prior knowledge of his history, but I had never heard of him before I saw the infomercial and I could no longer afford internet access. And, in my state of mind and based on my experiences, he hit on things that were true. He did talk about valid problems with the healthcare system, but what I didn’t realize at the time is that he then used that to make claims that were false or connect dots that were unrelated. But, to me, he was someone who got it. When I would explain certain real-life situations to friends, many of them were puzzled, since they’d never gone through it themselves and were not aware these things happened. He felt like a smart, compassionate friend who not only knew my struggles, but had even more information about them.
So he emotionally sets up his readers that he’s on their side and is just as angry as they are about being mistreated. “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” is in there a lot. I experienced real problems with the healthcare system, but I think they are largely due to mismanagement or unintended consequences of how it all works. I believe it’s most likely that the majority of healthcare workers want to help and don’t have bad motives. But he explains that things are actually set up intentionally by different corporations and government agencies that are working together to keep us down. He claims that’s the reason why it’s illegal to sell certain natural remedies, and that the legal consequences he’s faced with his previous infomercials are a result of that. It makes him seem like he is this fearless advocate who is willing to go to jail to spread the truth to the public. And I bought that hogwash completely. I equated him to civil rights leaders who technically broke laws and went to jail, but were doing the moral thing and history has shown what they did was right and very brave. Boy, do I feel stupid now. The things many of the civil rights leaders did were valid and the law was wrong. In Trudeau’s case, the laws are actually out there for good reason and for our protection, not to harm us. But I didn’t realize that then.
This is how Kevin’s followers can still believe him with all these legal troubles. He has already addressed this in a way that has convinced his fans that these court proceedings are actually proof that what he’s saying is true. He said that the government is suppressing information and that he’s not afraid of them because he wants to help, so his time in jail is just confirmation to them that he was right and it garners him deep admiration for having the guts to do it, damn the consequences. They believe he’s doing it for the greater good. This is why his supporters can get defensive of personal attacks on him. This may come across as crazy to skeptics. I don’t think they are insane; they believe his critics don’t realize he’s making these sacrifices to help all of us, even those who don’t believe him.
He comes right out in Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You to Know About that he is a convicted felon for credit card fraud. He admits he was guilty and writes that he used that experience to better himself and that those days are far in the past. It was actually because of his bad days that he fights for the greater good because he learned a deep moral lesson and wanted to turn his life around for the better. In More Natural “Cures” Revealed, he says that he was part of a secret group and that he actually took the fall for these unnamed persons, making him seem like he was brave.
When most people look at all the information out there on him that shows he’s dishonest, it understandably puzzles them how others can believe him. But, when I heard his side of the story first, then saw the news reports from the “mainstream media” on him later, it all just seemed like confirmation that Trudeau was right, especially since they happened to be from networks that had commercials from drug companies. He seems to have an answer for everything and knows which arguments will come up later and prepares his readers for that, all while appealing to their emotions and bringing up valid concerns and stretching them into unfounded conspiracies.
Here’s an example of how he appealed to me. The number of medications I was taking was increasing exponentially. I was prescribed a couple, then a few more. Then I had to take additional types of pills because my body was building up tolerance. Then I had to take a whole host of others to combat all the serious side effects of the other pills. I was on so many different drugs that, when I filled out questionnaires for doctors, there weren’t enough lines to list all the medications I was taking. He talked about this problem and showed how it’s proof that medical companies are working together to make you sick so that you need to keep taking more and more. He based something that was real to then make an unfounded statement. I now realize the truth is that medicine isn’t perfect but it’s constantly improving. And imperfection doesn’t mean the answer is to take medicine that doesn’t work at all just because it’s natural. But it seemed to make sense to me during my ordeal. I was angry and exhausted, and he was telling me who to blame, so I took that anger out on “Big Pharma”.
I did see some red flags while reading the book, but he ended up addressing those and eased those worries for me. For example, it felt weird that he was totally against all medications that were not all-natural. While I wanted to reduce the number of pills I was taking, I didn’t think they were all invalid. After all, my painkillers had multiple serious side effects, but they certainly helped reduce pain. He boldly stated that all medications were scams. I was raised in a household that believed to only take medicine when absolutely necessary and that natural remedies were better, which is part of why it was even easier for me to believe his book. I realize now that this is the “appeal to nature” fallacy, but even back then I believed in complementary medicine – using both conventional and alternative medicine – which is still invalid, but I didn’t completely dismiss modern medicine altogether. But then Trudeau eased those concerns by saying that he would use conventional medicine for extreme cases, such as a car accident, then falsely claimed that this is what the medical facilities are supposed to be for. That’s actually terrible advice and can lead to people not getting preventative care, but perhaps he just says that so if he is ever admitted to a real medical facility, he can claim he’s not being a hypocrite.
I started following much of his advice. I bought all my food only from the natural and organic food stores. It was hard because of how much more expensive it was but I thought it was worth it to improve my health. It didn’t. And I did the cleanses he mentioned. They made me sick, but you’re told that the sickness is the “toxins” leaving your body and proof that it’s actually working. He had an answer for everything ahead of time, so things that would make you otherwise realize it’s quackery actually just strengthened his credibility.
I then saw an infomercial for More Natural “Cures” Revealed. I called and ordered the book. I was offered some other products and services by the rep, all of which I declined. It is not uncommon for phone sales reps or store cashiers to try to sell other products, but it seemed like an excessive amount of offers, even with that in mind. And some of these were from other large companies – the kind he seemed to be against. But I shrugged it off as just being the way marketing and selling were heading.
The book took longer than promised to arrive at my doorstep. I read it and didn’t think that much of it. It mostly piggybacked off the other Natural Cures book, while adding a few other “tips”, like drinking castor oil mixed with beer for digestive health or the claim that eating coconut oil would make you lose so much weight so quickly, your pants would be falling off within days. I took his coconut oil advice, despite my dislike for coconut taste and knowing how high in fat it was. He wrote that the fat was fine and went on about how we’ve been lied to about nutrition and to just trust him and you would lose the weight. I did what he said and it didn’t work. I started to really wonder about him.
Not long after, I saw another charge on my credit card bill from one of his companies. I did order his book, which I paid for, but that was all I ever bought from him. I called and asked what this new charge was for. They said it was a subscription to his newsletter. I told them I never ordered that. They apologized and said it would be reversed and my subscription would be canceled. The next month, I got another charge for the newsletter. I called and the same thing happened.
I did eventually receive a newsletter. He promoted some of his other services and there was an opportunity to be part of a new business he was starting. Then I read an article he wrote in the newsletter that I knew was factually inaccurate. It claimed that the spinach recall that happened in 2006 was a wakeup call that we need to have only organic farming. But the cause of the e.coli contamination was not whether or not the produce was organic; it was linked to manure. And some of the spinach recalled was organic.
I decided to go to the library to look him up on the internet. I came across sites like Quackwatch, which debunked his claims. And then I came across consumer sites, such as this, which had stories similar to mine of being charged for products never bought and never refunded. Some people tried to fight tooth and nail for a long time, and eventually just changed credit card numbers to avoid recurring charges. So I did the same, especially since my credit card company said they couldn’t really help. When I first saw Trudeau’s infomercials, I was in such financial trouble that I no longer had internet service. If I had, I’m pretty sure I would’ve done a search and come across this information before the damage had been done, but I was glad to have found out later rather than never.
So I put my Kevin Trudeau days behind me and continued my fight in a much better way than what he suggested. I was right when I felt that I needed to make a big change, but that change wasn’t to give up on the health system and modern medicine. I eventually found a highly credible doctor at a respected hospital who took my concerns seriously. He reviewed my previous treatment and explained how it was actually counterproductive and he reviewed my surgery records and found that my previous doctor had botched my surgery. He put me on different medications, monitored my progress and adjusted my treatment based on that, and performed a much better surgery than my former doctor. When I faced problems with the healthcare system, he would make the phone calls or sign the letters necessary to override issues. He was truly a fighter and advocate for me, unlike Kevin Trudeau, and he helped improve my life, which I am eternally grateful for. The other cracks in the healthcare system were valid problems, but the fact that it has huge flaws does not mean that junk science alternative medicine is the answer.
I eventually started working again and later enrolled in college. Things were different, and I didn’t just snap back to the life I had before, but I was starting to feel like a productive member of the world again. And I no longer felt hopeless. I was still dealing with health issues but they were increasingly getting better and more manageable, so I was able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I then started getting weird mail. One claimed that they knew who I was and that I was special, so I could be part of a secret elite group if I responded. I have posted the bizarre letter here. I knew it was a scam, so I didn’t fall for it. It was obnoxious that I still had to deal with him, even after I realized he was a phony.
I think a big part of why Trudeau convinces people is that he gets people in need while they are in bad situations. Sometimes people tell me they are very surprised that someone like me fell for this. I think there’s this misconception that only the dumb fall for fakery and so they get what they deserve. Heck, when I look back, I’m sometimes surprised and embarrassed of myself. But, it seems that Trudeau, whom I believe knows he is selling false information, is so successful at convincing people because he gets many of them at a bad time when they are grateful for any “help” they can get and may be less skeptical, and plays upon people’s emotions. And, when people are struggling and feel alone, I think it’s easier to appeal to their emotions. While I don’t admire Mr. Trudeau, he is very good at what he does on so many levels, all while exploiting loopholes in the legal system to mostly get away with what he has done. He’s a con man, but a thorough and intelligent one at that.
While I take responsibility for falling for his lies, when I see Trudeau and others like him exploiting others, my goal isn’t to ridicule the followers but to focus on the actions of the deceiver. Seeing him in the news has made me angry all over again about what I experienced, but I realize I have used this as a huge lesson and turned it into positive things. I am now skeptical of extraordinary claims and make sure to fact check from credible sources.
Looking him up and searching alternative medicine led me to some skeptic sites, such as the aforementioned Quackwatch, along with Skepdic, What’s the Harm, Science-Based Medicine, and videos of James Randi. While they didn’t convince me immediately – mostly due to my strong belief in conspiracies - they made me do a lot of questioning and they eventually helped me find skeptic communities. I was reached out to by skeptical activists while I was a true believer and they didn’t even know it, so I use that experience to remember that my audience isn’t just other skeptics, it’s the general public. It’s the scammed. It’s the people about to be tricked but aren’t because of information they found. And I use my knowledge of how I was convinced of lies to put myself in others’ shoes who are being victimized by other scams. I try to look at what happened to me as a positive thing that can help me assist others because I can understand some of their points of views. And it keeps my fire going to fight the fakers, because, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”.
Cherry Teresa is a blogger and keyboardist who includes skeptical and humanistic themes in her work. She is a life-long advocate of equality and works for a non-profit in Los Angeles serving the LGBT community. You can read her posts and listen to her music at cherryteresa.com.