WA’s fake psychologist: how simple background checks could have prevented the scam

Perth man, Tyson John Vacher (aka Dr. John Vacher), has admitted in court to posing as a psychologist, and seeing patients from an office in North Fremantle.

On the website for his business, John Vacher Psychology (jvpsychology.com), Vacher makes a number of misleading claims. Among them, he states he is a member of the Australian Counsellors’ Association with 10 years’ experience, making him just 13 years old when he embarked on his career. Worse still, listings on other websites (such as those now deleted on Psychology Today and LinkedIn) stated Vacher holds a PhD in psychology and a qualification from the University of Southern Queensland – none of the above claims are true.

The alarm was raised last week with the WA Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety releasing a statement alerting those seeking mental health services to Vacher’s misconduct. In it, Commissioner for Consumer Protection, Lanie Chopping, expresses specific concern for vulnerable people suffering from mental health issues who may have been scammed.

“It’s alarming to me that someone with no qualifications or experience as a practicing psychologist should be offering professional help to people who may be suffering from depression, anxiety, sexual abuse trauma or other mental health issues,” Chopping said.

“Our investigation into Mr. Vacher has confirmed that he does not hold the formal qualifications in psychology that he claims and his assertion of having ten years’ experience is ridiculous considering he is only 23 years old.”

The price Vacher will pay for his deception

Charged with a raft of offenses, including gaining a benefit by fraud, uttering a forged record with intent to defraud, and knowingly or recklessly using a name, initial, symbol, word or description that falsely indicated he was an authorised or qualified health practitioner, Vacher faced sentencing on Wednesday, June 24.

He pleaded guilty in court to all charges and admitted his victim (it is unclear how many patients Vacher actually treated) shared sensitive personal information with him, trusting he was a qualified psychologist.

Vacher’s prior history of fraud

Worryingly, this is not Vacher’s first foray into fraud.

In 2016, a then 20-year-old conman was running the now defunct Black Tie Waiters. Over the course of the year he took payments from clients, but failed to supply event staff, or offer re-imbursements. In September 2017, Consumer Protection ordered him to pay almost $7,500 in fines, compensation and costs – little compensation for those clients whose big events Vacher ruined.

How Vacher’s clients could have avoided being duped

Considering his devious past, Commissioner Chopping believes Vacher will continue to pose a threat to the local community and recommends anyone looking for health services do their homework before engaging a practitioner.

 “Considering the previous prosecution by Consumer Protection and his lack of qualifications and experience in his current business venture, we believe Mr. Vacher poses a danger to people who may be seeking help from him,” she said.

 “Consumers looking for the services of a health practitioner should check the AHPRA (Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency) website to ensure that they are dealing with a suitably qualified and properly registered professional.”

To work as a clinical psychologist in Australia, counsellors must complete a three-year accredited undergraduate psychology sequence, then a fourth-year accredited psychology course, and finally, complete a two-year internship, or two-year Master’s degree in order to work as a psychologist. All practicing psychologists must then be registered with the Psychology Board of Australia.

Visitors to the AHPRA website can check the Register of Practitioners to confirm whether an individual is registered with a national health practitioner board. The website also offers a register of cancelled practitioners.

How background checks can help prevent fraud

To be listed with on the AHPRA website all professionals must prove they can suitably and safely practice in Australia by passing a National Police Check – in Vacher’s case, this would have exposed his previous run-in with the law.

In addition, simple checks to verify professional qualifications, previous employment and references would have exposed Vacher’s false employment history, qualifications and memberships.

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