One of the leading ‘gay cure’ groups in the US is facing a federal fraud complaint from a gay rights coalition.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) have joined together to make the case against People Can Change.

According to HRC, the Virginia-based group People Can Change “preys on vulnerable LGBT people and families by using damaging and discredited claims that it can change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity”.

PCC says it provides services to people who are “seeking to overcome homosexual desires”, with desperate people and families forking over as much as $650 per ‘workshop’ in a bid to cure homosexuality.

The coalition of groups this week filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – the agency charged with protecting America’s consumers – attacking the “junk pseudoscience” at the root of PCC’s “conversion therapy” practices.

It alleges: “The PCC’s advertisements and business practices, which expressly and implicitly claim that they can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, constitute deceptive, false, and misleading practices and can cause serious harm to consumers, all in direct violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act.”

The complaint also alleges that the groups violates guidelines by claiming that homosexuality is a mental illness, claiming its services have a basis in science, and using unsubstantiated testimonials to defraud consumers, targeting vulnerable groups.

HRC President Chad Griffin said: “Conversion therapy is abusive, harmful to children, and we urge the FTC to join our call to ban its practice once and for all.

“This is dangerous junk science that uses fear and shame to tell young people the only way to find love and acceptance is by changing the very nature of who they are.

“Today, after decades of advocacy, the voices of conversion therapy survivors have carried all the way up to the highest levels of government.

“This historic complaint is not only the first clear opportunity the Obama Administration has had to end these deadly practices for good, but, if investigated fully, could very well be the final nail in the coffin of the entire conversion therapy industry.”

Samantha Ames of the National Center for Lesbian Rights said: “We sincerely look forward to working with the Federal Trade Commission to investigate this fraudulent and unethical organization – along with every trusted professional who profits from the anguish of LGBTQ youth and their families.

“But, even more so, we look forward to the day when every human being, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, knows they were born perfect.”

Scott McCoy of the Southern Poverty Law Center said: “This complaint builds on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s groundbreaking lawsuit against New Jersey conversion therapy provider JONAH, in which a state jury unanimously found that its so called ‘therapy’ program, which incorporated PCC’s weekend-in-the-woods conversion therapy services, was consumer fraud and an unconscionable commercial practice.

“Our case shut JONAH down, shed light on PCC’s harmful practices, and helped develop this important action to stop PCC and others in this industry from misleading and harming more people.”

JONAH was shuttered last year after a court found that they broke the state’s consumer fraud protection law by claiming to be able to change the sexuality of clients.

The court demanded JONAH pay $72,400 (£46,000) in damages for “psychological damage” as a result of the practices – but the group appears to have simply moved out of the US to continue its work.

However, Jewish LGBT groups have warned that the group has now set up shop in Israel, which has far looser consumer protection laws in the US, and where the ‘cure’ practices are not specifically prohibited.

Chaim Levin, a former JONAH client who took legal action against the group for the harm done, said the move was incredibly dangerous.

He said: “I’m extremely concerned. It’s exporting hatred and junk science.”

US-trained psychologist Dr Elan Karten, author of a much-criticized study on ‘changing’ men’s sexual orientation, is among those to have moved to Israel.

Karten claimed: “Since there is such a strong religious presence here, and political correctness isn’t as prevalent, there’s more openness about it, about this kind of therapy here.”

Legislation against ‘gay cure’ therapy has taken off in a number of US states, though it remains legal in the vast majority.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was the latest to move to ban it – barring the state’s mental health facilities from attempting to ‘convert’ the gender identity or sexual orientation of minors.

He said: “Conversion therapy is a hateful and fundamentally flawed practice that is counter to everything this state stands for.

“New York has been at the forefront of acceptance and equality for the LGBT community for decades – and today we are continuing that legacy and leading by example.”