Maybe it’s social anxiety — or maybe it’s fear of being a Karen — but a lot of us struggle to stand up for ourselves when we’ve been wronged. In fact, most young people I know would apologize to the waitress if she intentionally slit their throat, and few of us have the temerity to stand up to companies when they do things like overcharge us, make us wait or dick us around. And while it’s totally fair to not want to inconvenience someone or ruin their day, it’s time we learned to assert ourselves and stop letting people take advantage of us. Fortunately, legal TikTok is teaching us how.
Over the last few months, “money lawyer” Erika Kullberg has become an oft-memed expert in this field. In most of her videos, she presents the same repeating scenario: A customer (played by her) starts a conversation with a customer-service rep at a company like Apple or Nike (also played by her), who tries to shortchange her in some way. But not so fast — as she famously says, she’s read the company’s terms and conditions, and she knows what she’s entitled to. After informing the rep about their own company’s policies, she winds up with some sort of compensation, discount or freebie the average person might have been too nervous to ask for.
In one of her most popular videos, Kullberg stages a pretend conversation with an American Airlines agent who informs her that her flight has been overbooked and that she’ll have to get on a later plane. “She has no idea I follow Erika, watch this,” Kullberg whispers to the camera, before explaining how the airline’s written policy is to compensate passengers up to four times their original fare in cash. “Ugh, fine, who taught you this?” the agent asks, before relenting and giving her $1,000. “Erika did. She’s a lawyer, and she reads the fine print so I don’t have to,” the customer cheerfully replies.
Kullberg certainly isn’t the only lawyer to offer advice on TikTok, though with seven million followers, she’s among the most popular. A search through the #lawyer hashtag also features videos from creators like @lawbymike and @attorneytom, both of whom make recommendations on interacting with cops. The financial nature of Kullberg’s videos make her similar to personal finance TikTokers like @humphreytalks, whose videos often feature financial “hacks” like the fact that Costco technically doesn’t require a membership in certain states. Nevertheless, Kullberg has carved out a specific niche for herself as the go-to for reading the fine print.
Her other popular videos include one on Nike’s two-year warranty on all of their items, which allows customers to either receive a replacement or gift-card equivalent if something breaks. Another spells out how many credit cards offer theft coverage on items purchased with theirs cards and will reimburse customers for stolen items, and a third demonstrates how to negotiate a severance package, even if you quit.
Some of Kullberg’s videos seem a bit more dubious, though. In the AirPods video, for example, she initially frames it as a “free AirPods hack,” which isn’t entirely true since you have to purchase a pair and then get them stolen to get free ones. In another, she suggests you can get “free” Crest White Strips if you contact their customer service within 60 days of purchasing a pack and say you weren’t satisfied. While technically true, it’s a bit of a stretch to promote this as a hack for free whitening strips, considering the initial purchase and work it requires to be reimbursed. Perhaps this is part of why people have begun making jokes about Kullberg’s techniques — as Morgan Sung and Kalhan Rosenblatt of NBC News first reported, parodies of Kullberg began popping up in November 2021 with the sarcastic TikTok hashtag #thankserika, which now has nearly 30 million views.
But even with the parodies, people are still finding some utility in Kullberg’s advice. “Erika, I just used this tip at the airport coming back home from Virginia,” the top comment on Kullberg’s overbooked airplane video explains. “I’ve literally got enough money to pay for another trip. Thank you.” Several people claiming to work for airlines also commented to confirm that her advice is accurate.
Many of the comments also joke about how much anxiety they’d have trying to get what they’re owed. “I’d be stuttering with my notecards at the airport,” one person writes. “I’m just going to show the TikTok, I’m too nervous to say this” adds another.
As Kullberg told NBC News, this innate hesitancy is exactly why she makes these TikToks in the first place. “As a consumer, it’s always good to be aware of what the policies are and what you’re entitled to,” she explained. “My whole goal with personal finance is just educating people about their money, how to make money, how to save money [and] how to make your money work for you. And these little hacks are one of the ways to do it to get the most for your money.”
Her videos not only help provide a script viewers can use as a guide, but inform them of benefits they already should have been receiving. Often, Kullberg also tells people exactly how to access corporate policies in order to read and understand them for themselves. She might have a parody-worthy shtick about her, but it’s at least an effective one. Thanks to her, people now have a better understanding of what they’re owed as a consumer. Now all they need is confidence.