06 Nov

Multi-Level Marketing is Not a Legitimate Business Model

One of the common defenses of multi-level marketing is that it is a legitimate business method that has been around for a long time.

I’ve also been told that if it was illegal, it would have been shut down. Some companies that were widely touted as “legal” or “legitimate” MLMs, such as Advocare, HAVE been shut down or prohibited from using the MLM model. Who knows the rhyme or reason to that.

But neither the length of existence nor the lack of law enforcement action means something is legitimate or not a fraud. Remember Enron? Remember Bernie Madoff? These and others have been in business for a long time, and turned out to be complete frauds. Read More

04 Nov

FTC Sues Nerium: Illegal Pyramid Scheme

Last week the FTC announced a lawsuit against Neora (formerly known as Nerium), alleging that it is an illegal pyramid scheme. Couple this with the recent end to AdvoCare’s multi-level marketing method of business at the hands of the FTC, and people like me (who think MLMs are abusive pyramid schemes) have a bit of hope.

More specifically, the FTC suit goes after Nerium under the parts of the FTC Act that prohibit unfair or deceptive practices and false advertising. The company was known as Nerium from 2011 to 2019. In February 2019, the company changed the name to Neora. It is suspected that the name change was because the Nerium name was connected to so many complaints and lawsuits.

The current suit says that “unlike a legitimate multi-level marketing business,” Nerium’s compensation plan emphasizes recruiting new “brand partners” (BPs) over the sale of products to consumers outside of the company. (Note to FTC: This is what all MLMs do. They ALL focus on recruiting, and the actual retail sales are pathetic for several reasons.) The FTC says the business model makes it unlikely that distributors can make money selling products in response to legitimate demand from third parties. Read More

04 Oct

AdvoCare Pyramid Scheme

On Wednesday it was announced that AdvoCare and the FTC entered into a settlement which bars it from participating in any multi-level marketing (MLM) activities. AdvoCare will also give $150 million in consumer refunds.

The settlement comes after the FTC said AdvoCare was running an illegal pyramid scheme. There were allegations that the company “deceived consumers into believing they could earn significant income as distributors of its health and wellness products.”

There is interesting stuff in the complaint filed by the FTC: Read More

09 Aug

Ocrolus Software Review

Ocrolus PerfectAudit SoftwareA few years ago, I reviewed data analysis software sold by Ocrolus called PerfectAudit. The software captures data, analyzes the data, and assists with fraud detection

Recently the company abandoned the Perfect Audit brand, and now just calls the product Ocrolus. The old website www.perfectaudit.com forwards to the Ocrolus website. PerfectAudit as a brand has essentially been scrubbed from the internet. This might correspond with a recent round of venture capital that was raised.

My unfavorable review of Ocrolus was met with requests from company representatives to remove it from my site. They were disappointed that my review of the Ocrolus software ranked well in Google searches.

Some improvements have been made to the Ocrolus investigative software, but some of my concerns are still valid. Have a look at my PerfectAudit software review if you want all the details, but here’s a summary of the concerns I still have: Read More

23 Apr

Top Earners in MLM Make Money Off the Backs of Others

Do you think it’s only the “bad” people who do bad things in multi-level marketing? Those who frontload new recruits, dial for dollars at the end of the month (i.e. get people to order products they don’t need), talk only about their highest commission check, lie about how profitable the MLM is for them, or hide the debt they incurred via their MLM?

Unfortunately, these problems are systemic in multi-level marketing. These are the things that must be done to get to the upper levels and to stay there. What about those “national sales directors” or “diamond executives” or “founders sapphires”??? They’ve just done more frontloading and general deception. They all lie. It is how things are done in MLM.

Listen to this former Mary Kay sales director, who was only a step away from becoming an national sales director when she walked away. On ABC’s 20/20, she explained how her “success” was at the expense of other women.

18 Apr

Protecting Yourself From Real Estate Fraud

No industry is immune to fraud schemes. Mortgage fraud and real estate fraud have been problems for a long time. Ups and downs in the real estate market can make developers desperate and may push them to engage in fraud in an attempt to keep their projects afloat.

Frauds related to real estate are often costly. The bigger the project, the more risk there is of fraud. What can those involved in real estate deals do to minimize their risk of fraud?

Use licensed professionals.
Whether we’re talking about a mortgage broker, a plumber, or a contractor, it is critical to do business with licensed professionals. The license itself doesn’t guarantee that the person is competent or ethical. But it provides at least a minimal level of confidence in the person or business. Consider the license to be a tool that weeds out the worst in the field.

Read More

08 Apr

Social Media Influencers and Fraud

Promoting products and services via social media sites like Instagram and Facebook is big business. If you have hundreds of thousands (or millions!) of followers on Instagram, someone is probably willing to pay you to have you promote their products. There are lots of eyeballs looking at your posts, and that’s worth money. And so we call you a social media influencer.

But the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has rules about that.  If you’re promoting a product, it better be obvious to everyone that this is  the case.  More specifically, the FTC says:

In addition, the Guides say, if there’s a connection between an endorser and the marketer that consumers would not expect and it would affect how consumers evaluate the endorsement, that connection should be disclosed. For example, if an ad features an endorser who’s a relative or employee of the marketer, the ad is misleading unless the connection is made clear. The same is usually true if the endorser has been paid or given something of value to tout the product. The reason is obvious: Knowing about the connection is important information for anyone evaluating the endorsement.

And naturally, the rules are being ignored by lots of people. It is estimated that only about 25% of influencers are actually following the rules when it comes to sponsored content.

If someone is being paid to promote a product or service on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or some other social media site, they’re required to disclose it. If they don’t, that is fraud. Concealing the fact that a post is essentially advertising is dishonest because people may think you’re simply talking about something you like rather than talking about something you’re paid to talk about. Consumers need to know that you’re making a PAID endorsement.

Truth in Advertising (TINA) has been going after abusers of the rules, filing complaints with the FTC about this behavior. Sean “Diddy” Combs was on the receiving end of one of these complaints, and quickly deleted the hundreds of posts in question.

Keep an eye out for social media posts that seem to casually mention a product or service the celebrity uses. Chances are, the post has been paid for by someone and it’s nothing more than advertising.

25 Mar

Internet Dating Scams

There’s no shortage of fraud surrounding dating these days, especially with online dating. It seems like such a great way to meet people with similar interests. Get on a dating site, they said. It’ll be fun they said. Until you find out the person you’ve been chatting with is nothing like they portrayed themselves to be.

Internet dating cost this woman $273,000.

A woman named Yin signed up for a six month membership with match.com. And she got catfished by someone using pictures of a U.S. Marine.  He told her his name was David Perez he was deployed in Afghanistan, and they exchanged a bunch of text messages.

They “fell in love” over text messages. He told her to keep things a secret because her friends would be jealous.

After 5 weeks, Yin’s online “love” asked her for money.  There was a big story about a secret mission in Afghanistan, a military attorney, a non-existent company in London, and a Chinese bank. She sent money totaling over $273,000. Read More

13 Mar

Spotting Red Flags of Investment Fraud (Ponzi Schemes)

There is no shortage of allegations of investment fraud since the stock market tanked in 2008.  Are there more investment scams occurring, or have market conditions just led to the discovery of more of these schemes? I’ll guess the latter, although no one really knows for sure.

The beauty of fraud is that so much of it goes undetected. Those involved in financial fraud actively conceal their schemes and their involvement, so it’s impossible for fraud investigators to know exactly how much fraud is happening. For example, perpetrators go so far as to pay others to participate in the scheme and cover up phony financials and non-existent promissory notes. This kind of concealment leads to more investors putting money in a scheme, and ultimately creates ever larger financial losses.

In the end, however, it doesn’t necessarily matter if we can put our finger on exactly how many of these investment schemes are out there. What really matters is being able to identify the hallmarks of such schemes so that investors can avoid them like the plague. Read More