TelexFree: MLMs are Pyramid Schemes

This week we heard news of $20 million (hidden in a box spring) being seized by the federal agents in its ongoing investigation of TelexFree, a multi-level marketing company that the government says was a massive Ponzi scheme. You can read all about the TelexFree case on Patrick Pretty’s blog.

News reports about TeleFree refer to it as a Ponzi scheme (also called pyramid scheme). What isn’t mentioned anymore is the fact that it operated as a multi-level marketing company, just like Amway, Mary Kay, Herbalife, LuLaRoe, and hundreds of other companies you hear about on a daily basis. While it is NOW acnowledged that TelexFree was a Ponzi scheme, there was a time when it operated exactly as these other MLMs do.

The FBI says the following about TelexFree:

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Divorce Issues: Calculating Spousal Support

Each state has its own guidelines for calculating spousal support. Generally, factors which may be considered in determining alimony include:.

  • The length of the marriage
  • The needs of the recipient
  • The relative earnings of each party
  • Career sacrifices made to benefit the family (i.e. one parent gave up a career to raise children or one spouse worked so the other could complete a college degree)
  • The earning capacity of each party
  • The ability to pay spousal support
  • The lifestyle of the spouses during the marriage
  • The age of the parties
  • The property divided by the spouses
  • The ability of the recipient to earn income in the future

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Personal Red Flags of Fraud

As victims of occupational fraud reflect on crimes committed against their companies, they wonder if there were any signs that a fraud was occurring. They wonder how a trusted employee could steal from the company. Sadly, frauds are committed by people in positions of trust. What is it about those people that leads them to commit fraud?

Corporate thieves have many things in common with one another. There are many tell-tale characteristics about people and their lifestyles that signal the potential for fraud. These range from personal financial circumstances to attitudes on the job. A few of these traits alone do not indicate the potential for fraud, but the probability rises as we identify more of the characteristics.

Work Habits

Employees who steal from their employers often appear very dedicated. They work long hours and seem willing to take on extra responsibilities. For a normal person, these would be desired traits. An employee who helps accomplish more is seen as an asset to the company. For someone with the potential for fraud, however, these characteristics are worrisome.

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Loss and Failure Rates in Multi-Level Marketing (MLM)

More than 99% of people lose money in multi-level marketing (MLM). In Chapter 7 of Dr. Jon Taylor’s book, The Case (For and) Against Multi-Level Marketing, he details the failure rates of participants in multi-lievel marketing companies. In order to analyze the true failure rates and to calculate actual profits or losses from participation in these (improperly termed) “business opportunities,” it is necessary to wade through confusing and incomplete disclosures and to estimate figures that are critical but not provided by the companies.

Dr. Taylor completes a thorough analysis of the numbers. Of the hundreds of multi-level marketing companies active in the United States, Dr. Taylor could find income disclosure statements for only 30 of them. What are the others hiding?

The analysis of these 30 income disclosure statements was completed through the following process:

1. Obtain Average Earnings Statistics – These purport to show the average earnings by distributor level.

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Myth of Retail Sales in Multi-Level Marketing

Multi-level marketing companies (MLMs) like to refer to themselves as “Direct Sales” companies, because this puts the focus on the sale of the product or service, and takes focus off the business of recruiting.

I’ve been researching MLMs for years, and I’ve found that companies use the product or services simply as bait and a cover. It is “bait” for recruiting because it looks legitimate to a potential recruit. (How many people would join MLMs if they were truthful and told you that what you really had to do was constantly recruit new people?)

It is a “cover,” since it is what makes the schemes legal under state and federal laws. Pyramid schemes (which are simply a transfer of money up a pyramid-like structure) are illegal. But if you use a legitimate product or service as your cover and your reason for transferring money up the pyramid, you can successfully claim that your company is not a pyramid scheme. Again, the product or service takes the focus off recruiting.

But the truth is that the people involved in multilevel marketing companies do little actual retailing of products or services to third-party customers (non-members of the scheme). The vast majority of the purchases of products and services are made by the members of the MLMs themselves, either to stock inventory (which they will probably never be able to sell) or for personal consumption.

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