Is MLM a Legitimate Business Method?

pyramid-scheme-mlmDefenders of multi-level marketing (MLM) are often heard saying that it’s a legitimate business method! Even government regulators say MLM is legitimate. And it is true that state and federal governments in the United States generally allow multi-level marketing companies to operate with little oversight. This is despite the fact that structurally and operationally, MLMs are nothing more than pyramid schemes.

Oh sure, the MLMs are careful to use lots of window dressing that makes it appear they don’t violate anti-pyramiding laws. There are even lawyers who whore themselves out to tell owners of MLMs how to “stay legal.” And of course, the massive lobbying on behalf of “direct sellers” and multi-level marketing companies ensures that current laws against pyramid schemes will not be enforced, and that no new laws impeding MLMs will be enacted.

Typical positive MLM talking points include:

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One Minute Primer on Ponzi Schemes

In this one minute video, Tracy explains how Ponzi schemes work. They are also called pyramid schemes because the constant recruitment of new “investors” creates the shape of a pyramid, with many new investors required at the bottom of the pyramid to pay “returns” to the earlier investors. The hallmarks of a Ponzi scheme include: … Read more One Minute Primer on Ponzi Schemes

Primerica Reviews on Glassdoor

People researching multi-level marketing (MLM) company Primerica seem to end up on this blog. I wrote previously about the fake job interview that is really a recruiting session for Primerica, some of the scammy aspects of Primerica, and one former Primerica representative’s story.

I even get Primerica reps emailing me to tell me how awful I am for saying bad things about their company. It’s just a fact that MLM investment and insurance companies sell products that aren’t as good and are more expensive than traditional insurance and investment companies. They have less educated representatives, many of whom are dabbling in the field.

For fun, I looked for reviews of the Primerica “business opportunity” (no, MLM is not a business) and was pleasantly surprised with some findings on Glassdoor. Of course brainwashed reps have been asked to flood the site with positive reviews to tip the scales in the company’s favor. But there are still plenty of honest reviews about what a terrible “job” it is.

Here are some of the negative reviews of Primerica from Glassdoor:

SCAM

Pros

None absolutely none period run fast run far

Cons

all of them this is a pyramid scheme they hire people through friends and they get a commission when they do. Ive been one of those people. You pay $99 and then 25/month to access the website. SCAM. Then you sell life insurance through family and friends. These people are lower than scum. I would say more but more people can say it better than me. Whatever people said about Primerica is absolutely true. ITS A SCAM

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Updates to MLM Income Disclosure Statements

For years I’ve been collecting income disclosure statements issued by multi-level marketing (MLM) companies. These are the proof that you have almost no chance of making money in MLM, no matter what the company or product. Across the board, you see that the vast majority of the distributors make almost nothing in commissions. The “average … Read more Updates to MLM Income Disclosure Statements

Who Has FIVE Foreclosures?

Jennifer McKinney, that’s who!

Years ago I delighted in writing about mommy bloggers who earned gobs of money at the expense of their readers (and the advertisers who wanted to get in front of them), but were dishonest in one way or another. I’ve written about the shenanigans of Dooce, but we spent a lot of time on Jennifer McKinney, known as MckMama. She frauded her way through bankruptcy court and went on to shill for MLM company Xyngular.

McKinney is currently one of the top producers for Xyngular, and has been recognized as a “million dollar earner.” She started with Xyngular in 2012, and by mid-2014 she made $500,000. (Made… means commissions paid to her plus the value of trips and prizes given to her.) In late 2015 she was up to $1 million cumulative. Then $2 million cumulative by the middle of 2017. It was $3 million cumulative by mid-2018. She has likely surpassed $4 million cumulative by now… which is an average of $500,000 per year for the last 8 years.

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How Does MLM Affect People?

pyramid-selling-scamThe late Jon Taylor, PhD wrote a thorough and excellent book about multi-level marketing (MLM): The Case (For and) Against Multi-Level Marketing: The Complete Guide to Understanding the Flaws – and Proving and Countering the Effects – of Endless Chain “Opportunity” Recruitment, or Product-Based Pyramid Schemes.

He put the book together in 2011 and 2012, but it is still relevant.

If you’re not familiar with MLM, you should acquaint yourself with the horrible statistics.  Basically, the odds of a distributor losing money in multi-level marketing are greater than 99%. Despite the fact that participants are almost guaranteed to lose money in MLM, these scams are marketed as business opportunities with the potential for unlimited earnings.

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MLM Income Disclosure Statements

A collection of annual income disclosure statements published by multi-level marketing companies, continuously updated. Last updates done 05/12/20 reflect new statements for Mary Kay, Arbonne, Beachbody, Optavia (formerly Medifast), Scentsy, and Young Living.

Some MLMs release income disclosures or earnings disclosures. These numbers are not required to be disclosed in the United States, but some of the companies do it anyway to appear transparent. The disclosures theoretically provide insight into how much distributors earn in commissions or overrides, but they are generally worthless. They are worthless because of what they do not disclose.

Multilevel marketing companies purposely omit important information that would allow potential distributors or investors to have real insight into these plans. In general, earnings disclosure statements often fail to provide the following information that is critical to understanding the plans and the results:

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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.

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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.

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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:

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