All good multi-level marketing companies have one thing in common: They fail to disclose enough information to allow consumers and regulators to determine if they are in the business of recruiting or selling products. They disclose just enough facts and figures to make it appear that they are being transparent. But they hide enough information that no one could ever determine definitively if they are running pyramid schemes.
MLMs cleverly avoid the pyramid scheme issue by making it impossible to determine the level of retail sales of products to consumers. The companies effectively use the technique of plausible deniability: They purposely do not track retail sales, so when the business model is challenged with the assertion that few retail sales occur (and therefore they are recruiting schemes), executives can claim that they know no such thing!
Usana Watchdog has released a report on Usana Health Sciences, challenging the company’s failure to reveal meaningful facts and figures that would allow consumers and law enforcement to determine whether the company is running an illegal pyramid scheme. Continue reading
Defenders 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.
Yesterday the Chicago Tribune ran a piece on multi-level marketing, specifically referring to Herbalife and Fortune Hi Tech Marketing. Typical positive MLM talking points were cited: Continue reading
Today the New York Post reported that Herbalife (HLF) is under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and that has sent the stock price down more than 10%. The newspaper bases this story on a Freedom of Information request done by the newspaper. It says, regarding consumer complaints received by the FTC:
The FTC redacted some sections, saying it didn’t have to divulge “information obtained by the commission in a law enforcement investigation, whether through compulsory process, or voluntarily …”
And The Post says that other complaints by consumers had notes referring to a “pending law enforcement action.” Continue reading
With yesterday’s shutdown of Fortune Hi Tech Marketing, consumers have been asking if Herbalife is a similar operation. Last year Herbalife’s business model was called into question by David Einhorn, and then the company was accused of being a pyramid scheme by Bill Ackman.
Naturally, Herbalife denied being a pyramid scheme. Management has repeatedly said that Herbalife is all about selling products, and that the products are indeed selling, so it couldn’t possibly be a pyramid scheme. But according to this (start at 2:00 mark), no one really knows how much product is being sold to actual consumers. To be clear: Herbalife does not track retail sales.
I previously compared Herbalife and BurnLounge, a company shut down by FTC because it was a pyramid scheme. (BurnLounge is currently appealing, but that is a story for another day.) Today we compare Herbalife and FHTM: Continue reading
Fortune Hi Tech Marketing (FHTM), a multi-level marketing company I’ve reported on previously (and was interviewed about) was shut down today by the Federal Trade Commission. It is being reported that federal agents raided the company’s Lexington, Kentucky office.
Law enforcement says that 100,000 people across the country were recruited into FHTM, each paying $100 to $300 per year for the right to receive recruiting and sales commissions. A complaint was filed against Fortune HiTech Marketing on Thursday, and the judge issued a temporary restraining order to shut the company down.
Steve Baker, the head of the FTC’s midwest office said “..the plan was set up so that 96% of people lose money.” He also said: Continue reading
Are people really making money from all this recruiting of FHTM Independent Representatives? The vast majority aren’t.
An income disclosure statement for Fortune Hi Tech Marketing from January 2010 shows exactly how dismal the financial results are for its representatives:
- 54% of representatives who qualified for commissions got an average of $93 per month
- 41% of representatives who qualified for commissions got an average of $256 per month
These figure are before all business expenses. Those who have been involved with multi-level marketing know that there are plenty of expenses, including fees for meetings, travel expenses, promotional materials, sign-up fees, renewal fees, and marketing costs. I doubt many of these 95% of representatives receiving commission checks actually turn a profit. Continue reading
Earlier this week I showed you how Fortune Hi Tech Marketing appears to be a pyramid scheme, rather than a legitimate “direct sales” company or multi-level marketing opportunity. Today we are taking a look at the recruiting aspect, which is what I believe makes FHTM cross over the line into the world of pyramid scams and Ponzi schemes. Last time I cited claims from participants in FHTM that recruiting was the true focus of the “business,” and today we’ll look at that a little more in depth.
There are so many ways to get people to buy into the idea of joining an MLM. These days, you will hear about unemployment and financial pressures, and how companies like Fortune Hi Tech Marketing offer an opportunity for unlimited earnings. The recruiters will tell you that even if you don’t get rich with FHTM, you can still make some money to help pay bills.
Be your own boss… make an unlimited income… control your own financial future… provide a better life for your family… pay a few bills each month… make money from things you’re already buying… All of these things sound attractive to almost anyone, and that’s why they are used in recruiting pitches. Continue reading
Fortune Hi Tech Marketing is one of hundreds of multilevel marketing companies that operate in the U.S through a combination of clever lawyering (“Let me show you how to set up your MLM so it appears to abide by the laws.”) and failure of law enforcement to enforce the laws against pyramid schemes and business opportunity scams (aided in large part by the Direct Selling Association and its lobbying efforts).
What makes FHTM different? Nothing, really. Every multi-level marketing company seems to claim it is different! It either has magic juice, special vitamins, the supposed opportunity to make money on things you already consume anyway, or any of a number of claims of uniqueness.
FHTM was founded in 2001 by former Excel Communications superstar Paul Orberson. This news story on Fortune Hi Tech Marketing from WHAS11 in Louisville, KY say that the company has 200,000 representatives and brings in revenue of $500 million per year. (Although the company’s CEO, Tom Mills, claimed he didn’t know how many representatives FHTM had. Incredible!) Oddly enough, this multi-million dollar business is run with only 60 employees at headquarters. Continue reading