The quest for treasure through human history has led people through conditions of danger, treachery and…complete and utter scammery.
In our pandemic world, we are reliant on technology more than ever. We are also in a more difficult financial situation, and in a more vulnerable state emotionally. And with that, since lockdown began, we have seen a number of sponsored posts and direct messages specifically targeted young women and students, looking to recruit them in a number of business plans to ‘be your own boss!’.
The catch? You have to pay to be included, and you may end up in a pressuring group structure. With products and entry fees starting from $35-$1650, you start to wonder if the business aims to help the seller or the people wishing to recruit.
Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) is a business model which relies heavily on sellers to sell products and recruit more ‘entrepreneurs’. However, obsession and emphasis on gaining more sellers blurs the boundary into becoming an illegal pyramid scheme. According to the Commerce Commission, the key difference is that pyramid schemes are reliant on new recruits buying into the scheme below you, with most of the profits going to the people higher on the ‘pyramid’. Pyramid schemes often involve selling items that are cheap to reproduce but difficult to resell. These include supplements or personal development items.
Because of the high likelihood of losing money and encouraging others to inadvertently lose money, pyramid schemes are considered a scam by most.
MLMs have resorted to exploiting dreams of beautiful and exciting lifestyles or even pseudoscientific messages to recruit others. Even Edd’s get-rich-quick schemes on ‘Ed, Edd and Eddy’ may not have prepared our generation to wise up to these increasingly predatory moves. However, friend support and a quick internet search can help.
Kailani* shared her experience with me of a recruitment attempt from Arbonne, a vegan health and cosmetics MLM. She showed me screenshots of sales reps as far away as the UK trying to recruit under the guise of searching for an influencer. Though this may seem like a young woman’s dream, Kailani and her friends searched up information on Arbonne, finding YouTube videos of cautions from former members. Kailani alerted me to an Instagram saga of an Australian woman who was allegedly passive-aggressively berated regarding her diagnosis with cancer in order to pressure her to purchase from Arbonne. This action taps into two suspicions of highly manipulative recruitment and an exploited desire of prominence or perfect immunity.
Indeed, MLMs are popular in migrant and faith communities who will be more vulnerable to the vision of social mobility. One to watch in migrant communities is LifeVantage, which sells ‘NRF1’, ‘NRF2’ and ‘Protandim’, which sellers claim can ‘cure’ ADHD, cancer and diabetes through ‘biohacking’. These claims are posted in Facebook groups set on ‘secret’ so they cannot be reported and removed easily. Before being removed from one of these groups, I came across a worrying meme claiming that conventional medicine and surgery were ‘toxic’, in order to boost trust in these MLM ‘pharmaceuticals’.
Have you ever seen something that seemed too good to be true? It probably was. With direct messages of this kind on the rise, be wary of business models that seem to be preying on the state of being a broke student. Researching about business offers beforehand can be the greatest defence against a pyramid scheme pitfall. If a group seems to use vulnerable people to pursue a money-making goal, dissuades members from outside information and relies on aggression, it’s a group built on deceit and a group that will tear your dream apart.
*Name has been changed to protect identity