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Beware of Pyramid Schemes in Disguise

I'll tell you a story, but first, the familiar questions: Do you want to be financially secure? Do you want to be your own boss? Do you ...

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Beware of Pyramid Schemes in Disguise

I'll tell you a story, but first, the familiar questions:

Do you want to be financially secure?

Do you want to be your own boss?

Do you want financial freedom?

Do you want another stream of income?

Do you want to work from home?

Do you want to ditch your 9 to 5 and make more money working fewer hours?

All these questions are favorable. Surely, there are people out there who desire these things, and they are not wrong for doing so. Some of them want better livelihoods. Some of them want more free time to spend with their families. Some want more income. Whatever their reasons, they should not have to become victims to elaborate scams that are not illegal (at least not yet) due to loopholes.

I'm sure you've heard of pyramid schemes. If you haven't, they are "businesses that recruit members via a promise of payments or services for enrolling others into the business, rather than supplying investments or sale of products." Sound familiar?

A business that's a pyramid scheme enriches those at the top of the tier as the lower lines enroll others into the business. Note that these businesses claim that they make money from the sales of the product. However, the top-tier members make money when they recruit others, and they purchase expensive packages and products for the business. The more people are recruited and continue to buy the products, the more the top-tier individuals make money. This business model is illegal and unsustainable because the lower levels can't make money or even continue to recruit, and at some point, the pyramid falls.


These days, however, they go under the guise of multi-level marketing (MLM) and swear that their businesses are legit. The "difference" is that multi-level marketing, which is also controversial, encourages direct sales of their products to customers. However, they still recruit new distributors, who also recruit others, and so on. They claim that this model doesn't only enrich the "upline." Anyone, no matter what level, can make it if they work hard. Guess what? They target people who need money, and the company continues to enrich itself at their expense.

Story Time

Ana was a stay-at-home mother. For a while, she had been thinking of ways to make some money. A single household income, by her husband, wasn't taking care of the necessities anymore. She was vulnerable and felt like she was always asking for too much. One day, she received a text message from an old high school friend she hadn't spoken to in a long time. The message said,

"Hey, how are you? I thought about you recently and just wanted to find out how you're doing."

It was a surprise and seemed sweet. So Ana responded, and they started chatting back and forth. Then,

"...I wanted to ask if you're interested in a business opportunity. I think it's an amazing fit for you. Let me know if you want to hear more about it."

She went ahead and told Ana about a company she's been working for recently, and the company has changed their lives. She talked about how much people make in six figures and how it has empowered people, women especially, to get financial freedom.

Ana thought it sounded great, but her gut feeling was still unsettled. She needed to know more about the company. The friend invited her to a seminar that was going to give her first-hand details about the company. She decided to go. Why not? It could be what she was looking for, a business opportunity that could help take the weight off her husband's shoulder and change their lives.

Ana arrived at the event and was immediately blown away by the turnout. She got embraced by the positivity spewed by people. People looked happy; they laughed, cheered, and jumped up and down. The opportunity brought an excitement that she hadn't felt in a long time. The speakers on the stage were motivating. They talked about how one's mindset could make the business a huge success. They talked about how the company was impacting lives. They chatted about their former lives and how their lives have now changed. The familiar phrases pop up: the road to financial freedom, be your own boss, six to seven-figure earnings. 

Then they finally called the name of the company. It was a company that supposedly sold a wide range of products, from beauty, clothing to health supplements. They mentioned how the company manufactured only superior brands and that they had connections to other major brands. They explained that the only people allowed to sell their products were their distributors and consultants. You will earn great commissions whenever you make sales.

Ana said she would think about it, and she went online to check out their website and the social media page of the friend that invited her to the event. She saw how lovely her photos were along, with nice quotes that gave her strength. Ana noticed the car from the company and the fact that her friend was working from home. She saw the vacation photos, and most importantly, the brilliant smiles. Ana began to believe that there was hope in the opportunity.

When her friend contacted her again to ask if she's made a decision, Ana said yes! The promise of that life was too enticing to turn down. What could she lose?

Ana purchased their starter kit. They told her that it was important for her business to have a successful start. The starter kit cost more than she expected, but she was determined to do something to change her life. She was encouraged to purchase as much stock as she could because she was investing in her business. They told her to incorporate the products into her lifestyle by using them daily. She was shown the list of tiers in the company and asked to envision how far she wanted to go and the rewards for getting higher. The more she sold, the more she would earn points to climb higher and higher in ranks and get bonuses. Ana envisioned this and was motivated to do her best.

Her friend who recruited her was called her "upline." She kept encouraging Ana to post about the products on social media and talk about them to friends, family, and people she meets. Compared to other products, they are overpriced and not necessarily better quality than the others. Then she is told to attend another meeting and seminar. They continue with their usual motivational talks and how the opportunity can make you so much money. It is possible as long as you work really hard. Then they told her not to expect to have massive success if she does the business "on the side." She should always stay positive because negative people will get in her way. They told her that she couldn't succeed if she were around by people trying to pull her down. They gave her some self-help materials to read as homework. Then was told that if she wanted to make good money in the business, she had to start recruiting because bringing people into the company brought in the big bucks.

Ana was confused. Then they explained that when she recruits someone and the person makes a sale, she would get a commission for it. The more people she recruits, the more money she will make. Imagine having four people under you, and they each make $500 a month, and they have five people each under them, and those have five more, yes, do the math. Ana's eyes bulged. She started to imagine what she could do with that money. They told her to write a list of names, friends, family, people on your contact list, followers on social media, and get them on board. If she reaches out to just ten people a day, she'll recruit a large number of people by the end of the month.

They told her to spread the word about the business. She had to invest in her business by buying products to show and sell to the people she talks to. It was her time and opportunity to make it big. She continued reading more self-help materials and attending the weekly seminars, courses, and events. Her Upline continued telling her that anything is possible if she would just put in the work, stay positive, and get rid of the negative people around her. She saw the success stories of others in the company. They were living the dream, thanks to their dedication.

Ana was getting rejections. Her friends weren't opened to the idea and didn't want to get involved. Some of them tried to talk her out of it. Some bought a few of her products and never reach out to her again. Ana found it hard to recruit people, especially when it felt like she was crossing a line. The seminars and events continued, and she always left feeling like she wasn't good enough; she was probably not working hard enough or was not positive enough. A conversation with someone that said she had to leave her old friends behind and find new ones played in her mind. Ana felt like a failure. Her Upline told her to post more about the products on her social media, and sometimes, she could make things look nicer. She was allowed to fake it until she made it. It would attract more people. Once again, Ana had hope and did as was told. She noticed that friends weren't communicating with her anymore. Her Upline assured her that it was for the best because she didn't need the negativity in her life, and before she hung up, she reminded Ana to purchase more products for the business and continue investing. 

Ana attended another huge conference that the company organized. She saw the crowd, the flashing lights, the motivational gurus and was once again reinvigorated by the hope and dream. "Broke is only a mindset," she chanted and pictured herself swimming in dollars. The cycle continued. Ana's Upline coached her to recruit people who seemed vulnerable and were looking for cash. She recruited three people, and that was a start. She was now an Upline and could hold her own meetings. She was determined to motivate them so they would also recruit more people, and finally, she would get a chance to make money.

Ana's husband asked, "when did you become one of these social media influencers who lie?" Ana didn't understand his question. Then she looked at her social media page and got a reality check. Her new lifestyle was indeed a lie. Those motivational quotes were for show and the thousands of money she had supposedly made when in the negative, in reality. She looked sadly at all the self-help books in the corner. She also thought of friends and family that had distanced themselves from her. The majority of people she now called friends were people from the company that she barely knew. She began to wonder if they were all in her shoes and living a lie. She was nervous and knew she couldn't talk about it to her Upline. It was the kind of negativity she had been warned to never think about. 

Ana went online and decided to find out if there was anyone out there who shared her uncertainty. She wasn't ready to see what she found. It was more than one person. There were thousands. She began to find more and more complaints and controversies about the company she'd believed to be her goal to a great life. She was part of an elaborate scam and was horrified. She realized that her company was an MLM, and there were many out there. The other thing she discovered was that she was in for a life-changing event but in a negative way. If she continued with the company, she would lead others to their detriment, and she couldn't have that on her conscience. She was broken. Luckily, she found someone who had once been an Upline in the same company and contacted them. After lengthy chats, phone calls, and a coffee meet-up, she was convinced that she had nothing to fear and could walk away, and that's what she did.

Ana explained her decision to her Upline and recruits and cut communication with the business entirely. She found that she could breathe again, not realizing that she'd been harboring guilt and a nagging feeling that something was wrong. Ana decided to try freelancing, a better stay-at-home gig that required only a profile and her laptop. She also noticed that when she posted her new gig, former friends seemed to pop up from nowhere and share her post as a sign of solidarity and support. 

If something is too good to be true, it's usually a scam. Work diligently, and you'll eventually get to your goal.

I hope you've enjoyed Ana's story. If you have any stories about pyramid schemes, leave a comment below.


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