How MLMs prey upon women

Published 12:10 pm Friday, February 21, 2020

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Ladies, tell me if this scenario is familiar to you. You’re minding your business and browsing on your phone when a message pops up from a girl you used to go to high school with. We’ll call her Karen.

At first it seems that Karen just wants to catch up. She asks you how you’ve been, compliments your latest pictures and reminisces about the old days.

But when you ask Karen how she’s been doing, she starts rambling on about her new role as a “small business owner.” She claims to be running her own business via social media. She sends you a link to a page where she’s shilling out low-quality makeup, gaudy leggings or protein shakes and teas that allegedly make you magically drop 10 pounds in a week. She then makes a pitiful attempt of asking you if you’d consider buying these products, or worse, becoming a part of her “team.”

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Congratulations, you’ve found yourself in the midst of a modern day pyramid scheme. Today these scam companies are often referred to as multi-level marketing (MLM) campaigns. They often like to prey upon women, especially single mothers or young ladies struggling to make ends meet.

MLM companies are essentially glitter-covered scams. Women are enticed with the promise of flexible working hours, being their own bosses and climbing a corporate ladder. Companies trick women into trying to sell a crappy product to their friends and family, but the products hardly account for any of the company’s profits.

The real money is made when these companies try to convince the “promoters” selling their product to get those friends and family members to join their team/downline and sell products, promising Karen that she will make a small percentage of your earnings. MLMs don’t make money off of their stupid products. They make money off of vulnerable women that buy stock and attempt to sell it to their peers.

Pyramid schemes/MLMs have evolved quite a bit from the tupperware parties of yore. That popular LuLaRoe leggings company? It’s a pyramid scheme. The Younique makeup company? It’s a pyramid scheme. What about doTerra essential oils? Paparazzi jewelry? Herbalife shakes? Monat hair products? Arbonne? Nerium? “It Works!”?

They’re all MLMs, which translates to the fact that they’re all pyramid schemes. These companies, almost all of which have been involved in countless legal battles and the center of many documentaries, prey upon vulnerable people, especially women. They promise women that their lives will get better if they use this oil, drink this tea and put this barely-legal topical solution all over their face. They promise impoverished citizens an easy route to financial success if they buy $1,000 worth of a product and trick their closest friends into doing the same thing.

If that wasn’t enough to convince you not to follow Karen, think about just how badly pyramid schemes are doomed to fail. Let’s say six people are in an MLM. Those six people each hire six people to be a part of their downline. Then those 36 people each hire six more people. Repeat this process 11 times and you’ve reached 13,060,694,016 people in the pyramid. That’s more than the entire world’s population.

The next time that a Karen is in your inbox trying to convince you to buy snake oil or join her team to sell more snake oil, tell her you’re not interested. Tell her that her MLM is a pyramid scheme. Tell her that countless women have put themselves into financial ruin trying to climb their way to the top of that pyramid. Tell her to get out while she still can.

Alexa Massey is a staff reporter for The Farmville Herald and Farmville Newsmedia LLC. Her email address is