Friends don't let friends join an MLM
What would you say if your sister was about to start a job where 99% of the people who worked there LOST significant amounts of money while "employed"? And you found out that this "job" is more like a cult where vulnerable people are exploited and sucked into communities that use extreme pressure tactics to force them to stay and perform? Not only that, but this job would make them talk non-stop about the products and how amazing it is to be their own boss every time they interacted with you or anyone else they know?
Would you tell them to go for it? Could you live with yourself if you supported such a course of action for a loved one? A course of action that could make a bad financial situation worse and cause lasting damage to relationships. I doubt it. You'd be a terrible friend if you condoned such a thing.
Sadly, such a thing truly exists, and staggering amounts of people and money are involved. They're called Multi Level Marketing companies, MLM's for short, because they rebranded when the term "pyramid scheme" got too many negative connotations. These are big name companies too. Some of the biggest are Mary Kay Cosmetics, Herbalife, Amway, LulaRoe, doTERRA, Scentsy, and Avon. In the United States alone, according to the Federal Trade Commission, over 18 million people (mostly women) are involved in this $36 Billion dollar industry. That's Billion with a B. I've even seen some of my friends here in the UAE get sucked in, and these companies know their target audience well.
They primarily target desperate women who really need extra income. Social media has been a huge boon to these companies because it allows other "consultants" to show how awesome their lives are being their "own boss", and a lot of buzzwords about "girl power" are bandied about in order to fluff up a fantasy that for 99% of people turns into an expensive nightmare.
COVID has added another layer to this. More people are out of work and desperate. They want something where they can work from home, and so they are prime candidates for predation. MLM's are even selling COVID "cures" that are straight up snake oil, prompting the Federal Trade Commission in the USA to issue official warnings to 10 prominent MLM companies engaging in this despicable behavior.
In order to start selling products, first the new consultants have to buy significant amounts, often tens of thousands of dirhams worth. When they make a sale, a portion of their commission goes to the person who recruited them. So the more people you recruit to sell, the more you make. This is what makes it a pyramid scheme, because you're primarily paid for trapping in other vulnerable people. Those vulnerable people flood their social media and talk to everyone they know who is sympathetic enough to buy their stuff, but that can only take you so far. Eventually that well runs dry, and that's when it gets expensive, because these salespeople are often left with thousands of dollars of product and no way to sell it. These companies often encourage poor women to take out credit cards just to buy products to sell. Then when they're stuck with products and nobody to sell them to, they have steadily mounting credit card bills with 17-45% interest rates and a terrible financial hole.
They also use the same manipulation tactics as cults. They isolate you from people who would have you question your behaviors and the benefits of the job. They prey on the vulnerable. They make you feel like if you just worked "a little bit harder" you can achieve the great benefits they tout so publicly. According to Douglas M. Brooks, an attorney who represents victims of these MLMs, the same professionals who help to deprogram cult survivors are also seeing a lot of former MLM salespeople who have the exact same symptoms and are in just as dangerous of a place.
If you have the chance to help someone, you should do it, especially if it's someone you care about. The next time you see a friend or family member talking about a "great new opportunity" where they are selling things, have a long talk with them. Make sure they are informed about all the potential issues of their new "career" before it's too late. They'll thank you eventually.
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