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Jul 10 2014

Creepy WorldVentures cultists welcome here

mlmrules

Stephanie Yoder wrote a blog post criticizing WorldVentures, one of those nasty MLM pyramid schemes. She pointed out that 72% of those roped in to the scheme made no money at all, and the median commission was only $40, etc., etc., etc., par for the course for these kinds of phonies, in which only the scum at the top get any money out of it.

So now WorldVentures has sent out one of those blustery vague cease-and-desist letters (oh, I’ve seen a few of those) to Ms Yoder, and the Popehat signal has gone up. I am not a lawyer, I’m not even vaguely knowledgable about legal matters, but I’m posting this because Popehat made a promise:

If you write a blog post questioning WorldVentures, you will very likely draw a crowd of very enthusiastic, very intense, somewhat off-putting WorldVenture supporters.

‘Offputting’ doesn’t worry me at all — my inbox has biohazard warnings splattered all over it, and leaks venom whenever I shake my laptop — but enthusiastic crowds…bring ‘em on. I get paid for the visits, and I expect I might make 10, 15 cents with an invasion of MLM wackos, and besides, my commenters need chew toys. They wear them out so fast! Multi-level marketers probably don’t have much endurance — WorldVentures sounds like a pathetic, desperate lot — but if we get enough volume, it might make up for their friability.

42 comments

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  1. 1
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    You mean that thing hasn’t died yet? Incredible, really.

  2. 2
    Amateur

    So….when do the crowds arrive? Maybe it was meant to be metaphorical?

    And, how will we differentiate their brand of off-putting from the stuff we post?

  3. 3
    ck

    By “welcome here”, you mean ridiculed, mocked and left broken husks of their former selves, right?

    F [i'm not here, i'm gone] wrote:

    You mean that thing hasn’t died yet? Incredible, really.

    Good scams never die. Landmark Worldwide (formerly Landmark Forum, formerly Est) is still around and kicking, too.

  4. 4
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    ck
    I know, I was having a jab.

    Amateur
    I don’t know. How do you differentiate your ass from a hole in the ground? Your real and faux confusion is not our problem.

  5. 5
    Sunday Afternoon

    I have a close friend whose spouse has gotten them involved in a couple of multi-level marketing schemes. Fortunately not heavily – I don’t grudge the first, but I did get worried that the lesson from the first hadn’t been learned when the second one started. Like the first it petered out.

    These are so clearly scams that I can’t understand how people are taken in. However, it’s difficult broaching the nature of the activity with a friend when a spouse is the one driving said activity.

  6. 6
    Akira MacKenzie

    ck @ 3

    Good scams never die.

    Just look at theism!

  7. 7
    chigau (違う)

    Amway.

  8. 8
    Jafafa Hots

    One thing about MLM schemes… many of them are based in Utah.
    Those miracle cancer-curing exotic berry juices, the ones that cost $32 a quart and are 99% grape juice, .9% cherry juice and .1% berry-fad-of-the-month juice, etc…

    Some of the same people start new ones over and over. Utah law is very forgiving of scams like that.

    I dunno if it’s related to the Mormon church, but it sure wouldn’t surprise me. (What, I’m wrong? So sue me. :P)

  9. 9
    WhiteHatLurker

    Since the “make money fast”ers are extremely gullible for those sorts of things, why not try selling blog franchises? You get the money from the first four or five levels and then the first level gets some of the money from 6th …

  10. 10
    Bryan Long

    Later seasons of the show Big Love had one of the sisterwives involved in a MLM juice. It was interesting the parallels with religion they were able to point out. It is all based on faith and emotional thinking. Also the people often don’t have many options or education, so they are not motivated to dig through the lies.

  11. 11
    Holms

    I get paid for the visits, and I expect I might make 10, 15 cents…

    OMG! Caught red handed posting for the clicks and the mad traffic $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$!

    Fat cat Mayers!

    Clickbait!

    Etc. etc.

  12. 12
    sugarfrosted

    I still don’t get that court decision that “if a pyramid scheme has a product it doesn’t count.” I personally think the judge was likely paid off, given they already run pyramid schemes wouldn’t put it past them. (Also the fact that it’s fucking idiotic and no reasonable person would ever think that.)

  13. 13
    alexanderz

    I remember when pyramid scams were all the rage in Russia. People were new to the whole idea of legal private ventures and were very gullible (many still are) and the law couldn’t offer any protection because it lagged since the Soviet era.
    However, what struck me even then was that some people tried to be quite savvy. Instead of jumping on the pyramid with everyone else, they constantly searched for the newest pyramid so that they could become the third tier, made their 20% on investment and left when their pyramid started aggressively advertising, thus drawing in the fifth and sixth tier (the point when most schemes usually fall apart).

  14. 14
    madtom1999

    alexandrz – the real trick is to get the job of managing all these schemes. Its called the stock market I believe.

  15. 15
    ravenred

    I do like the irony that reading this post was accompanied by the soundtrack of “I weighed up the advantages and disadvantages of making an extra $1000 a week…” from the FtB Popup Ad…

    (Yes, I know limited control over ads, etc.)

  16. 16
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    In the news:

    CYNK Technology has no revenue, no assets and only 1 employee. So why is it worth $4 billion?

    A … company with no revenue and no assets saw its stock soar to a market cap of well over $6 billion Thursday, only to fall back in the afternoon to $4 billion.

    Looks legit.

    {a tiny tardigrade wants to go short}

  17. 17
    Adam James

    If every WorldVentures commenter recruits five more commenters, and each one of those commenters recruits five more commenters, then… damnit, I can’t do math!

  18. 18
    rogerfirth

    My niece recently got into something called “It Works!”, and has been posting endless promotions for it on her Facebook page (*every* post attracts positive comments containing similar promotions from a small group of the same people over and over again). I recognized it for an MLM immediately. I’d say easily half the material she posts to Facebook now is for her “home business”. I’m heading back there in a few weeks for a family reunion. It should be interesting to see how she works the crowd there.

    Ever notice how these MLMs all seem to resemble evangelical christianity?

  19. 19
    Alex

    Ever notice how these MLMs all seem to resemble evangelical christianity?

    For example. I don’t see much difference between breathlessly celebrating the top seller (or what ever it’s called) at a MLM convention and doing the same for some Operating Tethan Level XXX. It’s the same shtick – generating euphoria in the members etc…

  20. 20
    Anders

    A family member once tried to sell me this shit, and the first thing I said, knowing nothing about it, was “This is a pyramid scheme”, “No No”, he said and showed me a flashy video presentation. Towards the end, a schematic came up, and I simply pointed at each corner and drew a line with my finger.

  21. 21
    aaronpound

    I went over to Yoder’s blog and ended up foolishly reading some of the comments. One of the outraged WorldVentures advocates told her that she should learn about finance by reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad. That seems about right. If you are foolish enough to think that dishonest pile of crap is a good book, you are probably also foolish enough to fall for an MLM scam.

  22. 22
    The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs)

    There was a mortgage refinancing company which tried to recruit me a while back, which turned out to be more or less an MLM scheme. (Employees got commissions on the refi jobs, but they got higher commissions if they had recruited other people to be agents as well.) I wish I could remember the name of the business, but the mantra they recited at me when I suspected a scam was “this business is traded on the New York stock exchange, so you know it must be legit!”

  23. 23
    WithinThisMind

    Of course it resembles a church. A lot of these MLMs target church groups for just that reason. They are used to thinking of the scam as normal and so fall for it every time. Got a scam? Target the known to be gullible. Most MLMs make their money from church groups, just like most crappy product and charity scams make their money from retirement homes.

  24. 24
    Jeremy Shaffer

    Ever notice how these MLMs all seem to resemble evangelical christianity?

    Robert Price once mention on an episode of his podcast of a time he met Stephen King and got a chance to ask him about a villain from one of his books who was a good portrayal of an evangelical Christian gone really bad. Price asked King if he had any experience with the more hardcore sector of that faction that would account for such accuracy. King’s reply was that one of his relatives was an Amway salesman.

  25. 25
    aaronpound

    I wish I could remember the name of the business, but the mantra they recited at me when I suspected a scam was “this business is traded on the New York stock exchange, so you know it must be legit!”

    Was it Primerica by any chance? That’s a sales pitch they have been known to use.

  26. 26
    HappyHead

    The most skilled MLM marketer I ever met was an excommunicated nun who was in a class I taught. Once they kicked her out of the church, she immediately started setting up scam after scam, involving satellite dish card “resale”, immigration form processing, some weird thing that involved sending students to make thousands of phone calls at the University’s payphones every day, and more. By the time she graduated from University, she had more money than the local catholic church that had kicked her out, and most of it was made by suckering the people who attended that church. When I asked her about it, she explained that it wasn’t her fault that the church had already trained her how to convince the members of it’s congregation to believe absolutely anything, and then kicked her out.

  27. 27
    The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs)

    @25, aaronpound:

    Yes, Primerica was it. I remember when I looked them up online, the reviews were divided directly between the people who had fallen for the MLM half (i.e. the employees) and the people who had actually used the service — the former were split between loving it and hating it, the latter were split between unenthusiastic and mildly enthusiastic. (Apparently there were some people who got good refinancing deals from them; it’s only the people who were recruited to work there who got screwed.)

    And, like some other MLM scams, it differed from a religion in the sense that at the end of the day, the victims did technically end up with something — in the case of Primerica, refinanced mortgages and/or a not-very-well-paying job; Amway victims get crappy Amway merchandise, etc. It may not be stuff that they would actually have wanted, or which most people would consider worth the cost, but I think I’d take that over, say, Catholicism or Scientology or Mormonism any day.

  28. 28
  29. 29
    nichrome

    Here’s a good analysis of MLM to share with anyone considering joining one:

    What’s Wrong With Multi-Level Marketing?

  30. 30
    Rawnaeris, Lulu Cthulhu

    As a child I didn’t know that Pampered Chef was a MLM because the products my mom got were always pretty decent quality. That said my mom was never dumb enough to get roped into being a seller.

    On the flip side of that a childhood friend of mine has a dad who runs in the Boston Marathon nearly every year, so after the bombing last year my first instinct was to FaceBook her (I don’t have a phone # anymore). After confirming that her dad hadn’t gone last year, she immediately went into a weight loss pill pitch. I don’t think I’ve ever been more offended, there I was trying to make sure her dad was *alive* and she’s trying to get me to buy shit.

    Before that pyramid schemes annoyed me, now they piss me off.

  31. 31
    twas brillig (stevem)

    I’ll just blatently ASSUME that this thread here, is the place to rant about SPAM on the Internet (SPOI).
    EG:

    Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go to tech tab for work detail✒✒✒✒✒✒✒✒[redacted]

    from io9 and gawker and jalopnik and kotaku, etc etc. This ad, or something very similar with only a word or two different, is ubiquitously posted in just about every topic posted on those sites. It is so frustrating to be reading along the replies to an article when this one interjects. I suspect a “clickbait” scheme here, the poster of these ads seems to keep changing; each probably get a few cents from each click on the [redacted] link at the end of the post. Too bad “adblocker”(tm) doesn’t recognize these as ads and block them. It just sees them as plain text, so lets them pass through unimpeded. But what’s really sad is not the adblocker but the fact that there must be some people who fall for this crud, click the redacted and get sucked into reposting these ads elsewhere in the misguided attempt to “get rich, quick”. THAT is the real frustration when I encounter these ads. The simple question, “WHO would click this link, WHY, Why, why???”
    Sorry, had to say it somewhere, said it here, thanks for reading my rant. ;-(

  32. 32
    Gerard O

    “Ever wanted to know what it’s like to be a multi-millionaire with a 13 inch penis?” Let’s talk to Wisconsin’s PZ Myers to find out…”

  33. 33
    bryanfeir

    Oh, yeah, Primerica was absolutely infamous back when I first heard about them, back in the early 1990s. Didn’t they end up being bought up by Citibank or some such? (checks Wikipedia) Yes, they did, then spun back off again a few years ago.

    I actually got hit up by an Amway salesman who I’d gone to University with. Once he started the pitch, the first two things that came to my mind were: “Why this tip-toeing around the idea of multi-level marketing?” and “Why hasn’t he actually mentioned the name of the company yet?” By the time he was over ten minutes into a spiel and video, and STILL hadn’t even mentioned the name of the company, I was 90% sure it was Amway.

  34. 34
    Tsu Dho Nimh

    If you have friends or relatives in the various “pink MLMs” (Mary Kay, Arbonne, etc.) try the resources at http://www.pinktruth.com

    It’s mostly Mary Kay info – comparing the hype with the reality – but the discussion board covers other MLMs as well.

  35. 35
    Trebuchet

    Only slightly OT, but I’ve gotta say I am SO glad to see Ken reappear at Popehat after an extended absence. Apparently he had some sort of unpleasantness going on. Snort my taint! PONIES!

  36. 36
    The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs)

    @31, twas brillig (stevem):

    But what’s really sad is not the adblocker but the fact that there must be some people who fall for this crud, click the redacted and get sucked into reposting these ads elsewhere in the misguided attempt to “get rich, quick”.

    Well, I can set your mind at rest about that, at least. Those spam ads work via automated systems which register hundreds of dummy accounts to post spam ads from.

    Basically, some idiot hacker somewhere writes a program which can register new accounts on a particular piece of forum software, and another idiot hacker (or maybe the same one) writes a program which scans a forum running that software and logs in and out of a list of accounts at random and posts a piece of text to each thread one time, and then spammers buy both programs and put them together. CAPTCHAs (those “enter the text below to prove you aren’t a computer” things) don’t stop these programs; even when a CAPTCHA system is good enough to keep computers from being able to read the text directly — which isn’t actually a common thing — the spammers simply recycle the CAPTCHA images on sites of their own (such as porn sites) so that real humans, somewhere, are doing the decoding for them.

    It’s basically an arms race between the forum software developers and the hackers, and the hackers are winning because there’s a limit to how much intrusiveness forum users are willing to put up with. (It’s the one real argument to a common login system like Facebook or whatever: if you require that people use a particular system to log in, and that system is monitored to kick out spammers, then you are relatively proof against spam.)

  37. 37
    JustaTech

    One of my friends occasionally does Mary Kay. She researched it very heavily before joining (and was horrified by the number of people who had absolutely no reservations about the whole thing) and never tried to recruit. At her “kickoff party” they had some ladies higher up the pyramid come and give a schpiel. It was painful, full of bad tax advice and laughable attempts at “science”. And way more Jesus than I signed up for.

    The problem isn’t for the people who know what they’re getting into, or even the people who just want discounts on the stuff. It’s the people who think they can make a living at it, or who buy into the recruiting.

  38. 38
    ck

    Of course it is possible to make money on the MLMs, even at the very low levels (perhaps even a couple hundred dollars every one to three months). However, that’s the exception rather than the rule, since every level of the scam tries to push people into overcommitting. Promising huge amounts of easy income is part of it, because it does encourage purchasing lots of product that they’ll never sell. If you told people that most can make tens of dollars per week if they invest a lot of time into it, expectations would match reality a little better.

  39. 39
    zetopan

    Since someone insisted on bringing up Amway, I had a relative that tried to suck in all of his relatives (including me) into this scam. Below are some useful pointers. At the second pointer you will discover (if you didn’t already know) that the Attorney general of Wisconsin successfully sued Amway for misrepresentation since about 99% of the Amway peddlers in that state reported a net loss of something like $600 for the year that was examined. Through heavy lobbying Amway remains in business.

    https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~dst/Amway/AUS/toolexp.htm
    http://pyramidschemealert.org/analysis-amway-accused-of-fraud-pays-150-million-wheres-the-ftc-and-doj/

  40. 40
    gworroll

    I have a facebook friend who does Mary Kay. I’m always tempted to say something when she discusses products for facials. She’s not one of the handful of women I could make a joke like that to and feel confident it won’t be taken as offensive, though.

    Nichrome- Interesting article you linked there. When it was going into the economics I was briefly concerned it would go over my head, but it sticks more or less to Econ 101 territory. That’s a pretty damning case.

    The changes that I could see that might salvage it(hard limit of reps in an area, hard limit of how deep the pyramid can get, to start), just turn it into a franchise system without storefronts. Not sure if any companies implement franchises in such a way, though I wouldn’t be surprised if that model could work- it can be effectively regulated against oversaturation and probably more easily kept afloat ethically than MLM. But MLM is pretty hopeless over the long term unless you’re the one in charge of the lawyers that keep it “legal”.

  41. 41
    WhiteHatLurker

    This Mary Kay lass seems to get around, what with everybody “doing” her …

  42. 42
    tacotaco

    I’m surprised nobody has mentioned ACN. One of their favorite lines is, “It’s endorsed by Donald Trump! He would never risk his reputation endorsing something that didn’t work!”

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