Let Us Pray For Our Pyramid Scheme (An Incident in Coffee Day)

This incident happened about two months ago, at Coffee Day Square near UB City in Bangalore. I was there with two of my friends, and on the table next to us was a group which seemed to be having a business meeting. (This is quite common there; in fact every other table seemed to be a meeting-over-laptop affair.) Just a few minutes after we sat down, this happened: the other group linked hands around the table, and bowed their heads – as if in prayer. So I thought, okay, it must be a religious group. But that turned out not to be the case.

A photo of the Coffee Day Square, taken from the outside.

A photo of the Coffee Day Square, taken from the outside. It has a glass facade all around, and on top is a large sign saying “The Square” bracketed by the red Coffee Day logo on either side. (Image via burrp.com; links to source.)

It soon became apparent that this was actually a pyramid scheme/multi-level marketing scam in progress. The woman doing the talking was “selling” the scheme to the others. Here are the various things I noticed/heard:

  • “I grew up in a lower-middle class family”
  • “For years I stayed in a room in a hostel because I didn’t have any money for a good place”
  • “Today I own a house and two luxury cars”
  • (Draws a graph on a piece of paper) “See, you tell me what your life plan is. When do you want your first car? Your first washing machine? Your first house?”
  • She kept switching seamlessly between English and Kannada – a deadly combination for a salesperson here. I would have admired her skill if it wasn’t for this purpose.
  • She spoke almost non-stop for the 45 minutes we were there. The others lapped it all up.
  • Everything about the meeting was deliberate and meant to impress – from the swish location to her “mod” clothes and hair. From the look and demeanour of the others, it was clear that they belonged to a lower socio-economic class than her (and me), and they would probably never visit a place like this, let alone spend a 100 bucks on a cup of coffee.

I’m guessing the prayer at the beginning was some kind of Secret nonsense – pray to the universe to fulfill your dreams, send out positive energy etc. From what I’ve read about pyramid/MLM schemes, this does happen there – they have a cult-like atmosphere where belief in the supernatural can easily be exploited. Perhaps this is one hidden benefit of atheism? It was for me at least – my de-conversion to atheism was the catalyst for skepticism in other areas too. I really felt sorry for the others that day, and I left hoping that they wouldn’t fall for it.





  1. Troubadour says

    Thanks for the report on pyramid schemes. As a USAian who speaks more than one language, I was recently called on by an acquaintance to join him in a local hotel for “a meeting and some lunch” in exchange for my being willing to translate for his friends. It occurred to me to wonder why, if these people were his friends, he couldn’t speak their language. But I was curious, so I showed up, and discovered a similar pyramid scheme, also based on imagining what you want and somehow making it manifest through some kind of booga-booga. I declined to help snooker people into this, and now the acquaintance and I aren’t on speaking terms. I do think some atheists are born with a “skeptic meter” that goes off when presented with woo.

  2. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    Look into pinktruth.com … it’s aimed at Mary Kay cosmetics specifically, but it’s loaded with MLM facts.

    That site’s owner is very liberal with letting prople reuse material: If you could get some anti-MLM material translated into the local languages she’d be delighted.

  3. Eric Riley says

    There’s another way it could be manifest – I had a born-again Christian roommate who was pulled into an Amway subgroup via his church. While not quite the prosperity gospel, but close… I don’t think it was officially a part of the church, and while the group (and he did insist I join him) started and ended in prayer, the bulk of the discussion was geared more toward suckering people in (with liberal doses of ‘Jesus’ and ‘amen’… The cynic in me wants to think that it was grifters, but they could have believed their own bullshit too…

  4. grumpyoldfart says

    Years ago I used to walk past a building every morning where I could hear people singing hymns. I was intrigued because it happened every day and even religious people are usually not that fanatical. So one day I stopped to listen – and it wasn’t hymns they were singing, it was motivational songs with the basic message being: “Get out there and sell, sell, sell.” Turned out to be a group of door to door sales people. They motivated themselves with the stand-in-a-circle-and-sing routine and then they hit the streets with their suitcases on wheels filled with samples.

    I also saw a convention of Amway sellers on TV many years ago. It looked exactly like a happy-clapper church meeting with hands raised, eyes closed, dopey grins on their faces and singing songs with great gusto. They even had people giving testimonies that sounded like: “I’m richer than you and I owe it all to Amway.”

  5. says

    @Troubador – yikes, that must have been awkward!

    @Tsu Dho Nimh – thanks for the pointer to pinktruth.com, I read and bookmarked this post there which explains why MLM is a scam. Very useful.

    @Eric Riley – that actually surprises me, I didn’t think they would be so “direct” about blending religious practice with a money-making con. But on second thoughts, I shouldn’t be surprised at all.

    @grumpyoldfart – sadly, Amyway is big here in India too. They have a plush office near where I live. I was just reading their FAQ, where the answer to the question “Is it true that you dont have to sell—just buy the products for yourself and recruit others to do the same?” says, “You cant make money in the Amway business unless Amway TM products are sold. To say otherwise misrepresents the Amway Sales and Marketing Plan—a violation of our rules.” I’m guessing there’s lots of fine print and asterisks behind that statement.

  6. shrihara Palanetra says

    I have to attended one of those RMP group’s pyramid scheme meeting in 2009. It was 2 hours of brainwashing session promising quick and easy alternative source of income to the mass.They say MLM is new technological marketing of future!!!, ISO certification, supreme court’s permission, awards, harvard studies on ILM, motivating stories of successful people with pleasure music, so many happy volunteers in suites talking about their life before and after joining this scheme.

    There were 8000 attendees that was held in KIMS college auditorium. While exiting the auditorium, I overheard one of them saying, “look at number of people here today, why people are still not convinced and think this is some kind of scam”. Thanks to my skepticism, I didn’t buy that majority belief is truth.

    My friend who took me there was working full time with them. He said they arranged a training for those who want to work full time. In the training they taught that there are four sets of people in this world –
    1. People who are already rich and have no desire in small business,
    2. They are already satisfied with their income and not willing to involve in a risky business,
    3. People who earn short of their needs and looking for alternative sources of income or greedy to earn more,
    4. Unemployed people who are struggling to find a job

    They teach them to find people belonging to set 3 & 4. This is a cheap way of deluding innocent people into a scam.

  7. Anita J says

    My dad lost quite some money falling for one such money chain scam. This is a very important post as I have seen many people going after it, usually when they’re not in a position to afford loss of money. The frauds *always* take advantage of beliefs that cannot be verified, victim’s financial state and emotional appeal. And when the person is desperate, everything at first gets seen as potentially hopeful. Once you’re in it, you either have the choice to lose your money or try to continue building the pyramid. Most can only go after the latter.

  8. Guess Who? says

    Amway is also huge in the Mormon community. Any MLM scam you can think of is huge in the Mormon community; those folks prey on each other, and they all think they’re going to get rich.

  9. says

    Back in the day, I did an investigation of Herbalife, another MLM operation. I even got the state attorney general’s office to look into it and comment. But there was nothing that could be done — they were very, very, very careful to stay just ever-so-slightly on the “it’s legal” side of the fence.

    But it was pretty clear that 90% of the profits went to 1% of the workers.

  10. Thinker says

    @Kevin; the smarter of the MLMs stay just this side of legal, and yes, 1% at the top make all the money. Yet people still keep signing up for these things–vitamins, scented oils, juice drinks, makeup, household products…nobody they know makes any money at it, but they imagine they’re be different.

  11. says

    I am an Indian expat residing in the US and I have come across other Indians soliciting these kinds of pyramid schemes here. There was one bookstore (now sadly bankrupt) in a mall which I used to frequent in the evenings after work. It was a hotspot for these people. Every other week, some desi person would come up to me and casually start a conversation… which part of India are you from and so on. The first time this happened, I was clueless enough that I actually gave that person my email address (thankfully not my phone number). He kept bugging me about about a pyramid scheme called Quixtar now known as Amway Global. I ended up blocking his email ID. Then I fell for it a second time because this other person claimed he was a student in a local university and had recently arrived in the US. He was from my state back home and spoke my mother tongue. So we had a good chat, he seemed like a decent guy, I even gave him my phone number. I was new in the city then and didn’t know many people and the said conversation didn’t set off any red flags. Turned out that he too was a Quixstar salesman. After the first chat he called me and invited me to a meeting about an “entrepreneurship opportunity” which on further investigation turned out to be a pyramid scheme. I dread starting a conversation with desi strangers since then.

  12. MNS says

    Its AMWAY global people. few weeks ago, while I was at Garuda mall, a middle aged Japanesh/ Korean looking women appeared lost so, I asked if she needs any help. She asked me shes trying to reach KFC and lost her way and I showed how to get there. Then she started talking about all the same thing you have said here. As I already had similar experience in US , I have asked her what company shes working for. She said, American Multinational Company as if every one gets impressed when some one say america. Then I asked her what is the company name. She said, wait let me explain this first and tell you the company later. When I asked her, if shes from AMWAY, she said yes.
    I walked away from her politely declining that I am not interested in her offer.
    Too bad, many Indians falls victims for these kind a people. I suspect that, as Indians are aspiring high status in global society, they became easy targets for this people.

  13. ManIn Arena says

    A pyramid scheme is going on at Upper floor, Starbucks, N-Block, Canaught Place, Delhi, India.

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