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MLMs: Financial Freedom or Scam?

We have all been approached by someone on Instagram selling the promises of financial freedom entirely “from your phone” by becoming your own “boss babe.” For those who are not as active on social media, this may not be familiar to you, but it is becoming increasingly common. 

In simple terms, Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) refers to brand representatives, oftentimes self-proclaimed “ambassadors” or “influencers,” selling services and/or products to consumers to earn a commission per sale. MLM representatives earn money in two different ways: commission from selling products and recruiting new members. 

You may be thinking that this sounds pretty much like any other sales job, but here is where the potential scam comes in: in order to work for an MLM, you must purchase the inventory you will be selling. Since products are oftentimes overpriced and out of the reach of most consumers, MLM representatives depend on recruitment to make an income. This is why I have experienced at least one girl sending me a DM every single day trying to recruit me. (Fun, right?)

Here is a message that I received recently: 

Screenshot of conversation myself

After she sent the picture, I immediately responded with, “I do not support MLMs.” However, I can only imagine how many people fall for the tactics of these recruiters. 

Although a seller reaching out sounds harmless, some MLM recruiters have earned the title of “insensitive boss babes” because they use individuals’ financial struggles to recruit them. The current economic crisis going on due to COVID-19 has caused them to engage in more aggressive recruitment strategies. Utilizing the fact that millions of people have been left unemployed and struggling to afford their bills is by no means a line-opener or way to persuade people to promote a pyramid scheme.

But, if that is not enough to demonstrate the insensitivity of how far some MLM representatives will go to recruit and promote their products/services, here is a conversation from a representative that was sent to a potential customer: 

Recruiter: “Hey girl! Didn’t you say you had a miscarriage?"

Girl: “I did." 

Recruiter: "Did you see my story? I posted a picture! Color Street launches a set for pregnancy and infant loss. It's beautiful! It should be on the site”

Girl: "I mean this is the nicest way possible, please do not message me trying to make money off of my miscarriage or anyone who has gone through a miscarriage.” 

Recruiter: *proceeds to send the flyer titled “Never Forgotten-- September Foundation Set to Support Pregnancy & Infant Loss”*

It is extremely insensitive to use someone’s pain and one of the most devastating moments of their life to try to make a sale or recruit them into an MLM. 

As a writer, I want to acknowledge my bias and return to a more neutral writing style because I’m sure some people involved in these organizations will counterattack with, “We do make money, I am my own boss, and I am financially independent at twenty-something.” Additionally, I do not want to make generalizations about everyone involved in these types of companies. 

I also want to address that many MLM representatives will sell “working from your phone and wherever you want” by diminishing 9-5 jobs. This has created an extremely toxic and negative perception of 9-5 jobs in our generation and society. There is nothing wrong with a 9-5 job. Many people rely on these types of jobs and are very happy in them. Putting down another profession is never a good way to build yourself up. 

Following the same note of toxicity, many MLM representatives will sell “financial independence” to the extreme of stating that they dropped out of college and now run their own “small business.” I have the utmost respect and admiration for people making an entire living without having to attend college (and avoid hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt), and even more if it’s from their phone. However, do not shame others that are not like you, especially when the “small business” you say you are running is not even yours. 

Finally, the “financial freedom” that is promised is not very realistic due to the fact that a lot of representatives end up being dependent on recruitment for an income. To put it simply, the lower you are on the pyramid, the less you will be able to become your own boss. You may actually lose money if your sales do not top the initial investment you had to make by purchasing the products— thus only filling the pockets of those at the top.

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Edited by: Kasey Barrow