The multi-level marketing scheme has been around for a long time, but it keeps getting rebranded and circulated to more and more vulnerable people. Usually how an MLM works is that the people at the top sell a product to someone below them. That person is then supposed to make a profit off of selling that product to family, friends, or through some sort of online business system, usually hosting live-streaming parties of some kind.

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But what really makes the big bucks is signing on more and more recruits to buy products. Those people end up taking the loss if the product doesn’t sell and many folks go into deeper and deeper debt instead of “becoming their own boss” as promised.

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It’s deeply sad, but some people do escape. A bunch of those people answered a Redditor who asked, “Ex-MLM members and recruiters, what are your stories/red flags and how did you manage to out of the industry?”

it’s a fascinating glimpse into how people still get sucked into pyramid schemes and how they finally woke up to reality and extricated themselves. Might be something to send to the next person you haven’t heard from since high school who suddenly DMs you on Facebook to “catch up.”

1.

I was a call agent for Tahitian noni for the USA and Germany (now called Morinda). It was horrible fielding calls near when people’s $120 monthly auto payment was due for 4 one liter bottles of juice. I couldn’t cancel their subscription on late notice without a fax with their signature at least a week in advance, unless they claimed “financial hardship.”

Eventually I learned that I would just need to feed them what to say and then gladly cancel for them on the phone. Total scam. Only people who made money were the early people to sign up and the founders, who are multi millionaires. —Chasicle

2.

I joined Primerica, I didn’t see any red flags at first but small ones started popping up.

Like my team leader telling me to basically live outside my means to make people think I was doing really good and then they’d join and then I’d do really good.

Or finding out all the contests ran around recruitment and not sales numbers.

I left as soon as I realized, even put my name and number on the do not contact list.

Blew a lot of money trying to make that work only to realize I wasn’t going to make any money without f-cking my friends. —TransformingDinosaur

3.

My mother did Amway years ago. She told me she quit when she realized she approached every new acquaintance with an aim to make a sale instead of making a friend. —Anonymous

4.

Joined a jewelry-based MLM thinking it would be cute to sell jewelry as a side hustle in July after I relocated across the country. I got roped in to the “be your own boss” and “make money while you sleep” mentality, and for a while, it boosted my confidence because I truly thought I was doing a great job running my own business.

On paper, I brought in good money (about $100 per live show, which was one hour a week), but I had to ship out the jewelry to them, which ate about 20% of the profit, then the money earned went back into ordering more jewelry.

By September, once the glitz and excitement of it all wore off and I realized nothing was coming back to me, my boyfriend told me the only way to earn money in the business was to add new “business partners.” I told him I wasn’t interested in doing that, but that was part of the scheme. I was so hurt by the people who had roped me in to the business. So I quit that same day. Luckily, I made it out with only like $30 lost, but I still have a ton of jewelry and packing materials taking up space in my house. —StarBunnyBun

5.

My mom was caught up in the Market America scheme. They manipulated an already vulnerable, mentally unstable woman to sink $20k into her”business”. She took her own life less than a year later. If the company has washed up celebrities as spokespeople and asks you to spend more money than you typically make in your “business”, you may want to reconsider your investment.

Post sleep edit: Thank you all for your support and kind words. Support your local crisis centers and shine a light on mental health.  —RayFinkle1984

6.

My recruiter told me she made $400 at the party I was at. I later learned she made 25% of that.

I was told if I could get 2 people under me, I would make $400-$500 per month.

Then I was told I needed 4 people instead of 2.

Then I was $2,000 in debt with nothing to show for it.

Deleted them all and changed my phone number.

Edit:

I am an owner of 2 businesses, so I thought adding a small side hustle would be an easy transition, but it turned out that as a legitimate business owner, I couldn’t bring myself to use the toxic business practices that were expected of me (cold messaging, hounding people for orders, constantly reminding people about deals, etc.).

When I left, I helped the two girls who were under me get out as well, and apologized for roping them into something I thought was a good deal. —Trawhe

7.

By not getting in, I’ve seen a friend and his wife get into Amway, and in 3 years, they sold most of what they had, moved back in with the husbands mother, and both begin selling drugs to support the Amway habit.

They still think they are mere months away from being millionaires. its infuriating —PM-ME-Left-Boob_Only

8.

Some dude tried to recruit me into buying/selling energy drinks. It was a known scam throughout school at this point so I decided to go along with it to see where it would go. The guy’s dad was a friend of mine, and my dad has a pretty well known computer shop in town.

Anyway, I go to pick up MLM man from his house to go to a meeting. This guy loads three cases of energy drinks (I think they were called “VEEMA” or something) into my car. I was already sketched out and this was a liability I didn’t want to encumber myself with so I told him I had a family emergency. He got out of the car, told me to keep the -85 energy drinks. The 3 cases were in my car for a few weeks, never touched them. about a month after hearing anything, one morning there were maybe 8-10 cases of the energy drinks stacked right outside the back door of my dad’s shop.

2/10, would not try to join a cult again. —Taste_my_ass

9.

I know a girl who got sucked into Arbonne. She constantly makes videos on FB and instagram acting like she has this perfect life and last I heard, her boyfriend (that she claims in her husband on social media) had to call her from a gas station to see if they had any cash in the house because both their credit cards were declined and he needed gas to go to a friend’s birthday party. Needless to say, he didn’t go. It literally says “boss babe” on her Instagram. —crockaloo

10.

Woman I know who sells Younique and recruits HARD, pivots between bragging about her boss babe lifestyle, and selling random used household stuff on eBay and Facebook marketplace for £1.50.  —londonnah

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11.

I was approached at one of my jobs by someone I used to work with at my first job. This was when I was 19. He said he was a part of a really good “business opportunity” and he had a “mentor” who was teaching him all this crap. I agreed to meet with him and the mentor and luckily for him I had no knowledge of what mlms were at the time. I found out it was Amway and went to a few meetings. At first they were able to be flashy and confusing enough that I thought hey this sounds like it could work. Plus before you actually register and join someone’s downline you don’t see their aggressive recruitment tactics.

Pretty quickly though I realized things were not right. There was a big Amway event not long after i joined so I got a ticket quickly because they tell you that the events are insanely important blah blah blah. The mentor of the guy who recruited me lied about the ticket, saying that it would include the hotel and 2 meals both days. Obviously neither of those things were true. Plus while we were at the event the “mentor” tried to get me and the 3 other guys I split one room with to pay for part of his brother and his brothers girlfriends hotel room. Total scumbag.

After that was when I knew I was out of that shit. But before that I started noticing how weird the recruitment aspect felt and how much they pushed it. They lie about the products and say you will save money because you get a discount but every single product is like at least 50% more expensive than most name brand stuff and when I saw that I was like how am I supposed to sell any of this?

The funny thing about that is they don’t want you to sell. They want you to buy a certain amount of product for yourself every month to prop up your upline. They say it will save you money but you’ll lose money not only because of the cost of the product but because you’ll have no idea what to do with the amount they expect you to buy. One of the guys there said he just gives the extra product away… and the up lines will encourage that as long as you’re hitting your number.

I realized quickly that the only way to make any money would be to use shady tactics to recruit people under me so I can profit off of their losses. I also did some research and found out that all of their events and weekly meetings are bullshit as well as their educational app services because they felt like bs. They’re all cashgrabs, once you hit a certain level in Amway you start to earn a cut of the profits from the meetings, events, and app sales and the more people you bring to meetings and events the more you make. Luckily I only spent a few hundred dollars on Scamway and leaving was as easy as saying that I didn’t want to do Amway amymore. —tahitianmangodfarmer

12.

My SIL talked me into selling It Works! I was hesitant, didn’t quite need the money, but figured extra income couldn’t hurt. Was a “seller” for 6 months. They kept telling me to add all of these women I have in common with people I’m already friends with. And to post about it 3 to 4 times a day on Facebook and Instagram. I literally made an Instagram for it. They said to message at least 30 people a day about. And twice a week there was a group video chat they kept insisting I join. I couldn’t join due to me being at my normal job.

All in all. I hated it. I’m awkward and a terrible salesperson. And I made nothing from it. Never made a sale. They kept saying “try and get your mom or aunts to support you”. It was a waste of money and all. But, made out with 1 new friend. —KoalaBear27

13.

I worked at the head office of a large MLM, and one of the OG’s. Mary Kay.

You have to live, breathe, and shit pink. Honestly, I once got sent home from the office because I had made a cardinal mistake… I had worn a pantsuit to the office. As a woman, we were expected to wear a skirt or dress daily. I was new and didn’t really think they’d get upset over a pantsuit, all things considered. I was wrong.

I know this is a different perspective, but hear me out. I didn’t really know what Mary Kay was initially, all I remember is seeing the old school pink eye shadow cubes in my mom’s makeup drawer. I started to discover that things were all a bit strange and … predatory. We would run campaigns inside of universities and colleges because the older generations all “knew” what was up. The company was marketing toward these younger girls specifically because they didn’t know the shtick, and hinging on the fact that we would somehow be able to convince them of making easy money. I heard a lot of horror stories the longer I worked there. Specifically from people who were angrily demanding answers from directors at the annual “Seminar” held in Toronto for Canadian Mary Kay consultants. People losing thousands of dollars. It all felt so criminal to have been a part of. —doxiemom111

14.

Used to sell younique. It was easy to get out. I wasn’t making any money, I couldn’t be fake to sell my product and I learned about quality makeup and younique ain’t it lol.

You can buy colourpop for literally 1/4 of the price and 10x the pigment and blendability —caitcro18

15.

A good friend joined World Financial Group also known as WFO. I told her off the bat to avoid it – major MLM scheme that preyed on family and friends. She of course, ignored my advice and went all gung ho. I told her that if she wanted to keep the friendship – please don’t ever ask me to join. And luckily, she didn’t.

She attended a whole bunch of seminars and even went on a trip to the US – a very expensive trip for her and her guy. Paid out of pocket. I think she even had to pay for training and some of the seminars too.

Then one day she just stopped talking about it. I assume she grew tired of it and gave up on it. MLM scams encourage asking friends and family members to participate. I fear not to bring it up again as I’m just glad she stopped going to those meetings. —Anonymous

16.

Anyway, I had just started college right out of high school. Was going to an art school (i know, bad idea) and was looking for a job to do between classes. Classmate of mine mentioned CutCo, so I naively went in for an interview.

Few points to know. I had no previous job experience at all, the “office” was in the next town over, and I didnt have a driver’s license at the time, let alone a car. My freaking Mom drove me to the interview. Got the job anyway.

So I get the CutCo bag of stuff to show off and was sent on my way to harass my relatives. I thought that I was only doing example shows to them, practicing for the real deal. My Dad and StepMom even bought some knives (no idea what happened to them though, last I saw they used a different set). Once I run out to people to bother, i start running into problems.

Problem 1 was i didnt sell anything other than that one set. Problem 2 was i hadn’t gotten any other people to talk to. The “pyramid” part of my pyramid scheme wasnt working real well. Problem 3 was the straw that broke the camel’s back apparently. I couldn’t get to the weekly meetings because my mom refused to drive me across town every week (she had a long commute).

In the end I got a call from my “manager” telling me he was basically letting me go and I needed to turn in my swag bag. I told him I couldn’t get to him so he had to come to me. Later that day he rolled up, o gave him the bag and that was it. Dont think I ever got my cut from the knives I did sell either.

The real kicker was k didnt even realize it was a MLM until almost a decade later, browsing this very sub. —LordBirdperson

17.

When my husband died (abusive prick so don’t feel bad for me) he left me with a f-ck tonne of debt (ok you can feel bad for me now lol). Not long after he died I had gone to a Tupperware party for a friend, and made some positive comment about one of the products, and that put me on the presenter’s radar. This presenter happened to be one of those top tier ladies that ignored their family to make it big. She was/is the regional person. Whatever the title is.

I was BROKE. Paying off so much stuff while waiting for the life insurance to come through, you’d be surprised at the amount of companies that don’t give a shit that you’ve lost a spouse, they just want their money. So Tupperware was spun as a way to earn extra money. She even gave me the starter kit without having to pay up front.

Problem was, I worked full time, and it was near impossible to book parties. I did my first presentation at my house and booked no parties. I reached out to all my friends and family and booked no parties.

The pressure from this woman was IMMENSE. She’d call me while I was at my day job. She try to convince me to quit my day job to focus on Tupperware. She knew I was broke, but she was adamant that if I quit my job I’d make it big, and before I know it I’d have a Tupperware car just like her.

She never listened to me. Even when I said to her “How do you expect me to pay my bills if I quit my job and start up Tupperware?” She had a response for everything. Nothing was based in logic and every time she called me, which was weekly, I was filled with dread.

I started to ghost her. It took months for me to work up the courage to tell her I didn’t want to do it anymore. It took weeks for her to accept me “don’t want to do it anymore”. She dragged it on, and on, and on. Finally she sent me a curt “Leave your kit at the front door” message which I did.

She tried a couple of years down the track to recruit me again. I ignored her calls.

All I wanted to extra income to help me. I also wanted to add to my friend group. All I got was stress, anxiety, and frustration. —iamevilcupcake

18.

F-cking BeachBody. Had a friend who’s been doing “great” on it. Recruiting left and right making lots of money and it is so easy to do because “everyone wants to be healthy and lose weight.” It’s fine if you just use it for the workout videos for yourself but having to be the person to reach out to random people and be like, hey your fat, come pay loads of money for this shit and oh yeah you can have a huge discount if you become a coach too and recruit other people and scam them also. It’s all bullshit. —kellensoriano

19.

I was a Mary Kay girl for a short period of time…They kept claiming that if you sold so much, you get a “free car with no strings attached.” Long story short, I googled it and there WERE INDEED attatched strings.

They WORSHIP Mary Kay Ash (aka the founder of Mary Kay). It’s kind of like how the FLDS worships Warren Jeffs. It was very unsettling, and very cult-like.

For the makeovers, you’d do a before and after photo of the subject. They wouldn’t let you smile in the before photo, but would make you in the after photo. Therefore, you’d automatically look 100x better in the after photo, regardless of how shitty the makeup was.

My regional director bought a bunch of stuff under my name without telling me (she didn’t use my credit cards or anything, but when I initially got the email receipt for it I freaked out because I thought my numbers were stolen). She never told me that it was her, but I found out by searching the address on the order. I later found out that it had to do with some bonus the upline would get if their downlines bought enough inventory in a certain period of time. This wasn’t a huge deal but it definitely weirded me out.

A lot of the girls who were at my level were from my school. A few of them really didn’t like me growing up. The moment I walked in that door, they all pretended to love me.

And yeahh, that’s all I can think of. —marshmallowofdoom

20.

My wife wanted to do nuskin for about half a year. The thing is, we already have an online sales business with a few thousand regular clients so doing nuskin just added one more product onto our product list which was already pretty extensive. The problem, as I knew it would be, was that you don’t make any real commission money unless you get people ‘below’ you. No biggie, my wife just fake signed up family members and did all her sales in their names so her name could collect the higher commission. But even after going to all that hassle (multiple emails, credit cards, shipping addresses/po boxes, etc) the commission was still only something like 15-17% and our typical profit margin on cosmetic products is more like 40%. Some stuff, like The Body Shop shampoo, we can sell for over 100% markup. She figured that the free vacations and other perks for winning sales competitions would make up for it, and she ended up in position to win a 5 day trip to South Africa. But when we researched what all the trip entailed, it actually seemed like it was going to suck balls, especially when we had a 1 year old at the time, so she just cancelled all her accounts, sold off the remaining product, and that was that.

Bottom line is that if you had the ability to make real money doing online sales for an MLM, you’d most likely make twice as much money for half as much work actually just working for yourself. —Hautamaki

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21.

Was on bumble and this hot chick who tbh, I though it was a bot or a Catfish. Anyway, she asked me out for coffee to talk “business”, I was suprised cuz you know women and first moves.

It wasn’t even a date, It was ACN, and they pay almost 600$ to get in! I told her to pay for it, y’know since she was bragging how easy she makes money, told her I could pay with the first money I’d make in the company. She kinda got me hooked and I attended their repetitive speech events twice (their people are fake af)

After many awkward attempts to get in almost every one I knew (ruining relationships in doing so) I spent a month and two without a “sale” I was pissed. After doing some research and realising how impossible the marketing tactics are (no advertising, just tell a friend, relative or anyone) I unfriended everyone, left their group and told them to delete every identification of me.

I kept my 600$ too, just time wasting man, f-ck those guys man! —barrack47

22.

I did Lularoe for almost a year. Buy in was insanely high. How I Actually got in when the Halloween leggings were highly sought after with very limited supply and I bought 200 of them. Sold every pair. So that basically paid for my initial investment. I did okay at first, hustled my butt off online. But then I kept being told by my sponsor to buy more to sell more. Later found out sponsors were paid commissions based off what their lackies were buying rather than selling. Another few red flags were no online sales. I did it anyways, so I did well compared to those who followed the rules. I also started receiving leggings and tops from other LLR reps that went out of business and sent their inventory backs… so I was getting leftovers. Another red flag was the holes. The freaking holes. They never reached out to us to just have us toss a batch that were prone to holes. They would just send us a bunch of ugly ass solids that were paper thin so every few weeks I would try on a few pairs I knew would have holes and wore them until minutes later, “pop!” Then and only then could I take photos for corporate and be reimbursed. It was total shit. I started putting in more and more time for less money. I was starting to lose money, thankfully at the same time LLR was under fire that their business was failing and consultants were losing money so they said anyone can get out and get 100% of their money back from their inventory. I sent it all back. Got my check. A few months later it changed to 75% back so I lucked out. I’ve helped two other consultants get out since. I made $16,000 in profits for hours upon hours. I lost time with my son while I was supposed to be a full time mom. He had my iPad while I would constantly post my inventory everywhere.

As terrible as it was in the end, I really did love it. I learned about fabrics. Now I’m self taught at sewing and sew up some hoodies for friends here and there and clothing for my own family as well. I love it so much more but would’ve never found that joy without lularoe so —gizmo_love

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*First Published: November 30, 2021, 12:54 pm