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How to tell if your friend is caught up in an MLM scheme

Your friends are acting… strange. Your neighbor keeps posting comments on Facebook like, “Ask me how I lost 10 pounds.” Your coworker, meanwhile, is talking nonstop about essential oils. And then there’s that chick you haven’t spoken to since high school — out of the blue, she asked you if you were ready to “change your life.” Sure, the pandemic has altered human behavior, but why are so many people you know speaking as if their brains were taken over by sales chatbots?

The likely culprit is they’ve got themselves sucked into a multi-level marketing (MLM) business, in which their success is based not only on selling products but also on referring new recruits to join their pyramids (via Social Media Week). Per the AARP, approximately 20 million Americans are involved in MLMs, and nearly half of them lose money rather than profiting from their efforts. These days, MLMs are using the coronavirus as an opportunity to step up their recruiting game — with record unemployment leaving people desperate for income and concerns about health offering wellness direct-sale brands a direct “in” to your wallet. “Just received a new batch of doTERRA On Gaurd essential oil, so I am ready for you Corona Virus,” one oils hawker posted on Facebook (via Vox). 

So, how can you tell whether your friend has joined one of these schemes–or really does have a great new career, an exciting weight loss success story, or truly did recover from an illness thanks to lavender oil?

Signs that your friends are trying to rope you into their MLM

According to Medium, because MLMs rely on word-of-mouth marketing, your friends will likely approach you in a friendly, social way, perhaps asking about your life before launching into their success story about their health, the new product they discovered and fell in love with, or simply the news that they’ve become an entrepreneur. If you get caught up in this sales pitch, notice whether there are any starter fees or business licenses required to sell the products. If so, consider yourself warned: this means that recruiting you to join your friend’s downline is a major source of revenue for the business, perhaps more so than sales of the products themselves (via Vice). 

But don’t feel any obligation to say yes. Just as you’re not obligated to buy a product that’s advertised to you on television or in a store, you should feel no qualms about saying no to your friend or even ignoring direct messages. In fact, if you don’t say no and buy a product or two, you can bet you’ll get an invite to join them downline (via The Every Girl). And getting yourself out of an MLM is a lot harder than getting yourself out of a sales pitch, since these organizations refer to their sales force as “family” and likely will pressure you to stay on the team, spending even more money to sharpen your own selling tools, as revealed by The Snapping Point.

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