Not along ago – about mid-2008, if I recall correctly – I was approached online by a guy I knew from high school. He said he worked for a financial services firm called Primerica. I hadn’t heard of it at the time. He told it me had flexible hours and virtually unlimited income potential. I wasn’t exactly rolling in dough, so I obliged to attend an information session.
It all smelled rather funny right off the bat: he pulled up to my house in a beaten up 1980 Volkswagen Golf, with rust beginning to overtake its dull red paint. The engine made a funky sound and the wheels looked shaky – what kind of respected businessman takes a friend or potential client or sponsor to a business meeting in a garbage can with worn down tires?
I squished myself into the car. The seat was roughly as uncomfortable as essentially re-meeting this now-stranger – which, by the way, was very uncomfortable. Because he wasn’t the same guy (let’s call him John) that I knew in high school. He was… different. But I didn’t yet know how.
We arrived at a relatively inconspicuous building. It was a dark, rainy evening, punctuating the sinking feeling that I had begun to feel in my chest. Upon entering the facility, I felt… dirty. Everybody was overdressed and wore the shady smile of a used car salesman. I wrote my name on a sign-in sheet, shook a few hands as we circled the room, then assumed a small fold-out chair – one of dozens, all with doe-eyed randoms mulling around like sheep.
Some Primerica high-up draws our attention forward and begins a power point presentation. He’s a terrible public speaker, and the slideshow is painfully unprofessional. He eventually reaches a slide that literally shows a pyramid of people – he tells the sponge-like crowd how the guy at the top makes five million dollars per year doing next to nothing, although he doesn’t suggest how much any of us will make – only that it’s cheap to get your license and training.
I left the meeting with a lot of questions. Everyone was so vague; nobody said how much money the average person made, or even how they made it. I didn’t get it. So I went home and did a Google search.
Primerica, Google told me, is a motherfucking scam.
The magic word
I had told my so-called “friend” I’d consider the offer and let him know. However, I instead deleted him from my Facebook and phone and never talked to him again.
But I also began to wonder: why the hell does anyone fully commit to multi-level marketing and pyramid scams without, at the very least, Googling?
There is a magical formula for anyone in doubt of whether or not something is legit. Here it is:
[company, product, or service name] + [“scam”] = answer
Yes, it’s that simple. Let’s use Primerica as a demonstrative example. For Primerica, our Google query would look something like this:
Note: Google recommends extra words as you type in your search. To cut your effort and time in half, follow these steps:
1. Go to Google.
2. Type “Primerica,” or for guaranteed results, type “Primerica s.”
3. You will see “scam” as the first or second option. Click this for your instant search answer.
“Enough!” you scream. “This is all so obvious. I’m not a child.”
“Indeed,” I agree wholeheartedly. And yet… Primerica is hugely successful, despite being founded entirely on the exploiting naive, gullible suckers. But shouldn’t these suckers be Googling their future company? Shouldn’t the internet have made these highly obvious scams even more obvious? Shouldn’t it crush the very business model of MLMs?
The pyramid never crumbles
If you ask a professional in the industry, multi-level marketing is touted as a “marketing strategy,” not a scam—sometimes “networking marketing,” sometimes “referall marketing,” and sometimes “direct selling”—but never a scam.
If you ask anyone else, it’s a pyramid, a trap, and yes, a scam. On a technical or legal basis, MLM and pyramid schemes are not interchangeable; MLMs are legal and “sustainable” while pyramid schemes are considered a form of fraud. However, in reality, MLMs are just pyramids draped in a pretty little cloak. Fact is, these pyramids are highly sustainable… although they shouldn’t be.
Applying our previous formula, “MLM scam” or “Multi level marketing scam” will tell an obvious tale. So will “pyramid scheme” or “pyramid scam.” So will “Primerica pyramid,” where you’ll find many people posing the same questions you are—and even more people yelling, “stay the heck away!”
I don’t need to get into details about just how bad MLMs are—but I will say many median incomes of workers for these companies vary between $0 and $3,000 (and this is in the developed world, remember)—because that’s not what this article is about. I could bombard you with charts and graphs and statistics and sad stories, but ultimately the major thought here is that these companies should, in theory, crumble beneath the weight of the internet. Because even a five year old could discover in five to ten seconds that Primerica is a scam. And yet…
Let Google save you the grief
This painfully obvious, ridiculously simple solution can be applied to virtually any situation, not just MLM scams and pyramid schemes. I’ve seen so many fall this trap, but anyone can disarm it with a few swift keystrokes and the click of a mouse.
People will always be gullible. People will always over-trust people. Simple, sad, true. And that’s why these scams still work, despite the wealth of valuable information available to us instantly, and for free, at our fingertips. If you read this, forget what your friend tells you; he’s gone to the dark side. Let Google save you the grief.