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Former MLM members are revealing how they escaped the 'cult,' and their stories are shocking

People revealed how they were recruited and then realized they were losing lots of money and their friends.

Former MLM members are revealing how they escaped the 'cult,' and their stories are shocking
Image source: Reddit Background: Three women in backyard - stock photo/Getty Images

If a deal is too good to be true, it almost never is. While all multi-level marketing (MLM) schemes can't be classified as pyramid scams, a fair bit of them are. If you've been a distributor of products that have cost you and your recruits, who are often loved ones, a lot of money and involved in further recruiting of other people to increase commissions, then you have been scammed. Not only does it cost the participant money, but also strains relationships with loved ones while the company makes money at your expense. 

Some of the common red flags of a pyramid scheme are "be your own boss," and have "unlimited earning potential." According to the FTC, about 99% of MLM participants lose money on the venture in the end. A few ex-MLM participants opened up about their experience on Reddit to the question: "Ex-MLM members and recruiters, what are your stories/red flags and how did you manage to get out of the industry?" The replies showed how people could be easily be sucked into pyramid scams and end up losing a lot of money. 

Here are some of the top responses:

1. Looked at every friend with an aim to sell

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. -Reddit

Girl studying from home, using laptop - stock photo/Getty Images


2. Miserable life

The Insurance Industry took a lot of the sh*tty parts of MLMs, and just removed the downline concept. Most Insurance Companies make a tidy profit on roping in inexperienced college graduates as "salespeople," and get them to sell products to sympathetic friends and family members before quitting a few months later. I lasted 6 months and got a policy for myself and my parents. A LOT of turnover while I was there, and nobody cared when I quit. Some people make it work, but it's an absolutely miserable life.

3. Nothing was coming back to me

Joined a jewelry-based MLM thinking it would be cute to sell jewelry as a side hustle. 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, 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. u/ClearyMcCarthy

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 into the business. So I quit that same day. u/StarBunnyBun

4. They manipulate vulnerable people

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. u/RayFinkle1984.

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

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 two 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. 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. - u/Trawhe

6. A cult

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. 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. Reddit

7.  Predatory

Some really good friends of mine and my wife's got sucked into the Arbonne cult. We hung out and had fun nearly every weekend. Once Arbonne happened, every time we hung out turned into a sales pitch full of straight-up lies. Me, and my wife are mostly introverted home-bodies, so when they'd give us the "we know you'd do great at this!" nonsense, it was straight-up insulting. Both my wife and I are already decently successful, so I always wondered how they thought preaching the "financial freedom" line would work on us. It's so predatory how they try to recruit people. -u/130hey_chief

8. Very pushy

A friend of mine got into Mary Kay and was always trying to have parties and get us to host parties so she could sell her stuff. She invited a few of us to one of the regional directors' house and it was one of the most bizarre experiences I've ever had. Like many people have mentioned, this woman did nothing but brag about her lifestyle and how much money she's made being a part of Mary Kay. She kept asking all of us if we were going to sign up with her to start selling and was so pushy about it. u/onlythesea

9. Blew a lot of money

I joined Primerica, I didn't see any red flags at first but small ones started popping up. Like my team leader told 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. u/transformingdinosaur.

10. Tried to convince me to quit my day job

When my husband died he left me with a f*ck tonne of debt. Not long after he died I had gone to a Tupperware party for a friend and made some positive comments about one of the products, and that put me on the presenter's radar. I was BROKE. 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 tried 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 on 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." All I got was stress, anxiety, and frustration. u/iamevilcupcake

11. Total scam

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 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. -u/Chasicle

Young businessman working late in office looking stressed. Man tired while working on laptop in modern office./Getty Images


12. Their promises are lies

MLMs deliberately prey on the vulnerable. When you start staying home with your kids, especially after having a career, there are a lot of things (potentially) going on at once: social isolation, loss of income leading to feelings of inadequacy or not doing your part, ambivalence about the worth of unpaid labor in the home, guilt and insecurity about your parenting decisions... the list goes on. MLMs promise mothers what seems like the perfect solution: being able to earn money and spend time with their children and connect with an instant community of women just like you and feel worthy and important again. Those promises are lies, but sadly, they are very effectively aimed at those who are, because of their vulnerable state, most likely to believe them. u/Reddit

13. Tacky

My family of numerous nieces are caught up in the jewelry MLM’s right now. I don’t think they realize how tacky it is to pressure other friends and family to buy the overpriced fake gold and silver crystal crap! Every family event is interrupted with, “Hey, I’m finalizing a party order, who wants to help me close out my order?” Awkward silence ensues until someone caves. It’s annoying. -u/tearsofhaha

14. Fundamental model is flawed

Sigh. My father has spent the last 30 years going from one MLM scam to another. He's literally tried dozens of them. It never seems to occur to him that the fundamental model is flawed; He believes it's because he didn't meet the right person or his children didn't give him the support and/or help he needed. He literally has cashed in his second wife's pension for some crap car-selling scheme that lasted all of three months. He walked away from an incredibly lucrative career in logistics to lose tens of thousands of dollars over the decades. -u/Verboseproclivity 

15. Robbery

Q. what's the difference between MLM and armed robbery?
A. You can make money with armed robbery. u/winkelschleifer

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