Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) companies are entrepreneurial ventures only fit for the smartest, most capable people who are daring enough to go after the successful lifestyle they deserve. Or at least, that is what a friend, family member or coworker of yours has likely been led to believe. How do you help them see what’s behind the curtain so they can stop wasting time, ruining relationships and escape a potentially dangerous pyramid scheme? Here are 3 tips you can use to help an MLM victim break free.

1. Know the game.

In this era of social hyper-connectivity, people have access to large audiences they would otherwise spend upwards of years building organically. A well-placed hashtag could put your content in front of thousands, and a hit viral campaign could catapult you into a realm of stardom overnight. The higherups at these companies know this all too well, and feed this to their potential victims as a guarantee of monetary success.

This means that as a prospective customer, you will be expected to not only buy their sales pitch for whatever your associate is selling, but their hope is that you will see the potential in the company and join yourself. When you don’t—or worse—when you refute every claim being made in the pitch, you are playing right into the company’s ploy.

Victims are usually coached on how to handle “haters” who will try to stifle their progress with “facts” and “statistics”. They are expected to play the friend card when appropriate, subtly guilting those who call out the company for shady practices as well as those who refuse to buy product to support someone they thought cared for them. In this vicious cycle, any opposition to the company or the product is spun as betrayal, and the victim immediately seeks solace in the waiting arms of their richer upline colleagues.

You must be prepared for this if you intend to keep your loved ones from developing full-blown Stockholm syndrome. Your best bet is not to slam them with numbers or links to news articles reporting negative things about the company, as they have already been taught that these are all lies intended to keep them from making it big. Rather, setting boundaries will help jolt the victim back into reality.

When you receive a private message with an obvious sales pitch included, simply reply with a line about keeping business and personal relationships separate and quickly divert the conversation to something more intimate. This not only cuts the pitch short, but often will undercut their attempt to guilt you as well.

If you receive invitations for lunch or a party where the person is simply pitching product, you will have to be the broken record. Be as cordial as you normally would but avoid outright slamming them or what they are doing. Calmly ignoring their snake oil and repeatedly bringing up last week’s episode of Game of Thrones will sometimes gaslight them enough to have them question who’s really the one making things awkward.

2. Help them count the money.

Laying out the basics for victims is not enough for most of them to realize they have fallen for a scam. But helping them see the numbers can get them to start reconsidering at least how profitable their business venture is turning out to be. Many MLM’s hinge on the prospect of recruiting, so when you are scouted by a victim, asking to see the proof is a straightforward way to cut through the fog. Be specific in this route; ask to sit down with your friend or family member to draft a rough spreadsheet of what they have bought, what they have sold and what you could reasonably expect to make from joining.

Do not be too coy about this. Talk frankly about any losses your analysis reflects, and where there are profits, remind the victim to consider the hourly breakdown of their wages. Do not allow the victim to recite their “if” speech when the numbers don’t add up. It is what it is, not what it could be.

It may help to start with an idea of what their owed taxes will be at the end of the calculations, as for many, the reminder that MLM profits are still within Uncle Sam’s reach is discouraging in its own right.

3. Persevere.

If they only need three people selling product under them to make a six-figure salary, and already have 1,758 friends between all their social media accounts, there is no mathematical way for them not to become rich. Or so the logic follows. Which means all us potential recruitees need to be well-equipped when the sales pitch inevitably ends up on our own social feed. Victims have been fed every lie in the “get rich quick” playbook, and if you are to outdo a cult in convincing them of anything, you need to be in it for the long-haul.

Participants of direct marketing have often invested a lot of time and money into what they hope will be a lucrative endeavor. Keep this in mind as it could take months for the MLM capital to dry up, and even longer for the victim to see why. When the façade begins forming cracks, your friend may have already burned every bridge trying to peddle their placebos and will habitually seek refuge in their upline. If a real friend steps up at that moment to remind them that they can step away, it will positively reinforce their associations of those personal relationships.

Remember, you will catch more flies with honey than vinegar, so attacking someone wired to defend their irrational behavior will do more harm than good. Remain positive and buttress the idea that friends look out for one another because they care, not because they intend to get rich off one another. The key is allowing your loved one to walk away from the MLM of their own accord so when they cut their losses they understand what worked, what didn’t and what they can learn from the experience.

Not every direct marketing company is a scam. But the ones that employ cult-like tactics to hypnotize the vulnerable are predatory threats to our society. If you suspect someone you know is being taken advantage of by one of these companies, take steps to help them by remaining patient and understanding why they likely fell for it in the first place. Those with financial problems, chronic health issues and even people just trying to lose a few pounds will turn to these companies if they appear to offer a quick solution to a longstanding problem. Talk to the victim with kindness and understanding and be ready to help them rebuild when they finally wake up.

Most importantly, when your friends or loved ones return to the world of the living, never let them believe they are at fault. A victim will be more receptive to help if they are met with understanding, not blame.

One Comment

  1. Jamie

    Thank-you for his post.

    I am at a loss of how to help my wife. She has become enthralled with doTerra over the last year or so. The oils are great but her ‘individual business’ costs her over £100 a month with very little return.

    I’ve managed to persuade her to keep track of her finances – but this is having very little effect. She has been convinced to work for these people for free, advertising their products and giving away free samples at her own financial cost.

    I even asked her if she was successful with this venture – would she be morally comfortable with having people working as part of her team losing money themselves. My heart sank when she replied yes to this question.

    I really hope she is successful in making her business work – but the reality of it is that this is NOT her business (as she believes) and that she is caught up in a dangerous marketing scam. I have no idea how to help her other than being supportive. I did try using facts and statistics, but as you eloquently pointed out – that doesn’t work.

    She is completely brainwashed to the point that we have had to off-road the car (because we can’t afford to run it anymore). This is now starting to affect me financially, and I have no idea what to do. Any advice appreciated.

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