I Learned The Hard Way Just How Predatory MLMs Really Are

by Colleen Dilthey Thomas
Originally Published: 
NoraVector/Getty/Scary Mommy

I was up in the middle of the night, bleary-eyed and exhausted, feeding my newborn. I scrolled through my phone when I came across something that sounded amazing to me. They called it an opportunity. The chance of a lifetime to get in on something at the ground floor. I would own my own business, have unlimited income earning potential and do it all from my phone. It sounded amazing, and I was instantly intrigued.

I started to do a little digging. This company was a brand new endeavor and perfect for a working mom like me, who just wanted to be home with her kids. For a small investment, I would have my own business and I could run it any way that I wanted to. The best part, I didn’t have to buy inventory and I didn’t have to go into anyone’s home to do parties. This was a dream come true. I couldn’t sign up fast enough.

I was immediately wooed by videos of the company’s superstars doing wonderful things with the products and convincing me just how great they really were. Don’t mind the fact that this stuff cost five times as much as what you would pay for the same thing at Target; this was magic in a bottle, and I had to have it.

But more than just me: my family and friends had to have it. They were the perfect place to start. Surely they would want to see me succeed. They would support my “side hustle” and respect the fact that I was doing the “boss babe” thing for financial freedom and to make my family’s lives so much better. Plus, so many of them needed to get in on this ground-floor opportunity too, so that they can be millionaires. It was a win/win/win/win/win for everyone!

I followed all of the tips and tricks suggested by the members of my team; together we were going to get to the top! Social media was touted as the best way to sell the products because I could post flashy pictures of the magic at work and link to my website so people could purchase. Done and done. I started a group and added every person on my friends list to that group. I didn’t ask permission. Why would I? Who wouldn’t want to be a part of something so exciting? Once they were in, it was suggested that I send every single person a direct message about the products, the opportunity, and all of the great things on my horizon. So what if I hadn’t talked to them in years? They’d love to hear about this. I was offering them a chance to be their own boss, to secure their family financially and to make lifelong friends along the way!

In the beginning, I truly believed in what I was selling. I loved it. The products were great, albeit expensive, but I got a discount, so that helped. And people were buying from me. They loved them too. I was making extra money, building my own team, it was moving in the right direction. There were trips to be earned and swag to be won. I was on the move!

But soon I realized that I wasn’t the one reaping the benefits. It was the people above me, and above them, and the top earners above them. They were all making money while little people like me hustled our asses off to sell a few things a day. All while driving people crazy and destroying friendships. It was messed up.

I found myself feeling desperate. I so wanted to be one of those top earners, but I realized that in order to get there I was going to end up having to use other people. Either I would be selling expensive products to them, or recruiting them to be on my team and encouraging them to sell as much as they could so that I could make money off of them. It started to feel very slimy. Plus, there were now thousands and thousands of people selling these products. Everyone knew a representative. Finding new business was nearly impossible.

Initially, I moved up the ranks fairly quickly, but stalled right at the point that you could really start making money. I didn’t see it then, but now I know it’s designed that way. Only a few will ever really shatter that glass; most will make pennies just to trudge along. You hear it all the time, but it truly is predatory. Young moms, the unemployed, the undereducated, they’re all sold a dream that in reality is almost 100 percent unattainable. In fact, most people involved in MLMs actually lose money.

MLMs have increased dramatically in the last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and job loss. The unemployed are looking for ways to increase income and these companies seem like a good way to do it. The FTC began cracking down on many of these organizations early in the pandemic due to falsehoods. Sadly, many of these wellness companies are making claims that their products will aid in warding off Coronavirus, which is simply not true. The fact that these people are preying upon fear of illness and dreams of financial security is truly pathetic.

I am actually not sorry that I tried to make it big in the MLM world. Had I not, I would never have realized just how terrible that world can be. The ones at the top are lucky. They are living a dream. And good for them — they figured it out early, before the field was glutted. They have all of the scrappers in their down line who will be making them money for years to come. As for me, I don’t need that side hustle. I’d rather be broke for the rest of my life than ever send out another, “Hey girl!” message.

This article was originally published on