Employer or Scammer? Staying Vigilant in Covid Times


I often find myself the subject of fraudulent schemes. Notably, I received an email announcing I was the winner of five hundred pounds worth of toilet paper. Despite its paucity, arriving at the zenith of the coronavirus pandemic, I persuaded myself to desist from claiming this tempting prize, and I returned to my measly Andrex rations, disappointed yet proud of my stoicism. My vigilance was challenged recently by these operations, only it adopted a different visage to those I had previously been acquainted with…

As a novice at LinkedIn, I was more susceptible than usual, especially given the current stagnant climate of the third lockdown. Therefore, when a fellow member approached me with a tempting ‘business offer’, I was thrilled at the prospect and gladly and, in retrospect, foolishly, pursued her proposition.

The member proceeded to tell me a little about herself. Finally, I thought, my efforts are paying off- my bronze Duke of Edinburgh award is being seen as a worthy qualification, and not a trivial activity, consisting of compasses, long walks through the rain and attending a few sports sessions in the gym after school! Assuming a professional tenor, I enquired further into this ‘business offer’. My response was answered with a cheerful voice recording, which told me I would be doing ‘network marketing’ as a ‘brand ambassador’ for a ‘very clean brand’.

The more I researched the worse it got

I have only heard the phrase ‘very clean’, without directly asking about cleanliness, appear in a particular set of circumstances, namely when it is not, indeed, clean, but rather would like to convey the image that it is- the ‘very clean’ kitchen of my local takeaway, for example. However, unlike my local takeaway kitchen, hygiene was not in question, but a business. A company.

This ‘very clean brand’ that she ‘would love to introduce me to’ was Arbonne. On its website, it seemed ‘very clean’. In fact, it was so clean it sold shampoo products. Nevertheless, if I was to become a brand ambassador, I should, of course, be aware of all facets of the company. And that is when I found out that behind Arbonne there lurked a scheme, a pyramid scheme, which considerably sullied its lustre.

Tutankhamun could not have done a better job. Conspiracy theorists would have thought aliens had constructed it. Only, unfortunately, this was no conspiracy, nor was it aliens. Instead, I found Arbonne’s operations relied on a type of pyramid operation, what is commonly referred to as a multi-level marketing company, or an MLM company, for short. The system relies on its employees slavishly recruiting people to reach a target number, so they can obtain commission from it. However, only 12% of people earn any money from Arbonne, a mere 88 people earning above minimum wage, out of a total of 21,000 independent consultants- that’s 0.004% of its employees! 

These schemes prey on the hard-working, the determined, the resilient

The more I researched the worse it got. Youtube videos detail the savage mechanisms and tactics that drive the MLM’s cogs, feasting upon the vulnerable with promises of wealth. Whole families are torn apart, as these mini cult leaders recruit more and more into their clan, to drop them without hesitation, should they decide to leave. And all the while, those at the very top of the pyramid flaunt their cars, their jewellery, their wealth, all generated from the sickening streams of income from the masses below.

I can see how it would be easy to be drawn into these operations as a university student. Often we are so desperate to get any form of work experience to elevate our CV, we are willing to pursue any job opportunity. These schemes prey on the hard-working, the determined, the resilient, qualities we all share as students and are the optimal conditions required for these cruel, corrupt businesses to survive. Thus, while we should be aware of our limitations in the business sphere, underestimating ourselves, allowing ourselves to be coerced into these enterprises, can be equally as harmful. Even if that results in curtailing our toilet paper supplies for a while.

Image: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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