that MLMs are not profitable. (#11-39,
November 17, 2011)
Jon Taylor, M.B.A., Ph.D. has updated his critical analysis of multilevel marketing, which concludes:
**Data from 40 companies show that an average of 99.6% of MLM participants lost money, spending more on company purchases and minimal operating expenses than they receive in commissions.
**Those who lose the most are those who invest the most, having accepted deceptive claims the MLM is a legitimate income or business opportunity, and having continued to invest in the vain hope of eventually profiting handsomely.
**Based on statistics from the Direct Selling Association, the chief MLM lobbying organization, aggregate sales (which are actually losses suffered by tens of millions of victims) exceed tens of billions per year in the U.S., with far greater losses worldwide. MLMs plunder vulnerable populations overseas.
**Some MLM participants lose more than money. Divorces, rifts among extended families, and even addiction to MLM can result from excessive commitment to MLM that can become a lifestyle. "MLM junkies" who have internalized its "easy money" appeal may find it difficult to work again in a normal work setting.
[Taylor JM. The Case for and against Multilevel Marketing: The Complete Guide to Understanding and Countering the Effects of Endless Chain Selling and Product-based Pyramid Schemes. Bountiful, Utah, 2011, Consumer Awareness Institute] The book can be downloaded free of charge from http://www.mlm-thetruth.com/index.php/download_file/view/77/149/.
May 24, 2012)
Jon Taylor, Ph.D., MBA, who has analyzed the financial offerings of more than 400 multilevel companies, offers a free book and many other reports on his MLM-the-Truth Web site. http://mlm-thetruth.com/ He also offers a free newsletter that is published about six times a year. http://us2.campaign-archive2.com/home/?u=82ad608e1cc2c87491fc1f32e&id=59ba8ad767 Taylor believes that the entire MLM industry in fundamentally flawed and 99% of participants actually lose money.
MLM deceptions updated. (#12-23,
July 5, 2012)
Jon M. Taylor, M.B.A. Ph.D. has updated THE CASE (FOR AND) AGAINST MULTI-LEVEL MARKETING: The Complete Guide to Understanding and Countering the Effects of Endless Chain Selling and Product-based Pyramid Schemes. The book's introduction states:
**MLM as a business model is predicated on an endless chain of recruitment, as are "pay to play" chain letters and no-product pyramid schemes.
**Every one of the compensation plans of hundreds of MLMs Taylor has analyzed assumes an infinite and virgin market, neither of which exist in the real world. MLM is therefore fundamentally flawed, uneconomic, and deceptive.
**For the more than 400 MLMs for which Taylor has been able to obtain relevant data, the percentage of distributors who lose money is over 99%.
The 381-page eBook can be downloaded free of charge at http://www.mlmwatch.org/01General/taylor.pdf. Taylor's Web site (MLM-The Truth.com) contains a wealth of additional information. http://mlm-thetruth.com/
attached as "pyramid scheme" (#12-46 December 27, 2012)
Billionaire hedge fund investor Bill Ackman has mounted an attack on Herbalife that he apparently hopes will drive it out of business. The attack was launched with a 3-1/2 hour presentation at the Sohn Conference Special Event on December 20th. During his presentation, Ackman noted:
**Herbalife recruits unwitting "distributors" with the promise they can achieve lofty incomes. However, fewer than 1 in 1,000 do so.
**Herbalife's products are overpriced but sell because they are bundled with a perceived business opportunity. However, the vast majority of new distributors make nothing.
**Herbalife is a pyramid scheme because its participants obtain their monetary benefits primarily from recruitment rather than the sale of goods to consumers.
Ackman began short-selling as his report was compiled and says that he has short-sold more than 20 million shares. (A short sale is a market transaction in which an investor sells borrowed securities in anticipation of a price decline and is required to return an equal number of shares at some point in the future. Short sellers will gain if the stock price goes down and lose if it rises). Ackman has pledged to donate any personal profits to charity. Herbalife's price plummeted after Ackman's presentation but has rebounded slightly in the past few days (link).
Pershing Square Capital Management, L.P., which Ackman heads, has launched FactsAboutHerbalife.com, which contains Herbalife distributor presentations, recruiting scripts and presentations, distributor lifestyle videos, third-party investigative reports, Herbalife Today magazines, court hearing and deposition transcripts, archival video and other materials on the company's history, lead generation systems, SEC correspondence, and other data to help the public understand the facts about Herbalife. The most significant items are the video of Ackman's presentation, the PowerPoint slides from the presentation, and the 4-part CNN investigation that decimated Herbalife sales in 1985.
paper calls for greater MLM regulation (#14-13 April 13, 2014)
Attorney Douglas M. Brooks and two other experts on multilevel marketing (MLM) and pyramid schemes have delivered a 37-page white paper to Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) concerning the need for more effective regulation of the MLM industry. [Brooks DM and others. The pyramid scheme industry: Examining some legal and economic aspects of multi-level marketing. March 13, 2014] Based on data released by Herbalife, Amway, and Nu Skin, the report concludes:
* Approximately 99% who purchase distributorships with the hope of earning money wind up losing money, and most eventually drop out.
* Approximately 54% of all commissions paid by these firms go to the top 1% of distributors, with that top 1% earning an average of about $128,000.
* Current FTC policy concerning MLM, which is based primarily on a 1979 case involving Amway, is a failure.
Earlier this year, Markey asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to investigate Herbalife, one of the largest MLM firms. The FTC was also petitioned last year by an international coalition of consumer advocates. Last month, Herbalife announced that the FTC is investigating it. The New York State Attorney General is also investigating.
hit by class-action suit (#14-14
April 20, 2014)
A class-action lawsuit has been filed by Abdul Awad, an Herbalife shareholder who claims to have bought the company's stock at inflated prices because of false or misleading statements made by the company. Awad is seeking to represent all investors who bought the stock between May 4, 2010 and April 11, 2014. His complaint states:
The company's operations were based on a pyramid scheme whereby its distributors generate revenue by recruiting other distributors rather than selling its diet and nutritional products to the general public.
Herbalife engaged in deceptive trade practices where it unduly pressured its members to purchase more products to resell as one of its "distributors."
As a result of the above, the company's financial statements were materially false and misleading at all relevant times.
In 2013, The New York Times reported that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) opened an investigation into the company. Recently the Financial Times reported that the FBI has opened a criminal probe of Herbalife. [Registration is required to access the article.]
U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts has sent a letter to Herbalife's chief executive, Michael O. Johnson, asking (a) How much profit (net earnings after expenses) can the average distributor expect to make from retailing to non-distributors (i.e., people who are not directly involved in Herbalife themselves)?; and (b) What's the correct number of sales outside the network as a percentage of total sales for each of the last five years measured by product, quantity and dollars. Markey also urged both the FTC and SEC to examine whether Herbalife was a legitimate multilevel marketing company. Markey also reported that one family in Norton, MA had lost $130,000 from its investments in the company's products, and another woman said she was pressured to recruit family members and spend more money to buy more Herbalife products so she could qualify as a "supervisor" in the Herbalife system.
News of the investigations triggered sharp declines in the price of Herbalife common stock, causing Awad and many other investors to suffer significant losses.
distributors caught making improper medical claims (#14-15 April 27, 2014)
An undercover ABC News investigation has found many examples of distributors boasting to potential customers that the company's products helped treat serious ailments. [Ross B and others. Caught on video: Can Herbalife cure a brain tumor? ABC Nightline, April 22, 2014] In one case, a distributor even told an ABC reporter that a woman with a brain tumor became symptom-free after starting on Herbalife products. One of Herbalife's major growth areas is in "nutrition clubs"neighborhood storefront locations where those interested in losing weight come to consume shakes and get coaching about their nutrition. When a ABC News reporter visited a nutrition club in Staten Island, he was given a document resembling medical intake form to fill out. Then he was escorted to what looked like a medical exam room, where he underwent a test that he was told showed his cholesterol was high. The distributor recommended Herbalife supplements to "help you clean your cholesterol." During an interview, Herbalife's president stated that the company uses "secret shoppers" to monitor distributor compliance and that he didn't think it was common for medical claims to be made. However, the company later disclosed that during 2013, it had disciplined nearly 600 distributors, 12 of whom were expelled, for violating its "no medical claims" policy.
Herbalife distributors describe how they were severely harmed (#14-17 May 11, 2014)
Bill Ackman, who believes that Herbalife is a pyramid scheme, has produced a documentary and a panel discussion in which former Herbalife distributors describe how they suffered significant financial losses. The videoswhich are very compellingcan be viewed on Ackman's Facts about Herbalife Web site, which contains detailed financial analyses, court documents, and many other source materials about the company. Although the basic cost of becoming a Herbalife distributor is small, many people are persuaded to invest thousands of dollars stocking up on products, buying sales aids, and attending promotional meetings.
investigation results available (#14-26
July 20, 2014)
Pershing Square Capital Management will present its investigation of Herbalife Ltd.'s "nutrition clubs" at the AXA Equitable Center, 787 Seventh Ave., New York, on Tuesday, July 22, at 9:15 AM EDT to be followed by a question-and-answer session. The presentation will also be simultaneously webcast at www.herbalifepyramidscheme.com and www.factsaboutherbalife.com. Herbalife says that these "clubs" are simply social gatherings that bring people together to focus on good nutrition and exercise. But Herbalife arch-critic Bill Ackman believes that they are a core driver of Herbalife's pyramid scheme. Herbalife shares fell 10% after the presentation was announced.
of MLM complaints published (#14-33
- September 7, 2014)
John M. Taylor, MBA, Ph.D., who operates MLM-thetruth.com, has published a 356-page analysis of complaints about multilevel marketing firms sent to the FTC in 2013. The report concludes:
More than 900 complaints were filed regarding more than 100 companies. The complaintswhich include "channel stuffing" (pressuring participants to buy products they have a hard time selling); overpricing; grossly exaggerated health claims; and high churn ratesare indicators of widespread deceptive and unfair trade practices, which the FTC is charged with investigating.
MLM as an inherently flawed business model. Typically, prospects are lured with exaggerated product and income claims. And because the pay plan is heavily stacked in favor of those at the highest levels in the pyramid, the vast majority of participants spend more than they receive and eventually drop out, only to be replaced by a stream of similarly misled recruits, approximately 99% of whom are likewise destined to experience loss and disappointment.
The FTC does not have the resources to prosecute the hundreds of MLMs that violate the FTC Act. Consumers have expressed anger at the abuses they experienced and provided a large body of evidence that points to specific areas in which the FTC could take preventive action. Although the agency could establish rules that will provide some protection to consumers, it has exempted MLMs from industrywide regulation under its Business Opportunity Rule in favor of case-by-case reviews that are rare and fail to protect against abuses that are common throughout the industry.
Direct Selling Association (#14-35
- September 21, 2014)
Avon has announced that it has withdrawn from the Direct Selling Association (DSA), which it co-founded and helped lead for many years. In an open letter to DSA members, Avon said that the organization's code of ethics was outdated and had failed protect people entering the direct selling business. Many DSA members are multilevel marketing companies (MLMs) whose distributors depend upon recruiting rather than product sales for most of their income. Knowledgeable observers believe that Avon was concerned about the recent wave of negative publicity toward Herbalife (another prominent DSA member), which several regulatory agencies are investigating and Avon did not want its reputation tarnished by continued close association with MLMs. [Stewart M. The women of Avon 'lipstick' it to the DSA, Wherefore art thou Ramey-O? Seeking Alpha Blog, Sept 16, 2014].
accused of making illegal health claims (#14-45 - December 14, 2014)
Pershing Square Capital Management has issued a videotape which shows distributors claiming that Herbalife products are effective against asthma, bronchitis, migraine headaches, stomach problems. arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and many other diseases, and can also provide weight loss without a change in diet or exercise activity. The video also notes that these claims violate federal drug laws as well as a permanent injunction obtained in 1986 by the California Attorney General. The current Attorney General (Kamala Harris) has been asked to take action, but so far has not done so. A recent report revealed that her husband (Douglas C. Emhoff) is a partner in a law firm that acts for Herbalife. [Is the California Attorney General avoiding investigating Herbalife to protect her husband?] Quoth the Raven blog, Dec 4, 2014]
ordered to remove misleading ad (#14-46
- December 21, 2014)
The FDA has asked Herbalife Ltd to remove a YouTube video in which Vassilos K. Frankos, Ph.D., claimed that when he was director of dietary supplements at the FDA, he "oversaw nutritional supplements, making sure they were safe and effective." The FDA's letter pointed out that "as Herbalife and Dr. Frankos should know . . . the FDA is not authorized and does not review dietary supplements for effectiveness" and does not usually review them for safety. A copy of the letter was sent to the Federal Trade Commission, which is known to be investigating Herbalife's marketing practices. Visitors to the video's URL now get a message saying that the video is "private."
says many MLMs are pyramid schemes (#15-03 - January 18, 2015)
Pershing Square Capital Management, whose president, Bill Ackman, is urging government regulators to shut down Herbalife, has produced a brilliant 6-minute video explaining why many multilevel companies (MLMs) should be considered pyramid schemes. The video states:
Most companies that sell products make money by selling them to consumers. But many MLMs make money by selling overpriced, difficult to sell products to their own distributors who are typically aspiring entrepreneurs hoping to fill the business. To qualify as a distributor, you must buy a minimum amount of product from the company. This can cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Once you purchase enough of the product to qualify for commissions, you will soon realize it is difficult to resell the inventory you purchased and generate retail profits. At that point, you will learn that recruiting others to become a distributor is the only way to have a chance of recouping the money you invested. You will likely be pushed by the distributor who recruited you to convince others to buy in and become distributors. . . . This constant emphasis on recruiting new distributors is a telltale sign you're dealing with a pyramid scheme.
MLM Watch has the full-text of the video plus links to the English and Spanish versions.
expressed about Herbalife (#15-40
- October 11, 2015)
The Vemma case has caused many journalists to wonder whether the FTC will bring similar charges against Herbalife. The FTC has been investigating Herbalife for several years, but Herbalife has hired former government officials and is maneuvering to try to block FTC action. It is also clear that the FTC could do a lot to protect the public against MLMs but has failed to do so. A Seeking Alpha blogger has summed up the situation this way:
The reality is that multi-level marketing is fundamentally flawed. The problem is that there are too many people trying take out of the pie (i.e., a sale). In direct sales, the company and the seller both get a cut of the pie. The company gets an efficient route to market, and the salesperson makes a nice profit. We know that in MLM, very few people make a reasonable amount of money. The problem is that in MLM, you have to share the pie with many people who are not directly involved in the sale. At Herbalife, if a distributor makes a sale to their mother, money will wind its way through the complex marketing plan and could end up in the pocket of a Chairman's Club member who has never met the distributor and who lives thousands of miles away. The problem is that this squeezes your margin on the sale-they are eating out of your pie. The only way to maintain the distributor's slice of the pie is to make the pie bigger by increasing the prices. This is why goods sold using MLM are typically so fantastically overpriced. This overpricing decreases retail demand. If they took out the "ML" in MLM, the retail side of the business would improve greatly. That's not going to happen, because doing that would reduce the volume of product shipped, which is not good for shareholders. Circling back to paraphrase Steve Wynn, if you want to make money in an MLM, own one.
[Davidson C. Unsustainable, fragile, overvalued and under attack: The case for going short Herbalife now. Seeking Alpha, Oct 7, 2015]
MLM involvement laid bare (#16-11
- March 27, 2016)
The Washington Post reported that Donald Trump claims that his involvement with the multilevel marketing company Ideal Health merely allowed them to use his name for marketing purposes and that he was not involved in the company's operations. But the paper noted that "statements by him and other company representatives-as well as a plethora of marketing materials circulating online-often gave the impression of a partnership that was certain to lift thousands of people into prosperity." [Swanson A. The Trump Network sought to make people rich, but left behind disappointment. Washington Post, March 23, 2016]
to pay $200 million to settle FTC charges (#16-28 - July 24, 2016)
Herbalife International of America, Inc., Herbalife International, Inc., and Herbalife, Ltd. have agreed to restructure their U.S. business operations and pay $200 million to settle FTC charges that they deceived consumers into believing they could earn substantial money selling diet, nutritional supplement, and personal care products. [Herbalife will restructure its multi-level marketing operations and pay $200 million for consumer redress to settle FTC charges. FTC news release, July 15, 2016] The settlement was announced at a videotaped press conference at which FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez answered questions about the case. Her opening statement noted:
- Herbalife "promised people a dream-a chance to change their lives, quit their jobs, and gain financial freedom."
- The dream portrayed by Herbalife's testimonials and marketing materials was "an illusion" because the vast majority of new distributors found they could make little or no money selling Herbalife products.
- The settlement included a $200 million judgment for refunds to many distributors and "forces the company to implement a major restructuring of its business operations."
- The FTC hopes the principles embodied in the settlement will set an example for the multilevel marketing industry more generally.
In response to the settlement, Carl Icahn (an Herbalife board member and major shareholder) stated that the FTC had "concluded that Herbalife is not a pyramid scheme." However, Ramirez said that was inaccurate, that the settlement made no such determination but focused on correcting Herbalife's improper practices.
John Oliver blasts MLM "income opportunity" (#16-42 - November 13, 2016)
In a 30-minute satire, John Oliver explains why multilevel marketing should be regarded as an "endless chain pyramid" and exposes the gamut of ploys used to trick prospective distributors and minimize government regulation. The video, which has had more than 5 million YouTube views, ends with the promise that if each viewer sends it to five other people who do the same, it will reach every person on earth in just 14 referral cycles. A Spanish version has had nearly 1.5 million views. An equally powerful 6-minute video - How to spot a pyramid scheme should be required viewing for all high school and college students. Please send these links to everyone who you think will benefit from this information.
clarifies MLM requirements (#17-08
- February 5, 2017)
Edith Ramirez, outgoing chairman of the Federal Trade Commission has summarized what multilevel marketing (MLMs) firms must do to avoid enforcement action by the Commission. In theory, MLM distributors can earn money by selling products and/or by recruiting others who do the same. However, enforcement actions have made it clear that if most of the income comes from selling distributorships, the setup can be considered a pyramid scheme. In a letter to the Direct Selling Association (which represents more than 100 MLMs), Ramirez said:
- Distributor compensation should be based on actual retail sales that are profitable, verifiable, and primarily to customers outside the distributor network - and not on recruitment of additional participants.
- The FTC and the courts have demonstrated skepticism regarding "personal consumption". Although salespeople may enjoy purchasing the products they supposedly sell at retail, they should be compensated only for sales made to retail customers, not for buying the product for themselves or from other distributors.
- MLMs should have effective monitoring programs to ensure earning claims are truthful and non-deceptive.
- The recruitment process should not include unrealistic "lifestyle" testimonials that are true for only a tiny minority of participants.
Recent FTC actions against Herbalife and Vemma suggest that the agency will be looking more closely at the MLM industry. Whether the Trump Administration will interfere with this activity remains to be seen.
sued by distributors
- September 2, 2018)
Eight former Herbalife distributors have filed a class action complaint against Los Angeles-based Herbalife in the U.S. Southern District Court in Florida. The complaint states:
The company uses misrepresentation to sell access to emotionally manipulative events that have 200 to 20,000 attendees.
The events use labels such as "Circle of Success," as a guaranteed pathway to life-changing financial success with Herbalife's multi-level marketing business opportunity.
Each of the plaintiffs distributors has spent thousands of dollars attending events, but they received no benefits from doing so contrary to frequent claims by Herbalife that: "If you go to all the events, you qualify for everything you will get rich."
The plaintiffs are seeking damages and injunctive relief against "the corrupt organization of individuals and entities who sell, operate and compel participation in the Circle of Success."
An Associated Press report states that the case might eventually involve more than 100,000 plaintiffs. [Anderson C. Herbalife distributors claim events were a sham. Boston Globe. Aug. 21, 2018] In pretrial motions, Herbalife's attorneys argued that the plaintiffs had signed contracts mandating arbitration of any disputes rather than trial in court. [Pickett A. Herbalife seeks to arbitrate potential $1 billion class action. Courthouse News Service. Aug. 21, 2018]
distributors accused of making false COVID-19 claims (Consumer Health
Digest #20-26 - July 5, 2020)
A TruthInAdvertising.org investigation has cataloged more than 30 instances in which Herbalife, through its distributors, improperly claimed that various company products can treat and/or prevent the coronavirus by boosting one's immune system. The consumer advocacy organization has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against Herbalife. [TINA.org alerts FTC to Herbalife distributors' coronavirus claims. TINA.org. Apr 27, 2020] While the FTC has sent dozens of warning letters to businesses making deceptive coronavirus-related claims, Herbalife is still not among those businesses.
to pay $123 million to resolve criminal charges (Consumer Health Digest #20-34
-August 30, 2020)
Multilevel marketing company Herbalife Nutrition, Ltd. has entered into a deferred prosecution agreement to resolve federal charges that it conspired over a ten-year period to bribe Chinese officials and falsify its accounting records to promote and expand its business in China. Under the agreement, Herbalife admitted to violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and promised to pay penalties totaling more than $123 million. By 2016, Herbalife's business in China accounted for $850 million, which was about 20% of its worldwide annual net sales. [Herbalife agrees to pay $123 million to resolve Foreign Corrupt Practices Act case. US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York news release, Aug 28, 2020] MLM Watch has an archive of information about Herbalife collected over more than 30 years that includes regulatory actions and lawsuits against the company.