Gustafson: Trend: Pyramid Schemes (or Multi-Layer Marketing schemes) Flourish in Bad Economy

March 7, 2009

Posted by contributor Mary Gustafson If I could find --  and I'm sure I could if I looked --  just two more un- or under-employed people who have had a similar experience recently, I would have an honest to goodness trend on my hands. But since I don't want to work that hard just for one blog post, I'll just make an educated assumption: desperate times make people more desperate and more vulnerable to get-rich-quick schemes. This phenomenon makes networking events a target-rich environment for peddlers of such traps. So, based on my somewhat limited anecdotal evidence, I present to you "Five Signs You Have a Pyramid-Shaped Target On Your Back."
  1. If you attend a networking event, regardless of how reputable the venue, chances are good that you're in a room full of people who have at some point worked in sales. You aren't being a cynical Debbie Downer if you suspect that someone might try to sell you something, either on the spot or once you've added them to your LinkedIn network a week later.
  2. If the facilitator of such an event glosses over what he or she does for a living but mentions vaguely that they work from home and are available to talk later if anyone wants to know more. If they hesitate to explain their career publicly, there's probably a good reason. Unless, of course, they work for the CIA or FBI. But in that case, what would they be doing at a networking event anyway?
  3. If someone latches on to a health problem you mentioned in passing and aggressively asserts that they know of a product that could definitely help you, be wary. Be especially suspicious if such a product can cure every disease under the sun, from autism to herniated discs.
  4. "There's safety in numbers" is a good adage to live by, but if two people (particularly if one of them has questionable social skills) BOTH take a keen interest in your health and employment situation, don't second guess your suspicion that they might have ulterior motives.
  5. And finally, if you agree to meet up with these people at a Starbucks, and they whip out brochures, it's completely safe to hear them out, even though the chances that their miracle nutritional shakes will cure you of your chronic condition are slim to none. If they then ask you to think of three people who might be interested in making an investment and running a business out of their home, you aren't being a jerk to question this cure-all. However, if they start drawing a flow chart of your friends and family and the result is a pyramid-shaped chart, then excuse yourself and leave. And don't feel like a jerk for not returning their calls and emails, because you have just escaped a lifetime of debt and self-delusion.