As with all MLMs, the real money to be made isn’t in selling their products but in recruiting more people to join your team (basically, doing the work for you). So the real winners are the person who started the business and the very first people she recruited. This top of the pyramid is also where all of the success stories tend to come from. Among the most vulnerable to these pyramid schemes are people in smaller towns and rural areas. Market saturation prevents growth in a small town, because once everyone you know starts selling it, no one can make any money and you’ve essentially created your own competition.
This issue, like all issues concerning the evaluation of an MLM’s compensation structure, is fact-specific and usually involves a comprehensive analysis of a variety of factors. It is worthwhile, however, to highlight two topics that the FTC is likely to consider when evaluating an MLM’s payment of compensation that is premised, in part, on participants buying product that is not resold. First, the FTC staff is likely to consider whether features of the MLM’s compensation structure incentivize or encourage participants to purchase product for reasons other than satisfying their own personal demand or actual consumer demand in the marketplace. Second, the FTC staff is likely to consider information bearing on whether particular wholesale purchases by business opportunity participants were made to satisfy personal demand. The persuasiveness of this information in any particular case will depend on its reliability.
As stated in the Business Opportunity Rule’s Statement of Basis and Purpose, the Commission crafted the Rule to avoid broadly sweeping in MLMs. It did so by tailoring the definition of business opportunity to exclude certain types of business assistance common to MLMs. 76 Fed. Reg. 76816, 76824 (Dec. 8, 2011). It is important to note, however, that the Rule does not explicitly exempt MLMs from coverage. As with any other business entity, the determination whether an MLM would be a business opportunity to which the Rule applies would have to be made on a case-by-case basis.
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As in any business opportunity, it can be a beneficial practice if an MLM allows participants to return unsold product to the MLM because the ability to return product can decrease the risk of losing money for participants who take advantage of that policy. Allowing participants to return product, however, does not in and of itself shield an unfair or deceptive compensation structure from law enforcement. As a general matter, money-back guarantees and refunds are not defenses for violations of the FTC Act. Even where such policies are offered, dissatisfied participants may not seek a refund for a number of reasons, including because they are unaware of their right to a refund, the refund process is too complicated or obscure, or they blame themselves for not being able to sell the product.
The FTC’s case against BurnLounge provides an example. BurnLounge argued that its participants bought product packages consisting of sales websites and music-related merchandise because they wanted to use the merchandise. When BurnLounge’s product packages were untied from the business opportunity, however, monthly sales of these packages plummeted by almost 98 percent. At most, actual demand was responsible for only a small minority of package sales, and BurnLounge was found to have an unfair or deceptive compensation structure.
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With so many of the fastest growing MLM companies pushing to have you join, it can get confusing when you’re looking at MLM products, compensation plans, where to get leads, marketing tips, and most of all – can I really make money with this? What you need to remember, is that the best MLM to join in your situation is going to come down to one thing – finding a product and a business you are excited about sharing!