Financial independence is nothing new. People have always wanted to make enough money, so they didn’t have to hold a regular job.
But since the FIRE movement (financial independence, retire early) started taking off and becoming more popular, I’ve noticed it has become common for people to tap into this concept to convince people to signup for their chosen scheme.
After hearing about these FIRE scams, I wanted to spend more time looking into precisely what was going on.
How to Catch a Scammy Situation
Their process is simple.
- Make contact with someone new
- Create a personal connection
- Start talking about how they have retired early, will be retiring early soon, or know someone who retired early
- They focus on the benefits of financial independence
- Details on precisely what they are selling are sparse until they are convinced you will signup for their program
Multi-Level Marketing Companies
I’m not here to shoot down MLM companies, but this seems to be happening more frequently when people are pitching MLM opportunities.
They want you to buy into the idea of the amount of money you can make if you do well with their company.
I’m not inferring that all MLM schemes are scams, but it seems weird that instead of focusing on what the program is selling, they want you to get excited about financial independence. I’m as passionate about reaching financial freedom as anyone, but FI is not going to be achieved just because you like the idea.
Financial independence is not about finding the right system or MLM scheme. You have to earn it.
Some people have done very well with MLM companies, but in all cases, it has stemmed from a massive amount of work and networking. But with that said, according to the Federal Trade Commission, 99% of people who signup for an MLM end up failing.
Maybe you are one of the few who have made an MLM opportunity successful long-term. But you are the exception and not the rule.
Getting excited about making enough money to have more freedom with your time is exciting. Who in their right mind doesn’t want that?
Instead of focusing on how much money we “could” make, we need to think about whether we are excited about selling a product because this is going to determine how motivated we are to be to pursue success, and if we will stand by what we are selling.
Any system or situation that is not forthright about precisely what the scheme is about, makes me nervous. A few thoughts immediately come to mind in these cases:
- Why does it feel like I am pulling teeth in getting relevant details?
- Are they hiding something?
- If this is not a scam, why does it smell like a scam?
It’s like they want you to focus on how much the people at the top of the pyramid are making. That increases the chances of you signing up for their program, and them earning a commission on your signups or sales.
There Are No Shortcuts
Wouldn’t it be great if there was an easy way to make a massive amount of money? You just needed to signup for a program, and the cash will flow like a river.
But that is not how wealth is built for most of us.
It’s very similar to the idea that buying things I can’t afford is going to make me happy. I’ve done this for years, and these purchases did not make me happy. If I’m honest, I was purchasing more of the idea in what I thought I would get by owning these possessions. And that is what these type of schemes are trying to do. In most cases, they will not deliver what you are hoping.
Instead of focusing on financial independence directly, I’m focused on figuring out how I’m going to get there. No one is going to give me financial freedom. I have to earn it through hard work, persistence, and being smart. And even if I do all of those things, there are no guarantees I will earn massive amounts of money.
I like earning commissions, but I don’t like MLM
If I believe in a product, and want to sell that product, I have no problem making a commission from my sales. Many people earn good money doing this, including on a large number of websites.
And this concept is not new. Companies want to provide you an incentive to sell their product — both parties benefit.
But what rubs me wrong about the MLM opportunities I’ve come across, including the ones that are scams, is most of them do not focus on what is being sold. Instead, they are selling you on the idea of financial independence, and how large amounts of money could change your life.
If a company is selling an excellent service or product, the focus should be on that aspect, as opposed to building a network of people under you.
Without a great product behind the system, in essence, it becomes something like this: you get your friends to signup, and they give you a dollar. Any friends they bring on gets them money, and you get a cut. So ultimately the people towards the top of the pyramid make the most money, but there is no real essence to what is being sold or consumed through the whole system. It becomes about building your pyramid as large as possible, and hope that you aren’t at the bottom.
Not Every MLM is a Scam
It becomes about being smart about what you are getting into. Asking the right questions can help you weed out which opportunities are worth pursuing:
- Exactly what products or services would I be selling?
- Is the focus of the business model selling a product or signing people up under you?
- What kind of reviews have people posted about this company online? Can you even get them to mention a company name?
- Are the products or services solid?
- Would I buy and use this product if there wasn’t an affiliate system?
- Is there anything shady about this person or the company they are representing?
- Are they guaranteeing income?
- Does their sales pitch primarily focus on financial independence, or talking about how much other people are making?
If they don’t answer questions directly or are vague with their responses, that is a huge red flag. If they are selling a product they believe in, why are they giving you the run around?
MLM Type of Opportunities May Not Be the Best Option
There are people out there who make massive amounts of money involved in an MLM type of company that are legitimate. In fact, it wasn’t too long ago that Andrea (my wife) was involved with several companies and made around $1,000/mo of extra income every month.
In Andrea’s case, she believed in the products she was selling and did very well. But the good times were short-lived as the companies took off and it became harder to sell the products. At least with one of the companies, they ended up going out of business 3-4 years later.
Maybe there are more long-term success stories out there, and I’m sure if you get involved with one of these companies early on, it might work out well for you. But to be honest, we are pretty much done with any kind of MLM opportunity.
The big issue we noticed is that as a representative for an MLM company, you are not selling anything unique. All companies are at risk of going out of business, but it seems like that risk is higher for MLM companies. “If” you end up doing well, you don’t know how long it will last. I think they work better as a temporary side hustle and are too risky to depend on for long-term income.
As we speak, I’m working on a product that I want to launch on Money Stir eventually. I have full control over what I would be selling, and I’m excited because I am building something I will use on a personal level myself. It might work out, or it might be a flop. But in either case, I will gain valuable experience and increase the chances to raise our income. Don’t worry; I’ll announce what I’m doing eventually (signup for my newsletter to get updates). 🙂
Sure, it’s much more work creating something yourself and working on improving your skills. But with enough time, experience, and knowledge, you increase your chances of striking gold.
It all comes back to working your ass off to achieve your goals. Most things in life that are worth attaining require effort.
I launched Money Stir with the idea that I wanted to put my thoughts into writing, help others, and build something that might eventually grow to generate income. What I didn’t know six months ago was how much work maintaining a blog is. Especially looking at the 3-posts per week blog schedule I’m keeping, it is a ton of work.
I’m learning that a big part of life is figuring out where to direct your energy. And adjusting your path as you go.
Staying True to Myself
In the pursuit of building wealth, it can be easy to justify making money while sacrificing our morals. Would you be willing to sell a crapy product, even if you were guaranteed to make massive amounts of money?
To me, that’s part of what rubs me wrong with some MLM companies and scams. Instead of selling quality products, you are selling a lifestyle that few at the company are maintaining. You are selling financial independence.
You can pursue financial independence without sacrificing your conscience.
You don’t have to choose between following your conscience or building wealth. Otherwise, we should all consider going the Breaking Bad route and become drug dealers (as I hear it is a lucrative business).
And part of the struggle is finding something that will keep you motivated. How much motivation can you maintain selling a product you don’t believe in? Sure, you might be able to push hard for a short amount of time. But at least for me, that fire will eventually go out.
I don’t want to scam people out of their money, or trick them into buying something that I know has little value. Instead, I want whatever I am selling to be useful and serve a purpose. It doesn’t have to be life-changing necessarily, but I don’t want to sell anything that I wouldn’t want my kids to buy if it would be useful for them.
And even if you aren’t selling anything directly, like a product, that doesn’t mean you aren’t selling something. If you make money in any way, in all cases, you are selling your time to someone. I work for a company as a web developer, and they are paying me for my knowledge, experience, and the code I write. So in a sense, I am selling a product (my time).
The more you can increase the value of what you are selling, the more you increase your chances of more income.
Re-reading this article, I realized the focus quickly turned to MLM companies. That wasn’t the original idea I had when I started writing this post, but I think it fits as there are a ton of scammers in the MLM space. And most scammers end up using similar tactics as MLM companies.
If you have an MLM type of business and are doing well, I would love to hear your experience. I’m sure not all MLM companies are scams, and your experience and perspective might be different from mine.
The more we can be smart about how we approach new opportunities, the more likely we will be able to avoid the scammers that are trying to steal our money. And the more we can control our destiny, the more likely we will put ourselves into a stronger financial position in the future.
Chris is a financial blogger who loves to be transparent about money-related issues. He’s paid off massive amounts of credit card debt and is the blog author of Money Stir. His main focus on Money Stir is talking about how money relates to our relationships, personal development, and how to plan for the future we want. He’s been quoted on Market Watch, The Ladders, and other publications.