Network Marketing Scams & Pyramid Schemes: Warning Signs

Guide to Identifying Network Marketing Scams: MLM & Pyramid Schemes. Red Flags & Tips on what to watch for before joining an MLM program.
Tanis Zamora
Posted by Tanis Zamora
Network marketing scams
Network marketing scams and pyramid schemes have been around for decades, but in recent years they have become more prevalent with the rise of online platforms.
It can be difficult to detect these scams, as criminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their tactics.
To help you protect yourself from falling prey to a network marketing scam or pyramid scheme, here are ten warning signs to look out for.

Network Marketing Scams: Warning Signs

Here are the ten most common signs of an MLM scam:
From promises of guaranteed returns on investments to unsolicited emails and pressure to join without researching, understanding these signs can help you distinguish legitimate opportunities from fraudulent ones.

What is Network Marketing (MLM)?

Network Marketing
Network marketing, or multilevel marketing (MLM), is a type of direct selling that uses independent distributors to market and sell products.
Distributors are compensated for their sales but also earn commissions from the sales of other distributors they recruit into the network.

What is an Illegal Pyramid Scheme (MLM Scam)?

Pyramid schemes are fraudulent systems of making money that involve recruiting new people to join a program and pay entry fees or buy products, with the promise of receiving greater returns if they can recruit more people.
Unlike network marketing, pyramid schemes do not offer any product or service, and participants only make money by recruiting others.

Overview of How Deceptive Scams Operate

Network marketing scams are a prevalent issue that can leave unsuspecting victims with empty wallets.
These schemes focus on convincing people to invest in products or services, often inflating the value of those items.
In addition, they may employ aggressive tactics such as high-pressure sales and false financial advantages – all to steal hard-earned money from innocent individuals!

Multilevel Marketing Scams: Warning Signs (Red Flags)

1. Guaranteed Returns – Legitimate network marketing companies will never promise guaranteed investment returns. If a company claims to guarantee profits, it is likely a scam.

2. Upfront Fees – Legitimate network marketing opportunities do not require upfront fees or investment costs before joining.

3. Pressure to Join – Scammers may pressure you to join the opportunity without allowing you time to research and understand the business model and Terms of the Agreement.

4. Unsolicited Emails – Network marketing scams often contact potential victims through unsolicited emails or cold calls, which is a red flag for illegal activity.

5. Complex Compensation Plans – Legitimate network marketing companies have simple compensation plans that are easy to understand and explain. If your recruiter can’t explain the program in detail, it’s likely a scam.

6. Pyramid Structure – Pyramid schemes are illegal, so any company with an excessive emphasis on recruiting new members rather than selling products is likely a scam.

7. Focus on Recruiting Rather than Selling – A legitimate network marketing company should focus primarily on selling its products rather than recruiting new members; if recruitment is overly emphasized, it’s likely a scam.

8. Hidden Costs – Network marketing scams often hide additional costs associated with the opportunity, such as training materials or membership fees, that can add up quickly and significantly reduce your potential profits.

9. Unrealistic Income Claims – Any company that makes grandiose promises about how much money you can make without offering details about how those earnings will be generated is likely fraudulent or illegal and should be avoided at all costs!

10. Too Good To Be True – If something seems too good to be true, it probably is! Be wary of offers that promise excessive returns with minimal effort; these are usually signs of illegitimate opportunities and should be avoided at all costs!

Examples of Multilevel Marketing Scams

• Vemma – marketed energy drinks and supplements and was accused of running a pyramid scheme.

• TelexFree – claimed to be an online telecommunications company but was a pyramid scheme.

• BurnLounge – a multilevel marketing company that sold music and was accused of operating a pyramid scheme.

• Zeek Rewards – an advertising and e-commerce platform revealed to be a Ponzi scheme.

• TVI Express – a travel club accused of operating as a pyramid scheme and was eventually shut down by regulators.

• 5Linx – a telecommunications company that has faced multiple lawsuits for operating as a pyramid scheme.

• Digital Altitude – marketed digital business courses and was accused of operating an illegal pyramid scheme.

How Do Network Marketing Scams Work?

Network marketing scams are typically a one-way street for those recruited.
Initially, these individuals may be promised large profits from getting others involved – but the only ones that make money in this scheme tend to be at the top of the recruitment tree.
The unfortunate truth is that many people who get caught up in such systems will rarely, if ever, see any of their rewards and instead become stepping stones used by scammers to recruit more victims into their organization.

Tactics Techniques Used by Scammers

Scammers often use techniques to lure people into their schemes, such as promises of high returns with low risk, leveraging social proof from other victims who have already invested in the scheme, and creating a sense of urgency or exclusivity.
They may also offer seemingly legitimate investments that are fraudulent. In addition, scammers may use online marketing tactics such as email campaigns and targeted ads to reach potential victims.

Recruitment Tactics: Pressure to Recruit

To trap unsuspecting victims, scammers increasingly turn to clever recruitment tactics – from posting irresistible job ads on social media portals and job boards offering too-good-to-be-true salaries and other benefits to pretending as representatives of actual companies.
These ‘hired guns’ use deceptive methods, such as providing false information about a company’s financial standing to draw people into their lucrative scams.

High-Pressure Sales Tactics: Pressure to Buy

Scammers may pressure potential victims into deciding by creating a sense of urgency or a limited-time offer.
For example, they may claim that the investment opportunity will only be available for a short period, and the victim must immediately decide to take advantage of it.
They may also offer bonuses or incentives if the victim agrees to invest quickly.

Effects of Network Marketing Scams

Pyramid schemes can significantly negatively impact people who get caught up in them.
Often, victims will lose all of their money invested and may even be subject to criminal prosecution for participating in the scheme.
Furthermore, those recruited into these schemes can suffer psychological harm due to the stress and frustration of being defrauded by someone they trust.

Financial Impact

Pyramid schemes have far-reaching and devastating financial implications.
Not only are investors likely to lose their hard-earned money, but they could also end up owing taxes on non-existent earnings or be held liable for any debts incurred while participating in a fraudulent scheme.
Moreover, victims can experience psychological distress due to being deceived by someone who had gained their trust priorly.

Emotional Impact

Deception victims often experience intense emotions, such as shock, anger, and humiliation.
Betrayal can cause profound psychological trauma, which some may struggle to overcome – leading to depression and other conditions linked with prolonged distress.

Reputation Impact

Victims of network marketing scams often suffer reputational damage due to the malicious nature of the fraud.
Victims may find they can not obtain credit or secure employment, as employers often conduct background checks that reveal negative financial histories, leading to further humiliation, frustration, and anger.

Social Embarrassment

Victims of network marketing scams may also suffer social embarrassment.
Those individuals may feel ashamed to talk about their experience and thus be reluctant to report the crime or seek help from authorities.
They may fear ridicule and judgment from family, friends, and colleagues if they disclose their stories.
The unfortunate truth is that many people who get caught up in such schemes will rarely, if ever, see any of their rewards and instead become another stepping stone used by scammers to recruit more victims into their organization.

How to Avoid Network Marketing Scams & Pyramid Scheme Frauds

1. Research the company and its products: Before joining any network marketing opportunity, research the company, its management team, and the products or services it offers.

Check out customer reviews and ratings to better understand how reputable the business is.

2. Check the compensation plan: Ensure you understand how much money you can make from the program before joining.

Be suspicious of any program that promises unrealistic investment returns or does not provide detailed information about its compensation structure.

3. Avoid pressure tactics: Legitimate network marketing companies only pressure people to sign up or invest immediately after providing enough information about the program.

Any company pushing you into signing should be avoided at all costs.

4. Steer clear of pyramid schemes: Pyramid schemes are illegal, and any company offering one should be reported to the authorities immediately. A legitimate network marketing opportunity will involve selling actual products or services.

At the same time, a pyramid scheme focuses on recruiting new members and taking their money without providing anything of value in return.

5. Ask for references: Before signing up with any MLM business opportunity, ask for references from others who have used the product or service; this will help you gauge their success in achieving their goals and whether they are satisfied with their experience.

6. Avoid get-rich-quick schemes: Be wary of any company that promises quick money with little effort on your part. Many pyramid schemes use this tactic to lure unsuspecting victims into their scams.

Legitimate MLM companies may promise high earnings, but it’s important to remember that success takes hard work, dedication, and patience.

7. Avoid companies that require significant upfront investment: Direct sales opportunities should not need you to invest a large sum of money upfront before you can start making money with their program.

If you feel pressured to invest more than you can afford or if a company requires members to purchase a certain amount of product to participate in the program, be very cautious about joining them.


Multilevel marketing can be a fantastic way to augment your income and build meaningful relationships with like-minded professionals.
Doing some research first is essential–looking for companies with competitive start-up costs, offering reliable products or services, and boasting a solid track record.
When armed with this insight into potential opportunities, choosing one best suited to you should become much easier!
Tanis Zamora about me box

Tanis Zamora, Owner & Creator

Tanis, a beginner blogger and network marketer, shares his experiences and insights through his writing. He aims to improve the perception of network marketing and highlight its positive aspects. Tanis values connecting with other like-minded individuals and sharing tips and strategies for success in the field
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