While multi-level marketing schemes (MLMs) promise to earn you thousands, they can leave you in debt and feeling alone.
A new BBC 3 documentary presented by Ellie Flynn looks into the worrying trend of such pyramid schemes and the shiny promises they make to vulnerable members of the public strapped for cash.
The eye-opening show focuses on two schemes – one called Younique, and the other NU Skin – both of which sell beauty products and offer a lavish lifestyle to whoever joins.
Younique boasts an impressive 1.2million members online, mostly women, who they refer to as ‘presenters.’
However, only 0.02 percent of these, which is the equivalent of a mere 240 people – are living the actual millionaire lifestyle advertised in the hope of luring in new members.
Presenter Ellie Flynn (pictured) looks into multi-level marketing schemes for BBC 3 for this Saturday’s documentary: Secrets of the Multi-Level Millionaires: Ellie Undercover
Vickie (right), says she felt she had been targeted by a multi-level marketing scheme, as she was pregnant and living in an estate when she was offered to join. Pictured, Ellie Flynn, left, meets Vickie and her child
The Younique ‘presenters’ are told to sell the pricey products from the brands. But, if they fail to make a profit, they are then instructed to create a ‘team’ by recruiting others to sell the products for them.
The recruiter, or ‘upline’ as they are referred to, then makes money from products the people they sign up manage to buy or sell.
One person recruits three, who then recruits three more – and then you have yourself a MLM scheme.
One mother-of-two from Cornwall, Vickie, 24, was part of a similar scheme for six months.
Ellie also meets Lindsay, (right) 36, from Manchester, who was encouraged to spend £3,000 on Younique products during her time on the scheme
In the show, the young woman reveals she felt she had been targeted as she was pregnant at the time and living in a council house with her husband.
‘It was a few weeks before my maternity leave, and my husband and I had looked through of finances and went “oh my god! How are we going to survive,”‘ she explains.
‘I didn’t want to live in a council house forever, I wanted more out of life, and I thought that’s what would give it to me.’
Vickie says she dedicated her life to her new work, especially before the birth of her child, as she wanted to have some income ready before the arrival.
Vickie reveals that she even targeted people like her during her time as a ‘presenter’ for the brand – particularly when leading up to Christmas
‘I had a 25 hour labour,’ she explains. ‘I worked at home in the first eight hours.’
‘I don’t like to say the word, but I’ve targeted people like me, young mums, people on maternity leave. As it got towards Christmas I actually targeted people that couldn’t afford paying for the festive season.’
Despite working herself to the point of exhaustion right before delivering her child, Vickie only managed to earn £20 during her six months on the scheme.
The show also reveals that such schemes encourage their ‘presenters’ to buy the brand’s products themselves, in order to increase their sales figures.
According to Ellie Flynn, who crunches the numbers, this would cost at least £562, but for some, it can actually be anything between £500 and £3,000.
Ellie Flynn (pictured) listens to the stories of women who worked as Younique ‘presenters’ and suffered the consequences
One unnamed source from the documentary says they ‘had no money for food and things’ because they were ‘promised if [they] put this in, [they’d] get more back.’
Another reveals they spent ‘upwards a couple of thousands’ in buying Younique products.
Lindsay, 36, a former Younique ‘presenter’ from Manchester, forked out around £3,000 in products from the brand.
Despite trying to sell the products herself, she only had four customers, two of whom were family members. She first started purchasing products from the brand as she was told it would significantly up her numbers.
Lindsay reveals that Younique ‘presenters’ are encouraged to buy the products for themselves in order to showcase them to customers. These ‘encouragements’ take place on average two to three times a day.
Lindsay tells how she felt she wasn’t working hard enough and thought buying the products would help her succeed
Lindsay is now in serious debt and says she felt she had to get the products because she thought she was ‘doing something wrong or not trying enough.’
The documentary also reveals that MLMs are very similar to cults with many comparing their CEO to Messiah’s like Jesus.
One of the most worrying things, according to Flynn, is that members are encouraged to ‘cut out negative influences’ from their lives.
Younique tells the BBC that they ‘developed the business model to allow presenters to run […] at a level that makes sense for each individual.’
‘Sign fee is low and presenters don’t need to build a product as our digital platform allows customers to buy directly from Younique.’
The company add that they have a refund policy for unused products that could be returned by presenters ‘within the prior year for a full refund’ and that they have ‘strict policies in place to insure adherence with all local laws.’
Speaking in the documentary they explain that they ‘supplement these policies with a large compliance audit team […] and provide ongoing training and enforcement, including termination for noncompliance.’
A spokesperson adds: ‘We are proud supporters of the Younique foundation, a non-profit organisation that strives to provide hope and healing services for women who were sexually abused as children or adolescents.’
A spokesperson for Younique said: ‘The experience described does not accurately reflect those of our hundreds of thousands of Younique Presenters around the world, nor our organisation’s values more fundamentally.
‘There is no requirement whatsoever for Presenters to build their own stock of products or commit any of their own funds. As independent business operators, some Presenters may decide to do so, but our digital platforms enable customers to purchase products online and have them shipped directly from the company.
‘Furthermore, as part of our commitment to safeguarding our Presenters’ financial security, they can return any unused products within a year of purchase and receive a full refund, should they choose to terminate their relationship with Younique.
‘We provide training to Presenters on how to market their businesses so that they are supported and well-placed to succeed, but equally we respect every Presenter’s autonomy and right to run their business their own way. We do not endorse excessive working hours, nor do we permit any unsubstantiated earnings claims to be made by any Presenters.
‘We fully comply with the UK Direct Sellers’ Association’s Code of Conduct, but at a deeper level, we work throughout the business to ensure that Younique provides opportunities for personal growth and financial reward for our Presenters worldwide.’