Marketing Scammers Targeting Students, Recent College Grads

Photo Credit: Alejandro Colon

By: Alejandro Colon

A long-lost friend, distant family member, a loose acquaintance contacts you by phone, email,or social network. You haven’t heard from them in a while—maybe you’ve never even met them in person—but they want to share a new and great employment opportunity they’ve been working on. They are looking for 5 to 10 “key people” to work with and they know you’ll be a great fit. However, the person refuses to give details upfront. They instead insist on meeting youin person to discuss this once in a lifetime opportunity further.

Although this all sounds vague, too many college students are curious as to what the opportunity might be. It seems nobody wants to miss out on what could be a lucrative job situation and many students and recent grads agree to meet. Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) companies such as Primerica, ACN, Amway, and Vector Marketing—which had advertising around York College during last fall’s semester—have ramped up their recruitment efforts in colleges under the guise of being conventional business or employment opportunities.

In 2015 a similar company, Vemma, used college students to push their energy drink “Verve.”Their inventory was seized and operations halted under accusations by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of running a pyramid scheme. The events echoed a similar situation in which Amway was ultimately forced to settle a class actions lawsuit for $150 million five years earlier. These companies have been around for decades.

The alarming concern now is that they have started to target college students, particularly in colleges where there is bound to be a large population of students from working class families. Recruiter or “business mentors” as they like to call themselves know that those students tend to be less career ready and easily impressed by promises of large payouts.

In February, York College’s Career Services sent out an email warning students to be wary of employment scams targeting students. While MLMs are legal and not considered a scam, they are likely to turn out to be a terrible waste of time for students.

Scrolling through a list of companies that have been denied access to York College’s student body, Sarah Garcia of York’s Career Services made the following observation: “Students who often get involved with [MLM] companies typically have limited options.” She says, “They tend to be students who either have low GPAs or do not have a career plan.”

Students making their first foray into the job market are more likely to be solicited by MLM
companies. Their lack of experience in dealing with recruiters and interviewing—coupled with wanting to find employment and make money quickly—makes these students prime targets for MLM companies. For a company looking to take advantage of inexperienced students, it is only a matter of masking their pitch in a way that it sounds easy, cheap, and requires little to no attention. MLMs, however, tend to be just the opposite. They cost students money to buy expensive inventory regularly and fees to attend training sessions. They also require a large investment of time to market to and recruit people close to them.

MLM participants not only risk the loss of money and time but also risk burning bridges with those around them. MLMs encourage participants to market and recruit heavily within their close network of friends and family, which can put some people off. Ruel Quamina, an accounting senior at York College, recalls personally experiencing just this situation. “I stopped talking to one person because I felt I had become a sales target every time I spoke to them,” says Quamina. “All they talked about was the organization they were part of and constantly tried to get me to join.”

Although marketed as easy money, MLM offers are far from ideal for college students. The average student’s workload is hefty already without having to push product and make sales calls. Furthermore, there appears to be no real benefits to for participants to get involved with MLMs even though they usually promise some sort of mentorship relationship with senior participants.

Garcia mentions that, when it is all said and done, MLM participants tend to lose more than what they gain. The reality is that there is no silver lining for students participating in MLMs. If experience is all that is to be expected from participating in a MLM company, Garcia emphasizes that, “[MLM participants] did not gain any interpersonal or career development skills after taking part in MLMs. Students were back to where they started,” she said.

Editor’s Note: Due to inaccuracies in sources  Marketwave was written under an MLM company. Len Clements, the Founder & CEO of Marketwave, Inc Vector claims the company isn’t considered an MLM company. Vemma never had inventory seized nor operations halted outside of 26 days in legal dispute. Vemma and Marketwave are still functioning. We regret the error.

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