This is a personal article, and as such the opinions contained in it are mine alone. Names have been changed, details altered, but what follows is a true story and a cautionary one.
I got a phone call from an old schoolmate asking if I had time to “talk about a business venture opportunity”.
That opportunity turned out to be a multi-level marketing program of some kind. I am a freelance writer and artist, and I don’t have time for such things; I am far too busy with deadlines and details and the elaborate, “Can I talk to you about a business opportunity” song and dance is a huge time-waster for me.
A Vaguely-Worded ‘Business Opportunity’
So naturally, I was annoyed to learn that the “business opportunity” offered to me was really a request for me to join a program. AND spend money I don’t have on inventory I don’t want to sell to people. I personally have never found any of these Multilevel Marketing programs to have anything to do with my interests whatsoever.
It wasn’t easy to extract myself once i knew I was being recruited. But eventually, I told the school chum to buzz off and got back to work.
A while later, ANOTHER schoolmate from the same institution contacted me with a similar offer.
I lost my cool a bit. I was up against a big deadline AND enduring the song-and-dance about “let’s talk about a job opportunity” again. “Listen,” I wrote him in an email, “If this is one of those MLMs, just please leave me out of it. I am far too busy for such things”.
That should have been the end of it. Except that he replied to me. “Well, given your attitude, I wouldn’t want to work with you anyway, ha ha.” When I read that, I couldn’t let it go. Maybe it was a lack of coffee or the realization that I wasn’t the only person from my old school he was pestering.
The incidents of MLM outreach to fellow alumni was becoming a topic du jour on the school alumni message board, and the more details that emerged about the situation, the more I didn’t like it. I didn’t like that this MLM guy reached out to me because of my association with the school. And he was doing it with other alums, too.
The Appearance Of Impropriety?
I became a lot more vocal about some things that bothered me about the entire situation.
What was the problem? This particular multilevel marketing person was ALSO working for the school in question and was in a position to have access to alumni personal data. I publicly remarked on the alumni forum that if he was using that access to gather contact info for former students, that would be a massive violation of federal law under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Understand, he likely was NOT doing this, but rather using the alumni message board to reach out instead. But the APPEARANCE of POSSIBLE impropriety there? It was too much for his employers, who had been getting complaints of the MLM activities from their employee as it directly related to his reaching out to former students for the purposes of recruiting people for the pyramid scheme.
The MLM guy was fired. All alums were asked to report further contact by the MLM marketer, and some did occur for a time afterward but eventually stopped.
The moral of this story? If you are involved with multilevel marketing work, your outreach efforts have to involve ethical sourcing of contact information. Even the appearance or potential for abuse of things like lists of private data can result in official action. All it takes is one complaint to an employer to set a chain of events in motion that can result in your being dismissed for improper use of company data or resources.
Joe Wallace specializes in personal finance, military affairs, and consumer protection topics. Since 1995, his work has appeared on Air Force Television News, The Pentagon Channel, ABC and a variety of print and online publications. He is a 13-year Air Force veteran and collects unusual vinyl records, which gives him an excuse to write the vinyl blog Turntabling.net.