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There’s a scammer in my inbox • MarkLives.com | #coronavirus | #scams | #covid19


by Tiffany Markman (@tiffanymarkman) The covid-19 pandemic, a nationwide booze ban (now mostly lifted), five-degree Joburg mornings, and a massive influx of ‘offers’ from multilevel marketers, forex/bitcoin scammers, and plain ol’ pyramid schemers… It’s all been too much. Here’s how you tell, from their first message, whether that friendly person in your inbox or DMs might be a skelm:

#1. They try to build rapport through a sense of shared struggle

“Given the uncertainties we’re all facing, are you willing to explore digital business opportunities and possibilities?”
“Great connecting with you! How has your business been affected in this crazy time?”
“How’s your business doing during the pandemic?”
“How have you found that covid-19 has affected your work or your business?”

#2. They pretend to know what you’re into

“Hi dearest, hope you’re doing well! I was looking at your profile and felt called to message you. Are you interested in earning a part time or full time income?”
“I love your profile and your posts! I believe there’s an opportunity for us to work together. Let me know when you’re free for a Zoom call?”

#3. They use the phrase “open to hearing more” or “open to chatting”

“How’s business on your side? Would you be open to hearing more about an exciting opportunity, to see if it would be a good fit?”
“Let me know if you are open to chatting about possibilities in digital marketing.”
“I don’t know if this would interest you, but I can help you earn a part time or full time income from home. Wondering if you might be open to additional opportunities to earn money?”

#4. They’re vague about their offer/idea

“Thanks for connecting. One of the reasons I made contact with you is, I am expanding a business and I think there could be some synergy for us to do something together.”
“I play in the trading space, and I’m contacting you for business purposes.”
“I would be more than happy to help you build yourself and your income all the way.”

#5. They talk about how well they’re doing

“Getting straight to the point: with everything that’s going on, I’ve been extremely focused and productive with my home-based business. Curious if you might be interested in additional opportunities to earn money from home?”
“With what’s going on right now, I’m being super-productive, so if you want to make some money from home, I can show you exactly how to do it!”

*These are all real. They all arrived in the last 16 weeks. The specific ‘opportunities’, which are never mentioned upfront, turned out to be online shopping (Amway AKA Network 21), nutritional supplements (Herbalife), essential oils (Young Living, doTERRA), skincare (Jeunesse, LumiSpa, Nu Skin), and forex/bitcoin trading.

Only one of these signals*? Not necessarily worrisome. More than one? RIDE LIKE THE WIND, BULLSEYE!

Now, why wouldn’t you get involved?

Aside from versions of the phrases “business opportunity”, “part- or full-time income”, “open to chatting”, and “a good fit”, what these messages have in common is that they came to me from people who want to part me with my money and redirect it — to themselves. This is multilevel marketing, also known as network or vector marketing, and Amway and Herbalife are its evil king and queen.

As you can probably tell, I’m not objective when it comes to MLMs. Amway is why.

This monolith managed to get its own people into the US political system to pass bills — tucked innocuously into others — which legalised its business model. Several loopholes were put in place to evade the federal definition of a pyramid scheme, and the phenomenon has now spread across the world, but very compelling research shows that almost no-one who signs up for an MLM ever makes a profit. Except for the upper 0.1%.

Most of the money paid by an MLM company goes to top-of-the-network promoters, at the expense of new distributors, who tend to try out an MLM programme but eventually quit. So MLM distributors are really just sales reps who get big titles as they move up the pyramid.

If you don’t believe me, here’s John Oliver.

Other language to look for

Because I’m a language person, I dug up the “True Motivational Statements for Each Personality Type” from a well-known-on-the-inside Amway resource, to show you what may come next if the MLMer in your DMs gets past your first line of defence:

  • If you’re a ‘D personality type’, you’re known for being dominant, strong, task-orientated, and decisive. In this case, the MLMer will use “positive phrases” to appeal to your specific personality, to show that they understand what matters to you. They might say, “I can tell it’s important for you to be in control of your life, isn’t it?”
  • The ‘I personality type’ is social, friendly and not often detail-orientated. So, the MLMer might say, “I can tell you really enjoy being around good people, don’t you?”
  • If you’re identified as an ‘S personality type’, you’re people-oriented but reserved, very concerned with stability and with a strong aversion to risk. The MLMer might say, “It’s important to you to be involved with people who care about people, is that right?”
  • And, if you’re a ‘C personality type’ who’s detail- and task-oriented, and likely to respond to a conservative, patient approach, you’ll hear, “If you were going to involveyourself in something, you’d want it to be legal, moral and ethical, wouldn’t you?”

But, no matter which personality type you have, any objections that you raise may be treated to the “Feel, Felt, Found” response:

  • “I understand how you feel about this investment opportunity. These days you have to be careful with every rand you spend.”
    “I felt exactly the same way.” Or “I work with so many people who felt the same way at first.”
    “What these people found is that moving forward actually saved them money and hassle, and none of them ever regretted their decision to invest in themselves. Let me show you some of their feedback. How does that sound?”

Now, why do I share this stuff? Because, just like vaccines train your immune system to recognise a live virus by exposing it to the dead, manky remains of one, I’m hoping that this little language lesson inoculates you against the bite of the next scammer in your inbox.

See also

Tiffany Markman

Tiffany Markman contributes the regular column, “#WritersBlock”, to MarkLives.com. In it, you’ll find writing-and communication-related raves, rants and the occasional reality check. Tiffany’s a corporate copywriter, writing trainer and keynote speaker who’s worked with over 400 top brands in the last 15 years but she’s most proud of knowing the true meaning of the verb “revert”. She loves art and black coffee. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.

This MarkLives #CoronavirusSA special section contains coverage of how the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and its resultant disease, covid-19, is affecting the advertising, marketing and related industries in South Africa and other parts of Africa, and how we are responding. Updates may be sent to us via our contact form or the email address published on our Contact Us page. Opinion pieces/guest columns must be exclusive.

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