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October 18, 2006

Pyramid Scheme

Yesterday, someone who I thought was a friend tried to recruit me into a pyramid scheme. It was one of the most bizarre experiences I have had in a long time. At first I was angry and felt violated. After all, I thought he was a friend, so why was he trying to scam me? And then I got intensely curious, both about this company, TEAM, which is basically Amway's internet-based sister company, and about pyramid schemes in general, so I did what I do best. Research.

The whole thing started when I met Darren through another organization with which I am affiliated. In the context of a friendly conversation, I asked Darren what he did for a living. He replied that his day job was providing direct care for "retards" (his word), but that he also had his own internet business. When I asked what it was, he replied that it was too complicated to explain at that point, but that he would be happy to call me back another time to tell me. I figured it was probably porn, and didn't care enough to find out, so I let it go.

Last weekend, I was talking to Darren again. Ever since I decided to go on leave from grad school, I have become very curious about what other people do for a living, so I asked Darren again. He said he would call me at 10am on Monday to tell me about it. When 10am Monday rolled around, my curiosity had waned, and I found myself too busy blogging to take Darren's call. Darren is a persistent guy and, as soon as I loggd off, the phone rang. But he still wouldn't actually tell me what his business was. Each time I asked him what he does, he would ask if I had heard of some business principle, such as Robert Kiyosaki's "Cash Flow Quadrant." When I said no, he would reply with, "well, it will all make more sense when we meet in person. How about eleven o'clock tomorrow?" After going through this about three times, the curiosity overcame me, and I agreed to let him come to my house Tuesday at eleven.

David was pretty skeptical about the whole thing and, as he left home yesterday morning, reminded me that, if any trouble came up with Darren, 911 is only three digits. Darren showed up promptly at eleven, wearing a dark suit and red tie, and bearing two cans of a root-beer flavored energy drink. My first thought was, maybe that's his business -- selling energy drinks.

Darren began with chitchat and, when it seemed after ten minutes like we weren't getting anywhere, I asked how it was that he got into this business. He said that he had run into an old friend, and the next day her son had called him up to offer him a business opportunity. So what was this business? Darren wouldn't actually tell me. All he would say is that it offers a fantastic lifestyle: he works for himself and can earn as much as he wants to.

But what does he do? Again, Darren wouldn't answer this question. He opened up a case that contained two CDs and a booklet, and told me that these would explain the business better than he ever could. When I asked him what TEAM is, he told me that it is an acronym that stands for Together Everyone Achieves More. But what do they achieve? Money. Where does that money come from? Again, Darren referred me to the book and CDs. Maybe the business was selling these books and CDs, so I asked if he was selling them to me or lending them to me. He assured me that it was a loan; I wouldn't have to pay anything.

Darren kept referring to himself as an Independent Business Owner, but when I asked him what his business was, he didn't seem to know. He also kept saying that, before he could offer me this fabulous opportunity to earn as much money as I want to, he had to know why I wanted to join TEAM. He didn't quite seem to get it when I told him that I didn't want to join TEAM, I just wanted to know more about it. Or, rather, that if I knew something about TEAM, I might be able to decide whether or not I wanted to join. But Darren couldn't or wouldn't tell me anything about it.

After having given me absolutely no information about this business, Darren said that I could get started right away, by going to a workshop that evening, right here in Ann Arbor. Since it was my first one, he could get me in for free. When I asked what the workshop was about, he told me that two couples would be speaking, and that these couples were so amazing because they had earned enough through TEAM to have the lifestyle they always wanted: the wives had been able to quit their jobs to raise babies!

The workshop was from 8pm to 10:30, which is when I typically eat dinner, watch television, and go to bed, so I told Darren I couldn't make it. He tried for quite a while to talk me into going, but I finally said, "Darren, I'm not going." By that point, I was so curious that I desperately wanted to read the book and listen to the CDs, just to find out what this was all about. I told Darren that I needed to know more about TEAM before I could make any further decisions, but that if he would leave the stuff with me, I would return it to him on Saturday, when we would be seeing each other anyway. That wasn't soon enough for Darren, however. He also said that I would probably have a lot of questions after reading the book and listening to the CDs (because they don't actually give any real information either), so we made another appointment for Friday.

I've got to run now, but I'll continue the story in another post soon.

Posted by eklanche at October 18, 2006 11:31 AM

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