This week, it IS Roberta Blevins. Sorry for the error in thinking it was her episode last week.
We spoke with Roberta Blevins, a former member of a Multi-Level-Marketing (MLM) scam known as LuLaRoe. The similarities between MLM’s and cults are legion. Peer pressure. Information control. Even Fair Game tactics. Roberta discusses her experiences and her work today as a whistleblower against what she calls “Commercial Cults.” Her story gives an insight into this world and she is an engaging voice warning others not to get trapped as she was.
Roberta was featured in the Amazon Prime doc LuLaRich.
Steve Hassan’s BITE Model — the acronym stands for Behavior, Information, Though and Emotional control
Roberta’s Instagram account
Roberta’s Life After MLM podcast on Instagram
The Life After MLM YouTube page
Roberta’s website: RobertaBlevins.com
Michelle Carpenter says
I am heartened to see so many supportive comments on this post. Unlike most of the other commenters, I was part of the anti-MLM world before I learned about Scientology and other cults.
The FTC is currently considering making changes to its Business Opportunity Rule which could make it more difficult for these scams to fly under their regulatory radar, recruiting using deceptive practices straight out of the BITE model.
Roberta would be the first to tell you how important it is that we do what we can to spread awareness, and currently (through January 24th, 2023), the FTC is accepting public comments on this. I have more info and free resources at http://www.MLMchange.org!
This was a great show, thanks! Very educational.
And Roberta’s a hoot 🙂
MLMs and classic high control groups like cults take advantage of the same sorts of human vulnerabilities, or cognitive biases.
Roberta describes classic love bombing. And then of course there’s being part of an “in” group.
And her story about a woman who was behind on her mortgage but put more money into stock hoping to make a big enough killing on sales to catch up, sounds just like the behavior of problem gamblers. That involves a form of commitment bias, sometimes colloquially known as “throwing good money after bad”. In a similar way, in a large time frame and often non-monetary ways, scientologists will keep investing their time and psychological commitment, though of course the money looms particularly large for many.
Kat D says
A few times on the Fair Game Podcast you guys have spoken about why social media sites don’t shut down MLMs and Religious Cults. But what you guys don’t realize is that the individual reps are paying social media sites to “boost” their posts and other types of paid advertising. I am sure even Scientology is paying sites like Facebook to boost certain posts and ideas. It doesn’t have to be the actual organization but individuals or front groups doing it. Thus, social media sites are making money off MLMs and Religious Cults so why would they shut it down? … I’ll admit I got sucked into an MLM for a brief time. I gave Facebook my credit card info in my account. Whenever I would make a post (or “add”) then I would pay $5-$10 dollars to “boost” it. It’s super easy to do once you set up your payment source on your Fb account page. I was really small time so I can only image what big time MLM reps or Religious Cult members are paying to boost items. In Scientology, it could be as simple as a person posting about some great book they read or course they took and then paying money to have that post “boosted” to all their “friends”. And if a “friend” wants to buy that book or take that course then they could direct them to an Org. Then they get the credit for bringing that person in, and commission off any “package” they buy. At least that is what the MLM rep or cult member is hoping will happen when they pay to “boost” their post. It is a form of paid advertising and partly why, I believe, social media sites allow this crap. Because they are also profiting from MLM and Religious Cult schemes big time.
Kat D says
And maybe I didn’t explain well but boosting the post means you are paying the social media site to make sure that your post shows up in friends feeds (and public feeds) more frequently than it otherwise would. If you are selling an MLM product you can link your website or product code so that if someone buys something or joins your downline than you get credit through the MLM company. Individual MLM reps are paying social media sites to boost their posts as a way of advertising. MLM companies are constantly pushing reps to share things on social media. The one I was in even had ready made “adds” we could customize – constantly pushing us to do Facebook lives and host online “parties” through social media. And reps quickly learn they can do paid advertising through these sites to boost visibility. Social media sites are also taking advantage of reps and profiting from MLMs. I never made any money from my adds. Fb was constantly sending me offers and deals to spend more money advertising through their site.
Patricia Menachm Ludwickstein says
LuLaRoe may be a cult or it may not be a cult. It is not really clear either way. But you call it a cult in your opening statements.
Did you check with any lawyer before you decided to do that? If that statement turns out to be questionable, you may have opened yourself to an expensive lawsuit.
Are you certain that LuLaRoe is a cult? If the owners of LuLaRoe disagree about that, they will almost certainly look into taking some legal action against you.
Perhaps you should change your opening statement to say that it “may be” a cult. Leaving some doubt about it may prevent you from having to defend a potentially expensive defamation law suit.
Check with a lawyer. But change your description for the time being until you get some legal advice. It cannot be very prudent to accuse this company of being a cult if you are not 100 per cent certain as to the veracity of that statement. Did you check to see if there have ever been any law suits against anyone else who called them a cult?
Patricia Menachm Ludwickstein says
I am very sorry for posting my previous remarks. After watching the documentary I take it all back.
In my opinion, LuLaRo was an extremely insidious and devious scam. But it was also incredibly clever – truly brilliant design. No one was ever physically beaten. I’ve never seen another scam or cult before that operated like this one did.
If you are interested, you really should watch the documentary.
I will just make one more point here. Eighty percent of the people who joined this thing were doomed to never make any money and it cost everyone from $5,000 to $10,000 to join. Eighty percent of those people were doomed to never make a dime from the money they spent. That was how the thing was designed.
That one fact alone should be enough to convince people this was not a legitimate operation. It was brilliantly organized so that one percent of the people (the ones at the top) got fifty percent of all the money from the sales of their products.
I am just amazed how clever the people who organized this thing were. It would be almost impossible to accuse them of doing anything criminal. But on the other hand … they set up the game so that they won and almost everyone else lost.
Kat D says
I agree from just listening to this episode why you would have questioned if this MLM is a cult. The documentary is 4 full episodes and really delves into the “cult” aspects of the group. When Roberta talks in the documentary about when she was at a conference, realized it was full of women who all looked alike and dressed alike and the owner was spewing Mormon talk to them – I think it is where the cult-like aspects arises. Also, how the reps were not allowed to speak negatively from the company and how they would be shunned and fair gamed if they left. Also, some of the sexual advice and other bizarre aspects to it. Cult-like for sure! MLMs really are all about mind control, manipulation, and taking advantage of vulnerable people to make money – just like Scientology.
There is a truth I discovered. If someone is advertising for you to buy something to learn the secret of becoming wealthy, it is a scam. Otherwise the person wouldn’t need to sell you anything as they would be busy doing the “secret” to get more money, NOT selling you the “secret”.
Maria Richter says
This is entrancing to me. I committed the error with Melaleuca and Tupperware. I don’t think Tupperware is close to as awful as some others, however I am seeing a ton of likenesses.
Barbara R. Norrelon says
I cannot comment on any of the other MLM orgs mentioned. But I have a friend who is involved with Tupperware and she has been happy with them and has never put any pressure on me to join except to ask me if I would be interested. I answered, “No thanks” and she never asked me again.
For anyone interested in Tupperware, there is an excellent PBS documentary that discusses Tupperware.
American Experience – Season 16 Episode 6
Here are two links where you can watch these episodes for free:
I have never seen or heard of any evidence that suggests Tupperware is some kind of scam. But you can judge for yourself at these PBS links.
By the way, PBS is not known for promoting scams or cults.
Bear in mind that not all MLMs are scams (or cults), and not all MLMs are pyramid schemes.
Tupperware offers a product and delivers that product, so it wouldn’t be viewed as a scam.
Tupperware is most definitely a multi-level marketing company. They have “Consultants, Managers, Star Managers, Executive Managers, Directors, Star Directors, 2 Star Directors, 3 Star Directors, 5 Star Directors and Executive Directors” – all tiers of their marketing/sales.
Consultants are the base of the pyramid – the ones who hold parties and sell product. To become a manager, a consultant must recruit new consultants and those consultants must make a minimum amount of sales.
(Funny enough, Tupperware’s MLM model violates some of the points Amway used in court to argue that they weren’t a pyramid scheme.)
Kat D says
I just think there are better ways to make money than joining any MLM and also Tupperware products are way overpriced.
Agreed completely. My post was responding to Barbara above me who thought that documentaries on PBS meant Tupperware was not a scam or cult. It may not be, but it definitely is an MLM. Any MLM is a form of pyramid scheme where the top ranks make money off the work of the bottom ranks, and many who join the bottom ranks spend more than they make.
Ammo Alamo says
I visited a friend at his parent’s house, mid-70s. But they no longer had a home. The only livable parts were a kitchen and two bedrooms. The rest was over 1500 sq. ft. of rooms filled with Shaklee product displays, plus a two-car garage. He told me it was stuffed with product, too, all in bulk. They were apparently one of the successful MLM promoters. It sure looked weird to me. Who needs to buy washing powder fifty pounds at a time except commercial laundries? And the products are all over-priced, with claims of superior performance that were plain unbelievable. And why do you need to buy a motivation tape to go with your giant carton of dryer sheets?
My biggest warning signal was a simple one – if the products were really good, why were they not sold in retail stores, where their superior value would make them big sellers? Could it be that there are only a few ingredients in the various household products, and there isn’t really anything new under the sun? It’s like over-the-counter pain pills – there are scores of choices, but only aspirin, Tylenol (acetominophen), or Advil (ibuprofen) as the active ingredient(s) in any of them.
I haven’t heard of anyone in a MLM scam in decades. I am sorry to hear they still exist, but I agree they are designed so everyone fails. I’m glad to see they have their vocal detractors, whistleblowers in fact, and support their efforts to bring those shady operations into the harsh light of truth.
Bruce Ploetz says
Can’t wait to hear the interview. Early 70s, I got into Amway before I got into Scientology. Seemed like a good idea at the time…
I had a “friend” try to get me in on that stuff. I saw through it in about 2.5 minutes. The idea is to get enough people “under” you so that you don’t have to sell anything, just “manage” them. He is still my friend today because he saw through it too shortly after he started when the person who sold him on it started bugging the crap out of him to sell more.
My goodness, he would bring those “management tapes” when we went fishing and play them. Lord I hated that. Same ole stuff, different day.
YOU CAN GET RICH TOO!!!!! Not.
I almost got hooked into Amway too. Same time period, early 70’s. I was in my early 20’s and ignorant about how this stuff worked – the perfect Patsy. Fortunately for me, my Dad was still alive. I told him about it (all excited!) and he explained how it really worked and set me straight. His advice came in handy when I got involved during the mid-80’s with Werner Erhard’s Forum (used to be EST) which was modeled on a lot of LRH’s ideas. I got a lot of good out of the initial stages, but when I encountered the hard sell/regging tactics, I began to back out fast.
Dave Fagen says
This could be very interesting to me. I got into Scientology with the purpose of using it to help me with my confidence of my ability to sell products in an MLM company (Herbalife) back in 1985.
Hi, have you heard that the FTC has sent checks to victims of Herbalife?
Rebecca Hansen says
I heard her talk about this on TikTok! I’m excited for this episode!
BTW, it’s LuLaRoe, not LuLaRue. 🙂
MLM, sounds like a pyramid to me……
Mark Kamran says
Every Cult has pyramidal structure, as they climb up they enjoy more power and privileges.
In order to do that, need to be as obsessive and fanatic like the leader/ founder.
But long gone Golden Era of 50’s to 80’s , where absence of multimedia , social media and internet given free hands to Cult.
Old wine new bottle,
Now we have Conspiracy theories Cult, Cyber hacker and cryptocurrency Cults.
It’s a “business” of make believe, going on since eons.
It’s all about money.😉
You misspelled Roberta’s name in the Headline.
Mike Rinder says
OMG. THANKS. FIXED
And BITE is thought with the ‘t’
O/T. Scientology Ally Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan Promotes Antisemitism, Anti-vaccine Conspiracies in “Swan Song” Saviours’ Day Address
ADL: Farrakhan Promotes Antisemitism, Anti-vaccine Conspiracies in “Swan Song” Saviours’ Day Address
* * * * * BEGIN EXCERPT * * * * *
The Nation of Islam (NOI) held its annual Saviours’ Day event on February 27, 2022. The event, which commemorates the birth of NOI founder Fard Muhammad and culminates in a keynote address by longtime NOI leader Louis Farrakhan, regularly features extensive antisemitic, bigoted and conspiratorial rhetoric.
In 2022, Farrakhan again injected antisemitism into his address, claiming that Jews are the enemy of Jesus and promoting antisemitic tropes about Jewish control. Farrakhan also reiterated the conspiratorial anti-vaccine rhetoric that has characterized the NOI’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. In the weeks leading up to the event, Farrakhan’s speech was advertised as potentially the 88-year-old’s last major public address, though he reassured supporters that he was not retiring.
* * * * * END EXCERPT * * * * *
Memorialized with a screenshot on ESMBR at:
Geoff Lecin says
This kind of whistle blowing is relevant. The decade of cults becoming the norm is here.
Another good podcast.
The authority of a person, no matter what they believe, MUST be questioned.
Not according to the cult.
See their “religious freedom resource center” page at standleague.org/resources/religious-freedom.
They have a whole list of out-of-context legal cases to claim that religions cannot be questioned and can basically do whatever they want, as long as it’s not a provable felony.
Maybe MLMs should claim to have a religious purpose, their super-wealthy “upliners” should claim to be Preachers and Pastors, and their mansions and beachfront getaways are spiritual cloisters.
When I was in The United States Army there were several veterans of The Second World War still in. Wrongful orders MUST always be questioned.