My experience with a pyramid scheme
One day my friend and I expressed our search for jobs in an informal conversation with a fellow student from MVHS. For anonymity purposes, we will rename my friend “Tom” and our classmate “Clint”. Clint’s eyes lit up as he enthusiastically told us about a start-up he’s been working at for several months called Ariix. He showed us videos of the company’s main product: water filters. He described how this revolutionary water filter would soon hit public markets and if we were recruited now we could rack up huge profits. Clint proposed that there be an upcoming briefing for new hires. We didn’t take Clint seriously at first, but even though we had our doubts, we thought, what is there to lose?
As a classmate we didn’t know each other very well, we thought it was generous that he gave us a job opportunity, and a walk there as well. What is essential to keep in mind is that Tom and I had no initial reason to question or doubt Clint or Ariix. Each step of the process is specifically designed to persuade people to invest in this business proposition. We had no way of mentally preparing ourselves for the psychological warfare that followed.
Clint and his “boss” picked us up from Tom’s in a stylish BMW, dressed in bespoke suits. Immediately Tom and I felt like we were poorly dressed and we were struck by the idea that we had to impress the associates we were about to meet. We got in the car and along the way they asked us about our qualifications. After a twenty minute drive, we pulled into a San Jose house lined with Audi and BMW along the street. On the porch, we were greeted by a dozen young adults also dressed to impress. For about fifteen minutes, we had a little conversation with these young entrepreneurs involved in Ariix.
Once the doors opened, we entered a bright living room where rows of folding chairs faced a large plasma TV. There was a professionally printed banner that featured “Ariix” and a song similar to “Right Here, Right Now” by Fatboy Slim was playing. Clint was sitting next to us and “actors” were piling up on all sides of us. Our blood pumped with anxiety as we took our seats and waited for the presentation.
A sympathetic and charismatic young man named Kirk took the limelight and for an hour, explained fluently that working for Ariix had been the best business investment for him. He cited relatable anecdotes from his teenage years about how he partied too much and needed the extra cash to comfortably survive in this economy. Kirk referred to one of the most elaborate professional powerpoints I have ever seen, convincing me that this business was legitimate.
Ariix is described as a healthcare company that sells water filters and vitamin supplements. We were shown videos and pictures showing just how amazing these products were: filters that could turn soda into water and vitamins made from premium ingredients that were healthier than your One-A-Day pill. . Kirk noted that Ariix is already international and growing exponentially faster than Facebook or Google. Working for Ariix seems easy: they want to sell and recruit. It would be our job to sell the products door to door or to have people work for you, promoting your rank in the company. Kirk explained that you can make money from the commission of the people you hire. Whatever money they make, you also get a percentage of it, and so on. It was a pyramid scheme.
With every enthusiastic remark from Kirk, the actors around us clapped, clapped, and pumped their fists. Surrounded on all sides by swift persuasion, we were brainwashed into believing that what they were feeding us was the truth. The crowd mentality went beyond our logic and Tom and I also started to cheer. We had no way of checking the facts, but everyone’s positive energy made us believe Ariix was the smartest investment we could make.
After the introductions, Kirk introduced us to a polite woman on the side who showed us the product book. A glance over my shoulder and I saw the other two guests that Tom and I didn’t know were at the mercy of the rest of the associates, who turned their chairs into a circle to get them to sign up.
The woman explained that she needed our personal information so that they could send us product trials. Still brainwashed by the lure of a profitable business prospect, we trusted it was a credible business, so we told it our names, phone numbers, and addresses.
My stomach turned nervously when she asked for our credit card and social security numbers. By some unusual stroke of luck, neither Tom nor I had brought our wallets.
Tom’s brow furrowed and he started asking him questions, “Why do you need my credit card number?”
She danced around the question and randomly answered that it was so that they could charge the initiation fee and order the products right away. She said they could retrieve this information later in the process when we have it readily available.
Clint, who was breathing over our shoulders the entire time, got up from his chair and announced, “We have two new members!
The rest of the room erupted with cheers, applause and a chant of “Welcome to the Family!”
It seemed welcoming and kind, but strange because it reminded of a cult.
Finally, the other new hires were pressured to sign up, but they weren’t as enthusiastic about it. There was no way to leave without registering. They wouldn’t allow you to escape once you were in their clutches.
Before leaving, several people told us: “Don’t tell your parents”. They claimed that because there was so much overwhelming information at once, our parents would not understand. They suggested that we make a profit first so that our parents can be proud of us for taking our own initiatives to become financially independent.
These people knew I was seventeen and they were looking for my parents’ credit card numbers like vultures. The immoral manipulation of these people absolutely revolts me, but the only way to survive the scam once you are there is to pass the burden on to someone else.
It was 10:30 am and we had been there since 7:00 pm. Clint and his boss were our only trips home and we depended on them to leave. Looking back it was a really stupid decision on our part, but they didn’t tell us where we were going and insisted on carpooling. I only noticed later that the house we were in had absolutely no furniture either. This scam has enough money to buy empty houses for demonstration purposes. Enough money to create these amazing websites, powerpoints, videos and fake products; it is an international plan that we had no chance to fight. We trusted these people and they took advantage of it, who knows who these people really could have been? We could have been murdered, we were completely vulnerable to them.
Throughout the drive home, Clint and his boss were delighted at the clever way to gesture, but meandered around the questions Tom and I had.
Tom and I went to Tom’s room after they left and looked at Ariix. It was definitely a scam and we had to find a way out. Kirk and Clint kept calling us repeatedly until midnight to claim our social security and credit card numbers. They claimed that our places in the pyramid would be filled and that we would be behind in our profits if we did not complete our contracts now. Frightened and shocked, we politely told them that we were no longer interested. Kirk’s friendly demeanor turned to anger and despair as he grew more and more defensive. He told us they would keep calling us the next day to chat again.
The next morning Tom and I spoke on the phone with Kirk. I lied to Kirk and told him that I had spoken to my cousin who is a lawyer assistant, and she told me not to make the investment.
“No one really understands how well the business works until they try it. Who gives you this information? What are their references? Who are they to tell you what is the best decision for you? Kirk growled.
I told him sternly that we weren’t looking to make such an investment and, “If this was a legitimate business, you wouldn’t be begging me to take a job and work for you.”
A nervous laugh gurgled from the other line, “I would hardly say that I beg you.” I see that you are receiving false information and I urge you to seriously consider your options. We can talk about that later. Ariix is a unique opportunity – “
“We are not interested. Please stop calling us. Have a good day.”
This was the last we heard from him.
The scariest part was thinking afterwards and remembering how convinced we were. You watch documentaries about cults and scams and roll your eyes, how could people be so stupid to fall for that? We don’t think we would ever fall for something so obvious, but the Ariix scam is repeated in great detail to convince people to fall for the trap. There were no obvious flaws or holes in their presentation, so we had nothing to immediately set off red flags in our minds. When you’re bombarded on either side with stats, personal anecdotes, and peer pressure, it’s much easier to fall into the trap of something you would otherwise have recognized as a blatant scam.