Money maker or debt creator? How mums are prime MLM targets

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Cassandra Davis can still recall the sheer horror of standing in a room of booze-filled women and wondering what she was doing there.

Armed with a bag full of sex , she admits she didn’t even know how the hell half of them worked.

‘The only piece of advice I was given was to tell the women to put the tip of the toy on their nose to get an idea of what the sensation might be somewhere else,’ she tells

How Cassandra got to this point all came back to her desire to earn a bit of extra cash, while looking after her kids.

After helping an Ann Summers host pack her car at the end of a party she had attended, Cassandra was told they were a great opportunity to create a financial cushion in a stressless way that could fitted perfectly around family life.

The clincher though? There was absolutely no pressure to sell – or so she was told.

‘At first, I was excited. I’d always wanted to run my own business, and saw this as an opportunity to learn from a team about selling,’ recalls, Cassandra, who works as a book publisher.

‘They said the team was like one big family and help was always available.’

However, once she had paid £100 for the starter kit, Cassandra says things took a dramatic turn at her first meeting.


Cassandra Davis

Cassandra Davis was initially excited to learn more about sales (Picture: CD Personal)
‘At the introductory get-together, my manager made it very clear that there were sales targets and we were expected to meet them by any means necessary,’ she remembers.

‘She spent 45 minutes telling us all that we weren’t selling enough, weren’t recruiting enough and were one of the worst performing areas in the country. She said that if your family and friends weren’t supportive then they’re just jealous of your success.’

So, Cassandra started selling – even though she felt she hadn’t been adequately trained to do the job justice.

‘Essentially, I had to sell to a room full of drunk women, and half the time I had absolutely no idea what the toys did,’ she remembers.

After several weeks, Cassandra decided it was not for her and tried to quit, but then things began to turn hostile. ‘They said I wasn’t trying hard enough, then said I needed to drop the kit off,’ she says.

‘I then received a letter telling me I still owed them money, and that they would be sending debt collectors around.’

Cassandra says that she didn’t realise each piece in the kit goes down in value after purchase and is not yours to keep forever. Something that was £50 might be worth £30 when you return it. She’d also spent an extra £100 on pieces for her kit so she had to make up the difference in value.

‘Thankfully I could afford to pay so I called them and settled it. But I’d hate to think how much worse it could have been if I’d not,’ she says.

A spokesperson for Ann Summers told ‘Direct selling gives ambassadors the opportunity to start their own business selling Ann Summers products, while working wherever and however they choose to. There is no pressure for an ambassador to build a team, but those who do have the opportunity to earn more.’

Although Cassandra says the experience left her feeling like an ‘idiot’, she is among thousands of women who get recruited on a regular basis into the controversial world of MLM (multi-level marketing) schemes to try and make a decent living.

And even if you think you have never heard of them, you’ve almost certainly seen them.

They’re the schemes splashed across social media, promising financial freedom and the chance to make money in a ‘relaxed environment’. With most revolving around beauty, fitness shakes, vitamins, and lingerie, they come with the recruitment lure of a marketing position or a brand ambassador.

Once on board, MLM encourages members to promote and sell products to a network of individuals, as well as recruit others to join the team, which they can often find online.

It’s little wonder that new mums or those with young children are prime candidates.

Trying to balance work with kids can be hugely difficult, particularly in the early years. Childcare costs are at an all-time high with some parents spending over half their pay on nursery fees as well as crippling after-school care.

What is a MLM scheme?

MLM stands for multi-level marketing and has two potential revenue streams; selling products and recruiting others who also sell products.

Commissions are made in both ways, as when recruiting an ambassador they will be giving a percentage of their sales to their upline manager.

Is MLM a pyramid scheme?

A pyramid scheme focuses solely to recruit people into a program, rather than selling a product and is illegal in the UK.

As they do not sell any products they only seek to draw in new recruits.

MLMs are not illegal as they sell products to customers whereas pyramid schemes are illegal in most countries.

It was when her children were five and three, that Sam Evans* became a consultant for a beauty company after being approached at an event showcasing their products and offering free treatments.

Interested by the premise, she arranged for a consultant to visit her home a week later to tell her what was involved. Sam was told that not only was it a good way to make money, but she could also get cut-price products for herself too.

‘I was sceptical upon joining,’ she admits. ‘I only did it because I wanted the 33% discount as a personal use consultant.’

Sam was also told that another advantage of joining would be that she didn’t need to sell products, host parties or recruit anyone.

‘But it was soon clear that a ‘bait and switch’ was used because as soon as I signed up my recruiter asked me to invite friends to a ‘Launch Party,’ she explains.

‘I questioned why I had to host a ‘Launch Party’ when I had only joined as a personal use consultant and wouldn’t be selling or hosting parties.’

‘This was quickly rebuffed with, “oh, we do this for all new consultants. It will help you get your first 30-day bonus. You don’t have to do anything, I’ll do all the work, just bring your friends.”

Sam had to buy a starter kit for £185 and attend weekly meetings which cost £5 to travel each time.

‘The atmosphere at these meetings was a mix of warm and welcoming, like a sisterhood, but at the same time felt creepy.’

‘There was definitely a push to sell and also to buy inventory’, she notes. ‘We were told “you can’t sell from an empty wagon” and “have you ever been to a shop with nothing on the shelves?”

‘We had to avoid going inactive every three months, by placing a minimum £200 order, whether we had customers buying the products or not.’

Between this, she was also trying to work the meetings and selling around her children.
I was told not to believe anything I read or saw on the internet
‘It definitely didn’t “fit in the pockets of time around your children” that we were told.’

‘I was working more than I would do in a regular part-time job and making far less. In fact, I was losing money all the time,’ she says.

‘Around 2014-2015, I decided I wanted to leave and had already booked tickets to the Annual Seminar event in September so decided to go, to say goodbye to people I had made friends with in the other groups.

‘If I hadn’t done that, I would probably have left right then and there, but one of the other “Units” welcomed me with open arms. I now know this form of group ‘Love Bombing’ is called ‘Swarming’ in cult terminology. The Director of this Unit took me in and persuaded me not to leave and join her team instead.’

My wife joined a MLM and it ruined our marriage

Samuel* says that when his wife Shelley* got involved with a scheme selling slimming tea, it completely took over her life and was the catalyst for their split.

‘Originally when my wife was approached I didn’t really think that much about it. I thought it was a harmless hobby. I had no knowledge of what an MLM entailed.

‘But she had recently seen me go through stage 4 cancer and the loss of our business, so was at a pretty low ebb and very vulnerable. Somebody coming along and selling her a dream, telling her she could end up with a luxurious lifestyle, a big house and a fancy car seemed appealing to her.

‘Flowers and presents started arriving at the house from her upline manager with many congratulatory posts on social media when she achieved recruitment targets.

By then Shelley spent most of her time on the computer, phone or on video training. I usually went to bed and wouldn’t see her until the morning.

It got to the point that nothing existed anymore in her life apart from the MLM and whenever I questioned how she was doing financially I was told it isn’t all about the money.

‘I even came across notes taken by my wife at a training meeting to remove anybody close to them that was negative about the MLM.

It left me feeling so isolated – I didn’t recognise my wife any more. Eventually, our relationship became so strained that after 22 years we decided to split and I felt totally destroyed.’

In 2021, things came to a head when her Director questioned why not so many people were attending meetings.

‘That’s when I started to watch anti-MLM content. All those nine years in the organisation, I was told not to believe anything I read or saw on the internet, but I came across videos on YouTube of former consultants and Directors who exposed the truth.’

For extra insight into the reality of MLM schemes, you need to look no further than at the pay structure of one makeup and skincare company.

What do you think about MLM schemes? Have your say in the comments belowComment Now

Figures show that just 1% of recruits make the National Vice President position which will bring in an average annual salary of £96,000.

Meanwhile, 35% of the company are District Managers earning around £877 a year.

At the bottom of the chain, distributors make up 50% of the sales team and earn £101 annually.


Emma Anderson

Emma Anderson says becoming part of the Ann Summers sisterhood is empowering (Picture: EA Personal)
However, there are some who believe that MLMs can turn out to be a goldmine. Emma Andersen is one of them, and as far as she is concerned ‘you get what you put in’.

She has worked for nearly four years as an Ann Summers ambassador and admits that when she first signed up she was concerned about what she’d got herself into.

‘What would people think of me? Will anyone even take me seriously? What if I completely fail?’ she recalls of her initial thoughts. ‘But, now, I manage a team of just under 50 ladies and it’s been a privilege to watch them grow with their business over the years.’

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However, Sam Evans says she is still scarred by her experience.

‘I felt embarrassed that I could get scammed in such a way and for so long. I also felt angry and sad for all the women that are still in MLMs believing that it will make their lives better,’ she says.

‘I think personally that MLMs are commercial cults hiding behind product sales that don’t really matter because it’s all about the recruiting – that’s my opinion and I know I’m not alone.’

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1 comment

  1. nstead of getting rich quick, many people that get tricked into a MLM scheme lose money and some go broke. MLMs frequently use cult-like tactics of persuasion.

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