The story behind the "Work From Home" signs
April 1, 2002 6:43 PM   Subscribe

The story behind the "Work From Home" signs found all over major cities is a great bit of sleuthing facilitated by the internet. Armed with google and a phone, one guy slowly uncovered the latest MLM scam from Herbalife, and gets to the bottom of how they both shield themselves from wrongdoing, and how nearly impossible it is to make any money. This is personal site content at its very best. [via Cam]
posted by mathowie (33 comments total)
amazing link. this is fascinating....those signs always pissed me off but I had no idea they had a common source.
posted by Settle at 6:51 PM on April 1, 2002

Oh my God, it's the guy at cockeyed! First a paper maché Elvis, and now this! He's incredible, in the best possible way.
posted by lbergstr at 7:02 PM on April 1, 2002

If any of you mefiers wants real ephedrine or stuff like that I can hook you up.
posted by Settle at 7:03 PM on April 1, 2002

Personal publishing with the web in a shining moment.

I always wanted to know where all those signs in the subway were coming from, but what's more, I always wanted to know how they got a constant stream of people to buy into the scam. If you could *actually* make $5,000/month part time at home, don't you think a lot more people would be quitting their day jobs? That's $60,000/year.
posted by tomorama at 7:05 PM on April 1, 2002

Rob Cockerham has long deserved an internet medal of honor. I mean, for chrissake, look at the guy.
posted by machaus at 7:05 PM on April 1, 2002

Hey, if Enron can scam sophisticated people, this is cake.

A great post. It will be even more tempting to take those signs down the next time I see them.
posted by ParisParamus at 7:05 PM on April 1, 2002

You can read a considerably more in-depth piece on this very topic at the website of The Hook, Charlottesville VA's weekly alt-publication. The story is entitled " Scams for a new millennium" and the runs on Radio Userland. What's not to like? :)
posted by waldo at 7:15 PM on April 1, 2002

I love stuff like this. If I had the patience to take over 150 pictures of the offending signs and then research them...

what was I saying?
posted by plemeljr at 7:20 PM on April 1, 2002

Yes, this is incredible. There's all the "it's all controlled by [insert your favorite shadowy group here]" theories in the world, but Rob actually found a massive conspiracy that operates in the shadows, and preys on our citizenry! (and desecrates our urban landscapes!) I always thought that all the "work at home" signs were one or more variations on the venerable stuffing envelopes scam, and that the "lose weight at home" ones were, well, just ordinary schlubs peddling one of any kajillion books or diet plans.

Knowing that it's all one big company behind them all will make it much easier to take down the signs indeed.
posted by yhbc at 7:48 PM on April 1, 2002

Fantastic work -- this guy has incredible patience. This reminds me a bit of those people who seem to have dedicated their lives to exposing Scientology, with careful explanations of all of the contradictions and lies. Of course, I'm guessing most of the people taken in by this stuff don't have the inclination to have their wishful thinking (about either weight loss or quick riches) challenged.

It's kind of interesting that his outrage is more focussed on the visual pollution of the signs than on the swindling of thousands of people. But hell, whatever makes him get up in the morning and fight evil...
posted by BT at 7:49 PM on April 1, 2002

The thing I always wondered about with the claims of "making thousands of dollars from home with little work" is a very basic one and I would hope more people ran this little "truth test" in their heads before believing it: if you really did figure out how to make ten grand at home, why would you tell anyone else how you did it? Wouldn't you rather keep the secret to yourself and continue making thousands on your own? Who would actually want lots of competition if it were true?

This sort of test works with virtually all spam I get as well. If I ever figured out a way to use my home computer to make a thousand dollars a day, not only would I never tell a stranger how I did it, I sure as hell wouldn't do it in 24px tall blue flashing letters and send it to everyone with an email address on the web.
posted by mathowie at 8:07 PM on April 1, 2002

"Drizzly rain drove me inside to the warm, inviting internet."

Beautifully done, and a public service. To anyone here who may be tempted to self-medicate for asthma with Ma Huang or ephedra to save money: I've watched someone try it, and it's not necessarily the optimal solution. You as a person are worth world class health care, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
posted by sheauga at 8:12 PM on April 1, 2002

Wait a sec... Sure, this is a fine story. But anyone check the date? April 1. Methinks someone is foolin'!

Herbalife. Dishonest. Ha!
posted by Marquis at 8:17 PM on April 1, 2002

Even here in Australia these signs are everywhere you look, my gilfriend has entertained thoughts of calling these numbers and getting involved, i am glad i always run a little "truth test" as mathowie puts it, and have advised her against it.

I am suprised though, that one company is behind most of those signs. I always thought it would be multiple entities trying the same type of scam.
posted by Zool at 8:25 PM on April 1, 2002

Great post, Cam. Now where can I get some Herbalife?
posted by boardman at 8:27 PM on April 1, 2002

I always thought it was all the people who answer those late night infomercials for the secret to how some guy got rich. I figured that this was how the one guy did it, and that now he has a whole army of people around the country (who all paid him $100 for the idea) doing it.
posted by donkeymon at 8:29 PM on April 1, 2002

Herbalife is people.
posted by dong_resin at 8:42 PM on April 1, 2002

The secret, and I do mean THE secret, is that the biggest markets for a home-based marketer are other people willing to get into home-based marketing and those already doing it. If you have a product that you can convince people they need, that's good. If you have a product that you can convince marketers will increase their sales, that's gold. What's sad is that for the work these people put into the supposedly easy solution, they could instead have chosen something they loved and made something more significant than an emaciated downline. For some, it is what they love, and they more often end up as those glossy pictures next to glowing testimonials I'd wager.

I would not have put that up on my site, not for a thousand dollars a week part time. The people who do these businesses are good people, as much so as anyone is anyway, but one web page is not going to convince them they are wrong, or that the business doesn't work. What it will do is convince them someone who doesn’t understand is scaring away their customers. It's like standing in a church and defaming a congregation's god, things can get nasty.
posted by Nothing at 8:52 PM on April 1, 2002

I can't understand how gullible these people are.. I mean.. yeah.. the chances of finding another person are slim, yet there they are, the tens of thousands of them. Are they just really desperate?
posted by tiaka at 8:53 PM on April 1, 2002

Given the popularilty of lotteries, this stuff is not going to go away.

Next exposé: better sex life commericals on radio.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:56 PM on April 1, 2002

heh. They even have those things in Ames, IA. I always assumed it was an MLM thing. I mean, after getting spammed a few million times with similar offers, it's not that tempting. Those things usualy have URLs on them now.

Hrm.... Maybe we should start a distributed effort to tare those fuckers down :)
posted by delmoi at 9:36 PM on April 1, 2002

Spook! Just read this thread, went out to check the mailbox and bingo! Two separate flyers, one selling herbalife (by name), the other 'work from home'. An email address, I believe I will point 'Rosalie' to this discussion.
posted by Catch at 9:51 PM on April 1, 2002

I was looking for a job once and answered an ad in the paper that simply said 'Golf'. Thinking it would be a job at a golf course or golf equipment manufacturing or something (What was I thinking?) I called and had an 'interview' set up. It was these guys. Equinox (do any of you know anyone who ever wrangled with this mofos?).

I show up to find an entire floor of an office building converted into an almost impromptu appearing auditorium filled with cheery, well dressed people all garrulously taking about how exciting their lives were. You gave them your name and the receptionist finds your contact, i.e. the desperate goon who took the ad out in the paper. Once I was put in touch with him, he never left my side. Robotically, he could speak of nothing else but 'what do you think so far?', 'pretty exciting huh?', just wait till the presentation'.

The Presentation:

It was done in its entirety with a big screen television behind the presenter, all the while whizzing by with images of lovey-dovey couples walking down beaches at sunset, families outside their mansions showing off their several luxury cars. After the presentation, they staged a little break, where soothing music automatically filled the room and each of our contact's began the hard sell. The imagery on the television screen never ceased. Also I realized then that I was surrounded by props! Actors! There were these two beautiful women in front of me that just started unrealistically shrieking at their excitement about Equinox!

Then the brought out the big books full of products and how to's and how much I needed to put up in 'order to get in on the action'. I said fuck no, not interested and your ad was misleading. I should have walked out long before. But you see, I'm spineless and I didn't want to hurt the contact's feelings.

When it was apparent that the contact could not close the deal, they brought in the heavy artillery. They were a duo of exquisitely dressed young, just barely out of their teens, jocks who grilled me, 'Why not?', 'Tell us where we went wrong', 'you have no idea how rich I am', 'why wouldn't you want to be wealthy?', all done a few short feet from my face.

All in all, unbelieveable. I'd forgotten all about it until my memory was jogged by that fantastic expose.
posted by crasspastor at 10:01 PM on April 1, 2002

I replied to an ad that seemingly was for a staffing agency, and wound up in pretty much the same situation as crasspastor. I'm glad to see they've recently got busted.

Now if they can only do something about Amway.
posted by AFrayedKnot at 10:52 PM on April 1, 2002

if you really did figure out how to make ten grand at home, why would you tell anyone else how you did it?

The sad thing about these scams is, their victims are the ones who try and promote them, because the way you make any money at all is by recruiting. The New Yorker had a long piece on the whole thing sometime in the past year, IIRC -- and it is actually possible to make money (though highly unlikely), if you can bring in enough people, and they can bring in enough people, too.
posted by mattpfeff at 11:35 PM on April 1, 2002

It's times like these that you want a big wad of stickers that say things like "Lose money fast with Herbalife", and their address.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 12:16 AM on April 2, 2002

The funny thing was that an MLM tried to recruit me (cold call) just as I was reading this article. I almost burst out laughing...

My first MLM experience was a quasi-MLM, quasi-legitimate business called Primerica, which is actually a subsidiary of Citibank.
posted by costas at 12:35 AM on April 2, 2002

I've had a few encounters with Herbalife in the Philippines; some involving a guy in school who went all over the campus with a "LOSE WEIGHT NOW / ASK ME HOW" button. More recently, I met an enthusiastically wide-eyed Herbalife distributor on Dela Rosa Street, right outside their Makati office. She was quite crestfallen when I told her that MLM scams are evil and intrusive and that she should get out of Herbalife quickly before it destroyed her life.

My mom occasionally used Herbalife at one point, but not for its health benefits. Rather, she got a pleasant jolt out of the huge quantities of caffeine in each tablet -- that's what's in the pill which inhibits your appetite and drives down your weight.

If it hasn't been linked yet, check out Van Druff's MLM article.
posted by brownpau at 6:08 AM on April 2, 2002

Oh, wait, I just read the page on ephedra. Gah. Now I'm scared.
posted by brownpau at 6:22 AM on April 2, 2002

Ephedra gives you a nice little buzz, but I can't imagine how it would make sense to use it on a regular basis. I'm sure you would lose weight in the first thirty days - but that's enough time to build up a tolerance for it, and then what?

The web site is cool. Anybody who can make Sacramento sound like a fun place to visit must be a pretty good writer.

posted by Mars Saxman at 9:13 AM on April 2, 2002

Amusingly, he found inspiration from the "Crying Indian" 1970s public-service ad against litter. It gets around once in a while that the actor they used, Iron Eyes Cody, had no Indian blood according to many people. Who was he really? An Italian-American from Louisiana named Oscar Decorti.
posted by dhartung at 12:01 PM on April 2, 2002

Why do people get into this? They are usually desparate, have low-esteem and may not be very educated or, at least, street-wise. In a downturn economy such that we're having now, these scams can pick up a lot of people. Imagine if you were out of work or if your spouse was out of work. You couldn't find anything and were desperate for a job. If you didn't know better you might call these people figuring that you might as well give *something* a shot.

It's really a horrible way to take advantage of people and the companies know it. That's why they lure you in with just a little money, then a little bit more, then just a bit more, pretty soon you just want to get that money back. Casinos are good at that, too.
posted by amanda at 5:48 PM on April 2, 2002

I have to say, I'm with Amanda on this one. As my husband's job magically disappears in two weeks, and mine magically disappeared two weeks ago, I actually saw a sign like that on my way home earlier today and considered it. I too was of the "it's probably stuffing envelopes or something similar that wouldn't be all that horrible" camp, and it was when I got home and was distracted by MeFi instead of applying for jobs that I saw this scam here and realized the error of my ways...

I'm off to try to get a real job now.
posted by verso at 8:27 PM on April 2, 2002

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