Mountain View High School Student Newspaper

My Experience with a Pyramid Scheme

My Experience with a Pyramid Scheme

Apr 18, 2013

One day my friend and I expressed our search for jobs in casual conversation to a fellow MVHS student. For anonymity purposes, we’ll rename my friend “Tom” and our classmate “Clint.” Clint’s eyes lit up as he excitedly told us about a startup company he has been working for several months called Ariix. He showed us videos of the company’s main product: water filters. He described how this revolutionary water filter is going to hit the public markets soon and if we are recruited now we could accumulate huge profits. Clint offered that there was an upcoming informational meeting for new recruits. We didn’t take Clint seriously at first, but even though we had our doubts we figured, what is there to lose?

As a fellow classmate we didn’t know super well, we thought it was generous that he would offer us a job opportunity, and a ride all the way there too. What is crucial to keep in mind is that Tom and I had no initial reasoning to question or doubt Clint or Ariix. Every 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 ensued.

Clint and his “boss” picked us up at Tom’s house in a sleek BMW, dressed in tailored suits. Immediately Tom and I felt like we were underdressed, and we were struck by the idea that we needed to impress the business associates we were about to meet. We slipped into the car and throughout the drive they interviewed us on what our qualifications were. After a twenty minute drive we pulled up to a house in San Jose, lined with Audi’s and BMW’s along the street. On the porch we were greeted by about ten young adults also dressed to impress. For about fifteen minutes we had small talk with these young entrepreneurs who were involved in Ariix.

Once the doors opened, we stepped into a bright living room where rows of foldable chairs sat facing a large plasma screen television. There was a professional printed banner that read “Ariix” and a song similar to Fatboy Slim’s “Right Here, Right Now,” was playing. Clint sat next to us and “actors” piled in on all sides of us. Our blood pumped with anxiety as we took a seat and awaited the presentation.

A friendly, charismatic young man named Kirk took the spotlight and for an hour fluidly spoke about how working for Ariix has been the best business investment for him. He cited relatable anecdotes from his adolescence about how he partied too much and needed extra money to survive comfortably in this economy. Kirk brought up one of the most elaborate, professional powerpoints I had ever seen, convincing me this company was legitimate.

Ariix is described as a health company that sells water filters and vitamin supplements. We were presented with videos and pictures exposing how amazing these products were: filters that could turn soda into water and vitamins made from top-shelf 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 did. Working for Ariix seems easy: they want to sell and recruit. It would be our job to sell the products door-to-door or get people to work for you, promoting your rank in the company. Kirk described that you can make money based off of commission of the people you hire. Whatever money they earn, you also get a percentage of it, and so forth. It’s a pyramid scheme.

With each enthusiastic point Kirk made, the actors around us would cheer, clap, and pump their fists. Surrounded on all sides by fast-paced persuasion, we were brainwashed to believe that what they were feeding is was truth. Mob mentality overcame our logic and Tom and I started to cheer as well. We had no way of checking the facts, but the positive energy from everyone else made us believe that Ariix was the smartest investment we could make.

After the presentations, Kirk introduced us to a polished woman on the side who showed us the product book. A glance over my shoulder and I saw the two other guests who Tom and I did not know were at the mercy of the rest of the business associates, who turned their chairs into a circle to pressure them into signing up.

The woman explained she needed our personal information so they would send us trials of the products. Still brainwashed under the allure of a profitable business prospect, we trusted this was credible so we told her our names, phone numbers, and addresses.

My stomach churned nervously when she then asked for our credit card and social security numbers. Uncharacteristic of Tom and I, neither of us brought our wallets with us by a stroke of luck.

Tom’s brows furrowed and he started questioning her, “Why do you need my credit card number?”

She danced around the question and gave a haphazard answer that it was so they could charge the initiation fee and order the products right away. She said that they could retrieve that information later on in the process when we had it readily available.

Clint, who was breathing over our shoulders the entire time, bolted up from his chair and announced, “We have two new members!”

The rest of the room erupted with cheers, claps, and a chant of, “Welcome to the family!”

It sounded welcoming and kind, but felt eerie because it reminisced a cult.

Finally the other new recruitments were pressured into signing up but they were not as excited about it. There was no way one could leave without signing up. They would not allow you to escape once you were in their clutches.

Before we left, from multiple people we were told, “Don’t tell your parents.” They claimed that because there was so much overwhelming information at once, our parents wouldn’t understand. They suggested we bring in profits first so our parents would be proud of us for taking our own initiatives to become financially independent.

These people knew I was seventeen years old and they were prying on my parents’ credit card numbers like vultures. The immoral manipulation of these people absolutely revolts me, but the only way to survive in the scam once you’re in is to pass the burden onto someone else.

It was 10:30 and we had been there since 7:00 pm. Clint and his boss were our only rides home and we depended on them to leave. Looking back, that was a really dumb move on our part, but they would not tell us where we were going and insisted on carpooling. I didn’t notice until later that the house we were in had absolutely no furniture either. This scam has enough money to buy empty houses out to use for this purpose. Enough money to make these amazing websites, powerpoints, videos, and fake products; it’s an international scheme that we had no chance of fighting. We trusted these people and they took advantage of that, who knows who these people really could have been? We could have been murdered, we were completely vulnerable to them.

Throughout the ride home, Clint and his boss raved about how smart of a move we made, but meandered around the questions Tom and I had.

Tom and I went into Tom’s room after they left and googled about Ariix. It was definitely a scam and we had to find a way out of it. Kirk and Clint continued to call us repeatedly until midnight demanding our social security and credit card numbers. They claimed that our spots in the pyramid would be filled and we’d be behind in making profits if we did not complete our contracts now. Scared and shaken, we told them politely we were no longer interested. Kirk’s friendly demeanor switched into an angry, desperate vulture as he got very defensive. He told us they would continue to call us the next day to discuss again.

The next morning, Tom and I spoke on the phone with Kirk. I lied to Kirk and told him I had discussed with my cousin who is a lawyer’s assistant, and she said not to make the investment.

“No one really understands how well the company works until they have tried it. Who is telling you this information? What are their credentials? Who are they to tell you what’s the best decision for you?” Kirk snarled.

I told him sternly we were not looking to make such an investment and, “If this was a legitimate company, you wouldn’t be begging me to take a job and work for you.”

A nervous chuckle gurgled from the other line, “I’d hardly say I’m begging you. I can see you’re getting false information and I urge you to think heavily about your options. We can talk again later about this. Ariix is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity–”

“We are not interested. Please stop calling us. Have a nice day.”

That was the last we heard from him.

The scariest part was reflecting afterwards and remembering how convinced we were. You watch documentaries on cults and scams and roll your eyes, how could people be so stupid to fall for that? We take pride in ourselves to believe that we are the smartest right now than we’ll ever be, but Ariix is rehearsed to the smallest detail to convince people to fall for it. There were no obvious flaws or holes in their presentation so we had nothing to immediately turn off any flags in our minds. When you are targeted at every side with propaganda, personal anecdotes, and supposed mathematical facts, it’s easier to fall for it than you think. The human brain can only hold onto logic and truth for so long before it succumbs under brainwashing tactics.

Claire Johnson

Claire Johnson

Claire Johnson is a senior at MVHS and has spent three years on the Oracle. She likes expressing and exposing taboos or subjects people don’t normally talk about through journalism.


  1. James Wilson /

    Fool, you hella dumb. MLM is a distribution business just like safeway or walmart or fast food chains etc. Whether you liked the individual business owners is up to youre own likes. Theres 50 years of research done on this distribution system and it is well liked by the governements of every developed nation in the world. Do you really think the US government wants its citizens scamming people? Do your research before you publish articles on the internet. Look up brilliant compensation by tim sales and may God please educate you.

    I feel sorry for whomever wasted their time introducing you to the industry that has made more millionaires than any other industry in the world. I can tell that you’re easily brainwashed by the way you write, so maybe the brainwashing just happens to you more than others. Do you really think this “kirk” guy really wants an easily brainwashed bimbo on his team? The only reason he probably called you is out of the goodness of his own heart to help you.

    I used to do network marketing a couple years ago before giving my life to God to become an overseas volunteer missionary. I have a lot of respect for the industry because of the impact that Network Marketing is able to make in peoples lives. Not just through money, but through health, mental strength (not being brainwashed), spirituality, intellectualism, and more. All wrapped up together because one person has an interest in helping you become successful. Do you really think anyone makes a career brainwashing people? You got to remember that most people are smarter than you.

    There is a lot of good that happens through the works of volunteering overseas and I have seen no less happen with MLM. And sorry to be rude, but 1. This is the internet and I can post anything I want just like you. and 2. You are creating a false image for millions of people who are trying to help make the world be a better place.

    Please research the industry more before making judgements.

    You madam need Jesus. May Jesus please guide your soul to find the truth and correct your ways. Amen.

    • James Wilson is a dumbass /

      James Wilson, we can all tell you are angry and mad while reading this article. Your argument is one sided and only fools would believe what you say. You are obviously looking at this argument one sided rather than open minded. Please educate yourself and reorganize your thoughts. Thank you.

      p.s. Jesus is not real to me and many others. You are very close minded, please consider others. Don’t be guiding others to Jesus especially if others may not believe in him.

    • Heheshabi /

      James, I feel ashamed as a fellow Christian. No matter for religious or non religious people, you are the black sheep. I don’t think you have logics here and you are just insane. Jesus would not tell you to harm people by misleading them. I will pray for you that God soften your heart and help you gain some intellect to understand how harmful such business is.

    • Anonymous /

      you mean amway. fast foods are under license agreements with traditional marketing done by corporate hq. Walmart and safeway, wells that’s just straight traditional retail. Try doing more research bro. But otherwise, cool story bro.

    • Anonymous /

      pray to god that the white collar crime division doesn’t get a hotline tip to shut you down pursuant to section 1700 of the business and prof codes. look it up on wests

    • MLM companies are successful only because people are gullible. The bottom line is that if the products were credible they could sell themselves. Ariix is entirely based on marketing and like most MLMs, psychological manipulation. There is no real science backing the product; the FDA does not bother to investigate MLM products because they are undermanned and prioritize more legitimate businesses. Pyramid schemes will always be prominent as long as you have two elements: people who look for the good in others, and people who take advantage of the people who look for the good in others. The mere fact religion was brought into this demonstrates how hypocritical you are and the cult characteristics of the company.

  2. kirk /

    When you say it is a pyramid scheme, are you referring it to be illegal? If you do research, the term pyramid scheme is used to define a type of illegal business practice. Before ARIIX, the founders were executives of another company that was worth half a billion a year. The CEO of ARIIX was the former president of that company and worked their for 15+ years. If they were doing illegal activity, he should have been in jail a long time ago. This article is extremely misleading which in turn can be considered slanderous. What this very article is doing can be considered illegal for making a false claim…

  3. UCB /

    It is not a pyramid scheme, it is an MLM. However, for Ariix members to hardball underage kids for personal information is definitely not legal. I am glad you did not get suckered into giving them your SS and your parent’s CC#.

    • Amanda /

      As far as this issue goes, that is why there is a space for co-applicants on the application to get started in Ariix.

  4. Reality /

    Take it from a person who went along with it until I couldnt take their fake bullshit anymore. The cars, shoes, and designer items are all hype. They would rather have you squander your money that you scammed others out of on “successories” instead of paying bills… Thus leading to a vicious cycle of deception. You made the right decision by getting out before they got you. Your odds of becoming a millionaire through MLM are worse than the roulette table. I’ve been on both sides of this debate at one point and now that I’m not a part of this house of smoke and mirrors anymore… I am pissed off that they’re take advantage of innocent people in high school who don’t know any better. I am even more pissed off that I was one of these people at one point. When the whole thing comes crashing down they’ll look for another company to latch onto and more young people to feed into their machine built on lies and false promises.

  5. happy reader /

    Claire I absolutely loved this article. I wrote my paper in college and I think the way you unraveled the story was excellent and it kept me engaged to the very end. Oh and I am proud of you for not going along with the “business opportunity”. If anything it is a story you can tell your friends and an experience to learn from.

  6. I feel your pain /

    You described every detail that happened to me…Our classmate from school name “Kelly” introduced me and my friend too. We were excited but suspicious too because she said someone was going to drive us there. All Kelly told us she set us up for an interview, to wear formal clothing, it was selling health products but did not tell us the comoany name and where it was. So the next day, we met up at a place, and they drove my friend and I there. The ride took 40-50 mins and we had no idea where we were. When we got there, we went into a room with chairs, 2 banners, 2 little cases of their product and a projecter. Everyone there were wearing formal clothing, except me and my friend since we couldnt find any at home. My friend wore a hoodie and khakis, and I wore jeans and a blazer. Anyways, Kelly gave us a notepad and a pen and everyone there were taking notes while someone presented about their company and product. We basically sat next to someone who worked there. I sat next to Kelly and had no idea what to take note of so I copied some of hers. After I went home that night, I realized that they have been training there for a while, but why do they still take notes of they had seen all this already? I’m sure they have had this presentation to recruit people so many times and yet they still take notes on every slide? Sometimes the presenter would say something, and a whole group would agree with him by saying “yup”, “that’s right”, “mhm”. I found it really funny because they all commented at the same time. After the presention, the people who worked there grabbed a chair and sat infront of us to convince and to resolve what we didnt understand. I felt super duper pressured too! It wasn’t like we could leave because someone drove us there and we had no idea where we were. The person kept on asking me and my friend questions until we were statisfied… and when I said I was, they immediately said “welcome to the family” and told someone to get my information. They got down my information, my ssn, address, name, and birthday. I paid cash, and after I gave cash for membership, another person tried introducing me to $600-$1000 packages. I had no money and felt overwhelmed and when I told him I didn’t have money for that, he left. I had no time to talk to my parents about it and everything happened to fast. When my friend tried asking me what package to get, the person trying to convince my friend told her it was her money and not to talk to me about it. I was still confused of what was going on, so I just stuck with the $30 membership, and when I asked my friend what she got, she said she got the $1000 membership. My friend paid with credit. Luckily, I told her to cancel it because her mother would kill her if she found out. After she canceled it, she came to me and told me the guy really pressured her and felt stupid that she even considered the $1000 package. Even though he canceled the $1000, he still told her to get the $30 membership, and she did. When we were about to leave, my friend and I were still not sure even after we paid. We talked to Kelly, telling her we still weren’t sure because we had to buy the 150points of products to tryin order to recommend people to buy. Basically, we had to buy their stuff in order to work which makes us a customer too. I didn’t like the idea of that because I don’t use vitamins, weight lost products or purifiers so there was no point in buying. My friend and I told her that if we did use them, we would buy and try but we didn’t so we might want to get a refund for the $30 membership but once again she tried convincing us. We stood there for very long talking about it. We didnt get anywhere, so they just drove us back. The next day there was a training session, they asked us to go, but we just wanted out, so my friend told Kelly that we wanted a refund. Kelly said she would talk to the boss incharge over there, and after my friend kept nagging for an answer, Kelly told her we couldn’t be refunded. I told my mother that night, even though I wasn’t suppose to because the presenter said we might give out the wrong information to our parents. My mom told me to beware next time and said not to give them my ssn and birthday because people can use my information. Everyone there were young, I guess they targeted students who needed a job! I learned my lesson not to trust people, and not to go to places I didn’t know. Kelly lied to us!!! There was no interview, it felt like we were being customers!! I told friends to beware, and one of my other friends told me Kelly tried to convince her to go before too, but my friend found it suspcious and wasn’t close to Kelly so she declined! I wish I did that too! But I sort of fell for it! The products seem to be legit and great but their way of selling is out of hand!!! That is just setting a bad reputation for them. When my friend and I got home that day, we googled it and it had scam right behind their name!!!!!!! Ariix said it will help your family and friends make money by doing this but I doubt any of my friends want to bother their family and friends to sell. This can break up friendship, just like kelly and I!! Its just putting friends into a hole becuase they have to earn back the money they spent trying the products to get the job! And in order to earn back the money they spent on products, they would have to introduce their friends and put them in the hole and so on! I doubt they would want to quit after paying so much for the products/packages, so they have to at least make back the money they spent!!! Beware!! In those few hours that day, I felt lost in there, and when I came out I lost $30! My friend almost lost $1000, without even being able to talk to parents about it because we felt rushed and pressured!!!!

  7. almost scammed /

    Thank you soooo much for writing this article. My “aquientence” one day gives me a call and tells we he is working at a new startup and wants me to meet the founder, his boss. I ask him to tell me a little about the company, like what products they make, how I could help them, stuff like that. He dances around every question and insists that when he picks me up, to meet the founder he would explain everything. I asked about the name so I could check out the website, of course he said its under construction. I asked him if this was a pyramid scheme and he almost perfectly calmed my nerves with the generic script that they gave him. Eventually, through a little facebook research, I discovered he worked at ariix and it was a mlm scheme. He was pissed when I told him over the phone I had no interest in this and that he was deceitful. These people are really GOOD at being deceitful, intimidating, and they are really really resilient, They keep coming back. Be CAREFUL.

  8. DaQuan Tyrone /

    I had just started out college living with my buddy who I’d known since High School. One day out of the blue he told me about a job opportunity, and being his roommate and friend since High School, I trusted him and decided to go. I should’ve asked for more information but I was dumb and excited since I have never had a job before. Fast forward to night time, he drove me 40 minutes away to the location. I arrived to a small random place inside a plaza where there’s other people my age as well. I was surprised to see so many people I knew from previous school years(now I learned they’ve been lured into this as well). As the doors open up, they gave everyone notepads and pens to take notes. A guy named Jon, dressed in a highly tailored suit was giving a presentation on the company. Everything he said was followed by an uproar of cheer by the crowd and everyone in the room. Everything they did was set up to make me believe and buy into their scam. It all happened so fast that I didn’t have time to think. After the presentation, I was seated with Jon and a girl named Wendy. They asked me what my goals were and lured me to give them my credit card/ssn information. I felt so pressured and joined. The entire ride home I was having a horrible gut feeling. Once home, I decided to do some research on the company and the first thing I saw after Ariix was “scam”. I was petrified but was in denial that I just joined a scam cult even though I knew that I was making a wrong decision because I didn’t want to believe that I just lost more than $200 to a scam. I swallowed the truth and lied to my parents to show up to their stupid trainings. I even lured a few of my closest friends into their “company”. During trainings, they will park their nice LEASED lambo’s and luxury cars to make you believe that this is the right path. The “health products” they think highly of is a bunch of bull. I am a regular gym goer and I will tell you their products are overpriced and low quality. It’s funny how they think these products are “muscle building vitamins”(they obviously have zero knowledge about muscle building and nutrition at all). All the high ranking guys there are scrawny and Photoshop the crap out of their pictures to make it look like they’ve gotten results from taking vitamins(I mean, their pictures were so photoshopped that it looked like they just cut out a shredded guy on the internet and put their face on there). I am 100% sure I can lift heavier than them. For the months that I was in it felt like hell. I was so depressed and was burning gas money commuting to and back from my university. After a few months of being in this stupid company, I decided that I need to leave now or else I will end up being in debt. I decided to take my loss and left the company. Now leaving the company is the hard part. They will do everything they can and insult the crap out of you to get you to stay. They make it seem like there’s nothing else in this world that will make enough money for me to survive. These people kept calling me nonstop until the point where I stopped picking up their phone calls. After a few days, they stopped calling and I finally felt relief. Leaving it was the best decision ever. I felt like a load has been taken off my shoulder.. Looking back, I take this as a lesson learned for being too gullible and trusting of people.

  9. Reality /

    Jon and Wendy got you huh? Totally sucks. If Duke Tubtim is involved don’t even get started. I got so much dirt on these idiots and their cultish practices. Let me give you an example, they had this contest called “steak or crickets”. You can either hit the sales goals and get steak and if you don’t then you have to eat crickets. Totally bizarre, demeaning, not to mention unethical business practices. Who the hell wants to drive all the way to Norwalk to hear some idiot give a pep talk and have you call and invite people to come out and do the same stupid thing you’re doing? Not me. Glad I got out of it, make a lot more money and don’t feel the need to live a fake life like these fools.

  10. Just got home from one of these experiences as well. I knew from the beginning that something was very iffy. They came in with the cars and everything but it was completely bereft of anything official. The conduct was not reflective of any “corporation” that was looking to be successful.

    It was very reminiscent of a Hispanic evangelical church setting, and that’s what kept resonating through my mind throughout the whole meeting. Just instead of prayers and hymns it was shouting from the participants and such. The main presenter is the pastor and master at manipulation, every single tactic I could see from the moment he stepped in.

    Thank goodness I found this site. I’ve already called my friend and told him to rip up the contract and refund my 30 dollars. I’ll have to see what happens because I only just got home.

  11. For those in this comment thread denying MLMs like Ariix are pyramid schemes, the definition of such:
    a form of investment (illegal in the US and elsewhere) in which each paying participant recruits two further participants, with returns being given to early participants using money contributed by later ones.
    What is never mentioned in recruiting pleas is the fact that every MLM such as Ariix will never make long term profits from its products. Both short term income and long term prosperity entirely depend on the losses of people on the lower end of the structured hierarchy. This implies one simple truth: the vast majority of participants in MLMs like Ariix will never profit. Check the history of MLM companies and you will see this to be accurate. The people at the top of the pyramid know this, but its difficult to prove this in a courtroom so attempts at prosecution are usually halted unless some extraordinary circumstances prevail. Ariix products are severely overpriced and marketed in nice presentation packages-its like dating someone from Baywatch, nice to look at but no substance, and then you realize you are broke and taken for a fool.

  12. Network Marketing or MLM companies have been around for years. Like any business some last and others don’t this is true for all business’s. The best way to know if the mlm company you are joining is a legitimate one is have an expert or Attorney do their research on any company. The best way to look at this is do I want to join an mlm yes or no. If we are not educated in it we shouldn’t judge it therefore get an expert to do that for you.

    Network Marketers are independent reps and every organization has a different style on how they run things. I would ask you after everything is done if this is something you want to pursue part time. Yes move forward on getting you started. NO, thank you very coming lets take you home.

    Read what the FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION (FTC) has to say about Network Marketing Companies. There is no hiding from the government and social media. If there are companies that have bad practices they will be reprimanded and even shut down.
    I hope this helps.

  13. Mr. Imperio /

    Gosh so much hate. But no sources of credibility. If anybody can come up with some credible literature, online even, then you would have a valid point. Otherwise, its all just opinions from people trying to justify why it is too difficult to do or “too good to be true.” I’ve personally have done some research on Ariix, and I have found nothing wrong with the company. I’ve actually decided to join since it looks like a very credible and fair way to start a business.

    Is it a pyramid scam? I think a pyramid is just simple a shape that describes how most business are structured, but the SEC (Security and Exchanges Commission) defines an illegal ponzy scheme (or pyramid scheme) as such: an profitable orgazanization that offers an opportunity by exchanging money or currency without a return in value (such as a product or service). Ariix seems to have products that actually carry a value above the price tag. Sure, many people buy into the opportunity to make money, but so far, I have many people who just buy into the products without care into the opportunity. So by the SEC definition of an illegal ponzy or pyramid, or fraudulent Multi-Level Marketing Scheme, Ariix does not seem to meet any of those descriptions. For more info, click the link below, which I found using a simple google search:

    As for Duke Tubtim, John, and Wendy, I’ve met all 3 of them. Actually, Wendy is a good friend of mine from high school, and I can honestly say that they are very classy and professional people. They are not scam artists in any way. However, the real scam here is when people come into the company believing it is a glorified lottery ticket and that they merely only have to recruit and buy in to become rich beyond their wildest dreams. And Yes, while that is one aspect of this line of doing business, statistics show that the people who made it to the top and have made a sustainable income have all involved product sharing just as importantly, if not, more importantly than recruiting. If you look at Duke’s organization, there are actually three times as many clients and customers that care solely only on the products and their own health than there are people in the so-called “pyramid”.

    Also, I have seen the so called “rented” cars on a day to day basis for almost every day since I have started working with this group, and also, by doing a simple google search, I have found it is actually more expensive to rent these cars every day for a few months than it is to buy the cars. So even if what you say is true, then you just claimed that these guys make more money than they probably do in reality.

    Case and point, Duke’s Ferrari would cost $4k to rent per month. Versus actually owning it would be only $1500 per month. If you dont believe me, look for it on enterprise or rent a car. Then go to the ferrari website and take a look at the financing options.

    So before saying anything, check your sources, and form your own opinion rather than talking smack. PEACE OUT!

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