Thursday, August 27, 2015

FTC shuts down Vemma for being a $200 million pyramid scheme...

It brings me no joy to see this news, which was a surprise even to me... I expect action, but not this fast. 

But to summarize, Vemma's assets has been frozen and operation stopped based on temporary restraining order as issued by court based on lawsuit brought by the Federal Trade Commission.

Quoting AP / CNBC story:

The Federal Trade Commission said Wednesday that Vemma Nutrition has been temporarily shut down for operating a pyramid scheme that promised college students riches if they sold its nutritional drinks, but most ended up losing money. 
The consumer protection agency said that Vemma told recruits that they could make as much as $50,000 per week selling its nutritional beverage Vemma, energy drink Verge or protein shake Bod-e. An initial investment of $600 was paid for products and business tools and $150 in Vemma products had to be bought each month to receive bonuses. The FTC said Vemma provided little help on how to sell its products and instead rewarded them for recruiting more people. 
Vemma earned $200 million a year in 2013 and 2014, according to the FTC.
A representative from Vemma, which is based in Tempe, Arizona, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A full copy of the complaint and the 5 summary points are available at
Count 1 – Vemma is an “illegal pyramid” scheme 
Defendants promote participation in Vemma, which has a compensation program based primarily on providing payments to participants for the recruitment of new participants, not on the retail sale of products or services. 
Defendants’ promotion of this type of scheme, often referred to as a pyramid scheme, constitutes a deceptive act or practice. 
Count 2 – Income Claims 
In numerous instances in connection with the advertising, marketing, promotion, offering for sale, or sale of the right to participate in the Vemma program, Defendants have represented … that consumers who become Vemma affiliates are likely to earn substantial income. 
In truth and fact … consumers who become Vemma affiliates are not likely to earn substantial income. 
Count 3 – Failure to Disclose 
In numerous instances … defendants have represented … that individuals have earned substantial income from participation in the Vemma program, and that any consumer who becomes a Vemma affiliate has the ability to earn substantial income. 
In numerous instances … Defendants have failed to disclose, or disclose adequately, that Vemma’s structure ensures that most consumers who become Vemma affiliates will not earn substantial income. 
This additional information would be material to consumers in deciding whether to participate in the Vemma program. 
Count 4 – Means and Instrumentalities 
By furnishing Vemma affiliates with promotional materials to be used in recruiting new participants that contain false and misleading representations, (Vemma) have provided the means and instrumentalities for the commission of deceptive acts and practices. 
Count 5 – Relief Defendant 
Relief Defendant Bethany Alkazin, has received … funds or other assets from (Vemma) that are traceable to funds obtained from (Vemma’s) customers through the deceptive acts or practices described herein. 
Relief Defendant will be unjustly enriched if she is not required to disgorge the funds or the value of the benefit she received as a result of (Vemma’s) deceptive acts or practices.

But what does this mean to you, the Vemma affiliate, other MLM participants, and so on? What will happen on the hearing on September 3rd?

Here's a few layman's speculations. Remember, I'm not a lawyer, and I have no insider information. (Lack of such, however, has not stopped various Vemma "leaders" from issuing feelings, such as "Vemma doesn't deserve to be shut down" "It's just a complaint, not a lawsuit" "The lawsuit is a joke", "FTC bit off more than it can chew" and so on)

But let's be realistic here... If you want people to lie to you and tell you everything will be alright, go read whatever verbiage your upline put out. You're here for some real analysis.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

MLM Basics: Just What is Deductible in MLM, and what is NOT?

One of the "advantages" of opening your own business, MLM proponents touted, was that you can deduct a lot expenses as cost of doing business. But can you really?

In terms related to MLM, can you deduct the trips (tickets, hotels, travel expenses, etc.) to attend meetings all over the country?

Under rules in the Federal Tax Code, Section 162 provides that a taxpayer who is carrying on a trade or business may deduct ordinary and necessary expenses incurred in connection with the operation of the business.  The taxpayer has the burden of proving entitlement to a business expense deduction. The deductibility of their MLM expenses depended on whether their activity was engaged in for profit.

To determine whether an activity is engaged in for profit, Section 183 provides a list of factors for the court to consider: (1) The manner in which the taxpayer carried on the activity; (2) the expertise of the taxpayer or his advisers; (3) the time and effort expended by the taxpayer in carrying on the activity; (4) the expectation that the assets used in the activity may appreciate in value; (5) the success of the taxpayer in carrying on other similar or dissimilar activities; (6) the taxpayer's history of income or losses with respect to the activity; (7) the amount of occasional profits, if any, which are earned; (8) the financial status of the taxpayer; and (9) elements of personal pleasure or recreation.

This brings us to the case of the Olletts in 2004. They joined Amway in 1996. They kept their day jobs and made about $100K in 1999 and 2000 respectively, and claimed Amway expenses of $17500 in 1999 and $23000 in 2000, both year with losses (-1450 in 1999 and -3235 in 2000). IRS denied their deductions and it went into tax court, where they were ruled against (i.e. deductions are disallowed) in 2004. Do you know why? The hints are listed above, but let's be specific...