Sick, Sad World

I came across a thread on Reddit that described a recent phenomenon in mlm guerilla marketing. How it works is a stranger will approach you while you’re shopping – Walmart, the grocery store, Home Depot, etc. They’ll strike up a conversation, maybe having to do with something you’re wearing, complementing your watch, your sunglasses, or t-shirt. Or they’ll approach you while you’re checking out the imported beers. They’ll seem really friendly, and eventually ask you for your cell number. Most people who get this far think they’ve made a new friend. The truth is, within a couple of hours, you’ll start getting text messages, offering a unique way to make money. Maybe selling vitamins, or some other mlm scheme.

This has popped up in the last month or two here in Northern Virginia. Lots of people replied to the topic saying that it had happened to them. I haven’t yet been approached, so I was wondering what the target demo of the people they’re approaching. It seems as though the choice of target has to do with the type of person doing the scam, where the scammer has a better chance of success approaching people similar to them.

Have you had this happen to you? Have you heard about or witnessed some other new con that the rest of us should know about? Share your story.


“It Works”, which is one of those vitamin companies that promises weight loss does this to people clothes shopping in Target/Walmart/other general stores. I’ve seen it pop up in my Facebook feed as something that happens to overwhelmed women with young babies trying to do intimidating things like shop for a swimsuit.

Basically, if they think you’re vulnerable somehow. My own cousin targeted me with stretch mark shit after my first was born. It’s not hard to see how they’d get more brazen as their own debts to the company pile up.


Well, the saddest part of the stories are that the people targeted by the scammers feel like they have made a new friend, only to realize that they’ve been scammed. People are so desperate to find companionship and only find disappointment.


The second some random person says anything more than “hello” or “excuse me” to me, unless it’s a previously expected transactional sort of thing, I’m looking for an exit from that conversation. I cannot imagine actually letting someone convince me to give them my phone number to talk at me more.



It has not happened to me, but I certainly wouldn’t give someone I met in a grocery store my phone number… Do people give away their phone number so easily?



From what I understand, the scheme could go like this… some person comes up to you, admiring some bit of clothing. After they gain your confidence, they might take a selfie with you, and then say “hey, look how good it is, let me send it to you. What’s your number?”

I don’t think I’d let it get that far, but some people accept everything at face value. And maybe they’re new to the area, or have trouble making friends. I don’t know.


Does that actually work? I mean, why would I let someone I just met take a selfie with me because they like my socks…? Do people do that? Is this a generational thing?


I think it’s a little bit of column A and B. A lot of people my age are weirdly cavalier about selfies with strangers. But these people are also scammers, they know how to look for a mark. Or they think they do.


Hm. I wonder how many people walking around out there who think of themselves as scammers are just bad at that and they think they are better than they are…?


I doubt very many at all. I looked at some of my cousin’s It Works training materials. And it’s straight up “The Game” shit. Look for people who seem to be struggling. Point out imperfections (sympathetically, of course). Offer your wares as the solution. I was reading this and just horrified by it. How could someone be trained to basically spot and exploit perceived weakness and think that what they’re doing is chill?

Then I realized my cousin herself was also a mark. Unhappy with her life and income, going into debt to provide for her kid, not feeling especially hopeful at the prospect of advancement at her job. MLMs are predators manipulating people into becoming predators themselves.


It would work for me (boomer) and my wife (borderline GenX/millennial) though the described scenario has never happened. I routinely wear funny/classic/antique t-shirts which open a lot of conversations. Similarly, my wife’s hair is usually a non-natural color which gets a lot of comments. Of course, the fact that we are usually surrounded by a minor herd of hyperactive children limits the opportunities for scamming.

Yes I am posting during my self-imposed Lenten social media break. So what, I never said I’m a very good Catholic. God doesn’t really care.


Wow, this pretty insidious. I rarely shop without Kidd Junior in tow, and he’s not so little anymore. Either I must not look desperate to them, they won’t approach a woman with a kid old enough to be a competent witness, or my spiky aura scares these scammers off.


i will say that i went to a local Reddit event last summer, a scavenger hunt, and everyone had a good time. at the end everyone was exchanging numbers and saving them in their contacts list as “[Name] Reddit Meetup” as a way to keep in touch for other group things. people hand out their numbers all the time this way, i was told – it’s just easier.