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Charts the systematic theft Amway perpetrated on the author.

Book Review: Merchants Of Deception by Eric Scheibeler

I have heard of stories like Eric Scheibeler’s for years, but never one with the amount of detail that is contained in Merchants Of Deception. Most everyone I know has been approached at one point or another by either Amway, or another MLM (multi-level marketing) recruiter. If you look through the help-wanted ads in just about any newspaper, a good half of them are for these types of operations.

I even accidentally found myself attending one of these “seminars” about 20 years ago. The hilarious (and most telling) detail was that they would not mention the name of the company until the end. It wound up being Amway, which was all I needed to hear to walk out.

I bring up my personal (limited) experience with the MLM world to contrast it with author Eric Schiebeler’s in Merchants Of Deception. This is a guy who is approximately my age, whose first real job was as an auditor with the Federal Government. He married his college sweetheart and seemed on his way to a great future.

Schiebeler basically de-railed his life by believing these Amway people. I guess as a young, trusting soul, it would be easy to do. Their list of seminar speakers, who basically vouch for the company and tell all in attendance how wonderful it is, is a pretty powerful bunch: Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Gerald Ford, George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, Jerry Falwell…the list is a veritable Who’s Who of the right wing.

But beyond all that, there are the constant mind-games the company plays to fleece their people. The amount of money some of these “independent contractors” pay out in materials is staggering. Along with the book, Mr. Scheibeler sent me a stack of e-mails he has received from individuals who had been ripped off by Amway. Most of them lost between $20,000 to $100,000 before getting out. Nearly all of them lost their homes and filed for bankruptcy.

All for the dream of retiring from the regular workday world and living the good life as an Amway distributor. This was supposed to occur within 2-5 years of signing up, as long as you followed “the system.” Besides using Amway products exclusively in your home (which are exorbitantly priced in comparison to similar, commercially available products), the distributor is required to buy thousands of dollars worth of books and tapes. But the real money is spent on the seemingly endless weekend, and sometimes week long “seminars” everyone is forced to attend.

To an outsider, the whole set-up sounds like madness. As I noted though, Eric Scheibeler was a pretty well-adjusted, upwardly mobile young man when he got involved. According to experts in “deprogramming” cult members, the Amway method is nearly identical to what Jim Jones, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, and Heaven’s Gate used. That’s some pretty heavy company.

One of the key aspects of the indoctrination is to cut all contact with “non-believers” out. Slowly but surely, members are advised to stop listening to their radios, watching TV, using the Internet, and especially to cut-off all friends and family who are not in the program.

One of the most vivid, and sad moments comes when Eric “retires” from what sounds like a pretty good private firm. He had left his government job because of all the travel and had landed a job with a company close to home. While working at this company, he put in an additional 60+ hours a week “building his business.” One day, his leadership told him he was ready to retire from his regular gig and concentrate exclusively on Amway.

What a farce! On his last day, the Amway people showed up in a limousine to drive him off. Meanwhile, the guy was thousands of dollars in debt, and by his estimate, earning maybe $4,000 a year after expenses with Amway.

Merchants Of Deception ends on a positive note, with the Scheibeler family slowly taking off the blinders and seeing how this little business venture had nearly destroyed them. It is a sobering story, and after a lot of research and contact with others who had been through “the system,” Scheibeler states that Amway has “A nearly 100% loss rate for consumer investors.”

Keep it in mind. If you are ever even slightly tempted by one of these operations, your chances of losing every dime you invest is nearly 100%. As for all of the heavy-duty right-wing "elites'" assurances that Amway is the way to go, you can draw your own conclusions.

About Greg Barbrick

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One comment

  1. @Hannah Su: I found this article by googling for work by Christopher Pascale, but the link you provided back then is no longer around. Oh well.
    Pascale recently – after 10+ years – had a new book come out, this one a very powerful (but thin) volume of poetry about his experience in the Marine Corps. For some context, he equates being sent to Iraq with having been fucked in the ass and given AIDS by George W. Bush. It’s not for the feint of heart, but at the same time it’s actually written quite beautifully.