Today’s blog post is a little different. Last week, I saw on social media that Dr. Harriet Hall died. Most of my readers interested in personal finance won’t recognize her name. I don’t know if she ever had an interest in personal finance.
Readers who have followed my articles on multi-level marketing (MLM) will likely recognize her name. Dr. Hall wrote quite a few articles about MLM scams. She didn’t care about the economics of why MLM is not a business. Instead, she would explain, scientifically, that MLM Health Products don’t work.
Whenever I wrote an article such as Doterra’s essential oil scam, it was great to be able to point to a doctor’s explanation of DoTerra. That article explains why I started to warn consumers about MLM articles around 15 years ago.
Specifically, she quotes this from Stephen Barrett’s article “The Mirage of Multi-level Marketing” :
“Consumers would be wise to avoid health-related multi-level products altogether. Those that have nutritional value (such as vitamins and low-cholesterol foods) are invariably overpriced and may be unnecessary as well. Those promoted as remedies are either unproven, bogus, or intended for conditions that are unsuitable for self-medication.”
This is a great quote from her:
Why Does MLM Appeal to Manufacturers? It allows them to sell a product that could not compete in the open marketplace, at least not at those prices. It allows the big players to get filthy rich. It allows distributors to make claims the company can’t legally make in its advertising, such as: “It cured my mother’s skin cancer,” “It cured my child’s tonsillitis,” and “It keeps my kids from catching colds.” And that kind of testimonial from a friend is far more powerful than any advertising.
I should note that it is also illegal for distributors to make these claims. Unfortunately, the FDA and FTC can’t go around warning every distributor. They’ll occasionally send a warning letter to the company about claims they’ve found online.
In 2020, she covered Plexus and wrote:
“Plexus is typical of so many other MLM companies that defraud their distributors with false promises of easy income and allow distributors to make claims for their products that the company itself can’t legally make, claims that are not supported by acceptable evidence. Legitimate products don’t need to resort to MLM schemes to make profits.”
I had written about the Plexus Scam years before. We essentially came to the same conclusion.
Hall’s daughter went to her to talk to her about Le-Vel Thrive. The daughter researched and concluded that it was exorbitantly priced caffeine and vitamins. I can only guess that she saw my Le-Vel Thrive article that made those points and was one of the most popular articles on Google. Le-Vel sued me for making that opinion, and I won. The judge declared that the lawsuit was so extremely reckless and without merit that they had to pay me money for annoying me with it. That’s almost unheard of.
Notably, she saw enough data to realize that these companies are all based on the same blueprint. They all have the same characteristics that lead to fraud. Once you spot a few of them, it becomes clear that debunking them as scams is simply a game of whack-a-mole.
My favorite article of hers was this one. This explains why. Sometimes you get smart judges like the ones in the Le-Vel case, and other times you get judges who just don’t want to do their job, like in that case.
I don’t think I ever interacted with her. Her Wikipedia lists many other things she had done. I’m sure her friends and family would have much, much more to say about her. I simply wanted to put a spotlight on an amazing person who did these amazing things in just one very nuanced area (MLM health products). She certainly made my life much easier in battling the internet trolls and trying to help thousands of commenters to think more critically.