The Franchise and Business Opportunity Rule requires franchise and business opportunity sellers to give consumers a detailed disclosure document at least 10 days before the consumer pays any money or legally commits to a purchase. The document must include:
- the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of other purchasers
- a fully-audited financial statement of the seller
- the background and experience of the business’s key executives
- the cost of starting and maintaining the business
- the responsibilities of the seller and purchaser once the purchase is made
In addition, companies that make earnings representations must give consumers the written basis for their claims, including the number and percentage of owners who have done at least as well as claimed.
Multi-level marketing (MLM), sometimes known as network or matrix marketing, is a way of selling goods and services through distributors. These plans typically promise that people who sign up as distributors will get commissions two ways: On their own sales and on the sales their recruits have made.
Pyramid schemes are a form of multi-level marketing which involves paying commissions to distributors only for recruiting new distributors. Pyramid schemes are illegal in most states because the plans inevitably collapse when no new distributors can be recruited. When a plan collapses, most people ex-cept those at the top of the pyramid lose money. Lawful MLMs should pay commissions for the retail sales of goods or services, not for recruiting new distributors. MLMs that involve the sale of business opportunities or franchises, as defined by the Franchise Rule, must comply with the Rule’s requirements about disclosing the number and percentage of existing franchisees who have achieved the claimed results, as well as cautionary language.