Dialing for Dollars
Shurtleff later gave his blessing to legislation that benefited Utah’s many multilevel-marketing companies. In 2006, after the state Legislature passed Senate Bill 182 to relax regulation of the MLM industry, there was little hue and cry. That is, except from Jon Taylor, a critic of multilevel marketing who saw the companies as thinly disguised pyramid schemes. In a 2006 Salt Lake Tribune op-ed piece, Taylor complained that politicians passed the bill because they love the tax money multilevel-marketing companies bring into the state at the expense of “millions of people, mostly out of state [that] have lost billions of dollars.”
Since then, multilevel-marketing companies have become ever more at home in Utah. Their headquarters and campuses have grown; they’ve bought naming rights at sporting arenas, concert venues and a high-rise office in Utah County. Like the ski industry, they are an industry closely associated with Utah, thanks to the help of politicians on all levels of government.
Another, more controversial industry has also taken root in Utah and is becoming just as established as the MLMs. It’s an industry that elected officials have also embraced because it brings cash and jobs into the state while exporting its products to consumers across the country and around the world. It’s the “online business opportunity” (OBO) or “upselling” telemarketing industry, sometimes referred to as “call centers.”
The industry blossomed in Utah in the mid-2000s, selling consumers around the country on get-rich-quick, do-it-yourself business plans. These companies acquire sales leads, often the names of people who click on Facebook ads that say “work from home” or those who purchase “business success kits” from infomercials. Then they call those consumers and upsell them on costly coaching services to help launch their own Internet businesses or profit from online auctions or real-estate-investment schemes.