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Opinion

Speak Asia: Scam or For Real?

(Updated 16/5/2011: See Links Section)

Another Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) scheme called Speak Asia is now doing the rounds. With big ads on TV, newspapers and online, a number of people are perplexed about it – so what is it, real or scam?

CUT TO THE CHASE: If you are approached by someone for this scheme, please tell them:

1) You will not pay any money to this scheme at all.
2) They can deduct the subscription charges off the first few surveys that you do.

If they say no, there is something wrong. People have stated that this option is available.

What’s the concept?

You get money for filling out surveys. Supposedly because some company wants to pay for those surveys as market research. They want to pay it out to you.

Out of their kind hearts? Where’s the survey? (Fishes out multiple identities)

No, you fool. You have to pay for the privilege. $120 (standard) to $220 (premium). They’ll tell you it’s your investment. That is utter bullshit – if they get paid for a survey and they pass on some of it to you, there’s no need for you to pay, period. You fill your surveys, you get paid – that’s the model some of the big online writing companies (Demand Media and all that) seem to work – those are not MLM.

But for Speak Asia, you have to send them money first. People seem to say "you need to take risk" – I can tell them please go and put your money behind such companies. I am very suspicious of such companies because there are hundreds that have conned people – if they cannot explain why they need to charge, then it’s likely they are using the money to pay "uplines". Eventually as it becomes too large and growth stagnates, it can involve the promoters-running-away-with-your-money.

How does it work?

First, you pay. Then you get to take two surveys. Each survey takes 20-40 minutes. I tried taking a sample and repeatedly got an errors so I have no idea how complex the questions are – but I’m hearing that the questions are simple.

Now you earn reward points if the survey’s complete. 1 reward point = 1 $, and as a premium member you can earn 20 reward points a week. That’s about Rs. 900, so Rs. 3,600 per month. Since a premium membership takes 10K, you supposedly recover your money in three months (I have NO idea how much work this takes, btw).

But what is the MLM part?

You can refer other people and earn reward points as they do surveys or recruit more people. In a complex system that smells of the kind of debauchery MLM schemes are made of, you only make money if they want you to.

But are they legal?

They’re a registered co. in Singapore. They have a certificate for that. It costs next to nothing to get that certificate, so it’s not of much value. They don’t show any registration details for India.

The legal documents link of the website is utter tripe. None of the legal documents are of the company – they are standard forms available at government organizations, nothing related to the company. This triggers my scam-alert function.

What isn’t entirely legal is the concept of storing money in a wallet, as per RBI rules. If the RBI got strict on them, they will have to shut down India operations immediately (they store "reward points" that are convertible to cash, which according to RBI is a regulated activity).

So what’s the verdict?

Look, I don’t know if it’s a scam. I don’t know a single person who has panelled up and actually got paid. So I don’t know if people get paid. There are complaints on the internet, about as unverifiable as those that say this is a great scheme. And even if people do get paid today, it might just be about to go bust – see, Madoff had this great scam running for years, and he supposedly did pay.

But if you ask me if I would pay and do such a thing, the answer is no. There are other alternatives. There are companies like Demand Media which pay you for writing, without needing to pay. If you can code, design or do other such things, freelance sites like vWorker might help, though there may be far better options in your area of expertise.

A company where I actually know someone that made money from, is Amazon Mechanical Turk. They allow you to take up small pieces of work – transcribing a minute of audio recording, doing some online mapping and so on. You get paid between a few cents and a dollar – for a month or so, someone I know dearly did some work, and got paid. You don’t have to pay to join.

There are many others. In general, my opinion is: if they ask you to pay first, avoid them. Even if they put TV and newspaper ads. That goes for the Amway types as well.

Added 29/4/2011: Also, I note in the comments that people have said they can negotiate ZERO payment in lieu of working for the money (i.e your first few survey earnings go to pay for the subscription). This is the ONLY way to approach this scheme – tell them they take cut the money from your earnings. DO NOT PAY UP FRONT.

Links

Moneylife: Another MLM Scam happening…

(Updated 29/4/2011)

Sucheta Dalal: SpeakAsia still can’t show valid, legal documents.

Vijay at IndiaForums has a brilliant analysis on the entire concept and warns:

  • The Company has changed names and is using an address common to many cos.
  • You only pay for a "Subscription to e-zine" – so in court an argument may not stand.
  • Your initial payment is what pays you back for your surveys. Their money-spin is that you make more money if you bring in more people on board. If that is true, then when you stop hiring new people, your payments will also trickle down, and the number of surveys that you get will also slow down.

(Updated 12/5/2011)

Moneylife has a take on how SpeakAsia made their agents pay crazy amounts for a "bash in Goa", and earned money. When your methods of earning money go into seminars and trips and multi-level downlines, it becomes really dirty. This is a warning sign, folks. Get off, run away. It will end in tears.

(Updated 15/5/2011)

Two Video exposes of Speak Asia, by Aaj Tak and Star News.

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