Pyramid Scheme Scamming in Bookstores

It almost happened again.

“Good evening,” the gentleman in the hat said.

“Evening,” I muttered with nary a glance in his direction.

“You have your own business?” he asked.

“Nah. Just looking for a gift for a friend,” I replied. Then I walked out of the business book section.

Years ago, a seemingly nice guy struck up a conversation with me while I was browsing through the business book section. Not wanting to be inhospitable, and always eager to expand my business network, I chatted with him about my dreams of entrepreneurship.

I did occasional freelance web development work back then. He said he had his own business and needed a new website. So I gave him my card.

He set up a meeting to discuss his website. When we met a week later, he pitched me a dizzying business model of soliciting friends and helping them set up their own business too, just like he was going to help me do. No talk of a new website at all.

As soon as he sketched out a bunch of boxes on a napkin that vaguely resembled a pyramid, I stopped the conversation. “Look, I know what you’re trying to pitch me. You’re trying to pitch me a pyramid scheme.”

He looked at me incredulously. “What?! This is not a pyramid scheme!”

I thanked him for the coffee, got up, and walked out. As I left, I noticed a gentleman in a suit sitting a few tables over. He glanced at me, then turned away immediately. It was too late. I recognized him. He had been in the bookstore when I first met the pyramid scheme guy. He was even wearing a suit back then, which was why I recognized him. (A guy wearing a suit in Silicon Valley sticks out like a sore thumb, lemme just tell ya.) Mr. Suit had been standing behind me while I was talking to Mr. Pyramid Scheme at that bookstore.

This time around, I glanced around the business book section as I walked out. There was an older gentleman standing near the gentleman in the hat.

A case of a master and an apprentice? Do they always work in pairs? Or just a mere coincidence?

It’s entirely possible I am wrong about the gentleman in the hat. He could have been just a friendly guy wanting to chat.

In my experience, however, only salespeople attempt cold leads like that. It’s like cold calling, except in a bookstore. In fact, it’s pretty smart of them to prey on readers perusing business books. They’re targeting people with a potential entrepreneurial streak. And with the lure of easy money being strong – especially in an economy like this – I wonder how many bites they get.

This has even happened to me on the plane. That’s another smart spot for them to target. They have a captive audience. On some flights, the chances of its passengers being there for business is high. So I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s another target zone.

I could be wrong, but my gut sensed something fishy at the bookstore that night. If I lost out on a potential legitimate business connection, oh well. I’d rather make my connections through other means than to waste my time being sold another pyramid scheme. Life is too short to waste time like this.

Has this ever happened to you?

Photo by: goose3five

Author: Mike Lee

An idealistic realist, humanistic technologist & constant student.