Is PhotoMax a scam or a good opportunity for my mother?
November 15, 2006 5:01 PM   Subscribe

MLMFilter: My mother called me and mentioned a "new business" she wants to start. She was very excited about it, and said the business is at, and the company is actually called PhotoMax. I have my doubts...

My immediate response, when seeing that website, was "Scam. Don't do it." But she says I am too cynical and need to be more trusting. I did a search for "photomax scam" and I think my intuitions are correct -- all the people defending the company seem to be people who are already part of the MLM scheme and trying to promote it.

They seem to sell online remote photo storage and make a big and somewhat implausible fuss over their storage facilities and how they will protect one's pictures. One of the web pages I looked at said the storage is $45 a month. But the PhotoMax website doesn't tell you up front, as far as I can tell, that monthly fee. (They do tell you what prints of your photos will cost.) They also apparently try to get you to use their photo editing/uploading software, which has an additional cost. One of the web pages I looked at claimed that the sales people have to spend $250 for a startup kit (a kit! for an online service!) and then spend $1000 on 4 more kits to sell to their friends and family. This sounds to me as if they are targeting older, not net-savvy people, who might think that $45/month is a good deal for what they could get for free (or at most $25/year) on Flickr.

The company that operates this is the company that sells Nu Skin, Also, it is the company that does Nu Skin, etc., who were busted by the FTC in 1993 and 1997.

My mom does not see MLM as an automatic negative; in the 1970s she made good money selling Princess House (crystal and china) and Tri-Chem (craft paints) through the home party system, so she thinks MLM is a good idea. (I don't really agree, but I know there are companies such as Avon, etc. that I wouldn't consider scammy, at least.) One of my main concerns, however, is that the PhotoMax product itself is very weak. There is a lot of competition for photo storage online and all of it is cheaper.

So I'm turning to the hivemind, hoping that some of you have some experience with this company (or its related companies like Nu Skin) and aren't shills who are trying to improve your downline. I am looking for some honest opinions I can pass on to my mom.
posted by litlnemo to Work & Money (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Forgive my editing errors above in the 4th paragraph, please. I guess it's easy enough to tell what I was trying to say there.
posted by litlnemo at 5:11 PM on November 15, 2006

Best answer: I only read two sentences on that website and it was obvious it was a scam. Come on now. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it. The only people making money will be the ones collecting $1250 for 5 "startup kits".

However, and this is an entirely separate life lesson: you can't control what other people do, even your mother. Or perhaps, *especially* your mother.

Unless she's really old and you can get her declared incompetent. But otherwise, no, you can't change her, you can't stop her from wasting her money.'s whois contact is an address at, which is Vayan Marketing, which is these people.
posted by jellicle at 5:17 PM on November 15, 2006

Response by poster: Excellent. I didn't think of checking the whois.
posted by litlnemo at 5:21 PM on November 15, 2006

Their vault is actually this.
posted by sanko at 5:24 PM on November 15, 2006

For a more general skeptical take on MLM and what to watch out for, there's plenty of info at MLM Watch.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:29 PM on November 15, 2006

Best answer: In particular, the described scam is typical of a recruitment MLM, which is a pyramid scheme, as distinct from Amway, Tupperware, Princess House which are "retail MLMs."

Not all retail MLMs are purely scammy, but all the recruitment-oriented ones are.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:33 PM on November 15, 2006

Best answer: I'd try the angle that people can get essentially the same thing for a lot less from any one of a number of solid companies.

The audience for this service seems to be the technologically unsophisticated, but it still requires that they have a high speed net connection and be able to install software on their computer.

Even if people bite, they'll soon find out that they were sold a completely overpriced service by your mother, who they will then think less well of.
posted by Good Brain at 5:35 PM on November 15, 2006

Your mom thinks you need to be more trusting? What value is there in being trusting in bussness? None.
posted by delmoi at 5:53 PM on November 15, 2006

It is a scam. I don't need to read the whois or do any research and I'll tell you why.

No company in their right mind gives away an $85 billion idea to common people.
posted by chairface at 6:07 PM on November 15, 2006

Tell you Mom that you can obtain identical services for far cheaper, and ask her to imagine how cross the people she sells to will be when they find out they've been ripped off.

Soften her up by suggesting that her earlier schemes worked because her customers got something of real value.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:45 PM on November 15, 2006

Response by poster: I was able to get in and see the presentation on the website (you have to be referred to a specific account name, and use that name to see the presentation) by guessing what a typical account name of a distributor might be. (I used my mother-in-law's first name, ha!) Once you get into it, you get a Flash movie that cites positive stats with no reputable sources to back them up, and implies that the technology they have is exclusive. There is a strong emotional push to "save the photos" followed by a description of PhotoMax as "a Viral Marketing Dream come true!" But there's nothing actually useful -- it's a lot of fuzzy promises and catch phrases. And everything they imply that the offer is definitely available elsewhere. There is nothing particularly special or valuable. This is really targeting people who don't know any better, it looks like.
posted by litlnemo at 6:55 PM on November 15, 2006

Response by poster: "And everything they imply that the offer is definitely available elsewhere. "

I meant "And everything they imply that they offer is definitely available elsewhere."
posted by litlnemo at 7:13 PM on November 15, 2006

(I used my mother-in-law's first name, ha!)

I'd just like to note that I tried several names unsuccessfully... until I tried my future MIL.
posted by mkultra at 9:42 PM on November 15, 2006

try making a list of non MLM competitors with their prices and how they match up
Explain the costs of using premium accounts companies such as
posted by wildster at 3:08 AM on November 16, 2006

Best answer: I think you need to emphasize the difference between MLMs that actually sell a solid product (Tupperware, etc.) and ones that maintain themselves by constantly ripping off new people and feeding them into the system.

These guys don't have a product that anyone in their right mind would buy. It sucks. It's only going to get sold to rubes, and people who are guilted or coerced into buying.

Not that I'd suggest that anyone get into any kind of MLM, but if your mother really wants to do something with her time (else why is she considering this?) maybe point her towards one of the reputable retail ones, rather than this scheme.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:37 AM on November 16, 2006

I don't consider MLM a problem if the product is good enough that you could make a business selling it even if it wasn't MLM.

The problem is when you start counting on your downstream to make you the money. In order for this to work, somebody down there has to go out and sell the product (rather than counting on their downstream). So by recruiting people based on the MLM aspect, you're shooting yourself in the foot. What you really want is to recruit people who will sell the product.

I think that your Mom will probably agree with my reasoning so far. So the next step is to examine the product. I like wildster's approach above.
posted by winston at 7:16 AM on November 16, 2006

Another problem is with the online sales aspect. Tupperware is one thing, where you can become the sales rep for your geographical area. If sales are online, you are competing directly with every other sales rep.
posted by winston at 7:21 AM on November 16, 2006

Heh. My mom dated a guy who was doing this. I'm glad to hear it is a scam. He's a jerk.

And now that I read this, I'm glad I didn't use them to print photobooks for my clients.
posted by pyjammy at 8:44 AM on November 16, 2006

Best answer: BTW, their "vault" is pretty much the standard for big-name datacenters. Any technology company worth its salt uses something similar.

It's like claiming you transport goods using revolutionary quad-wheel technology capable of moving you at over sixty miles an hour while protecting you from 100% of wind damage and particles.
posted by mkultra at 9:39 AM on November 16, 2006

Since this service exists for free, I fail to see how she could think that a buisness selling the same service is doing anything other than ripping off the innocent/gullible.
posted by Four Flavors at 2:23 PM on November 16, 2006

Response by poster: Well, there is nothing wrong in selling it for a reasonable fee -- for example, Flickr charges $25/year for the Pro accounts, which basically remove the size limits you have with the free account. But $25/year with free Flickr Uploadr or an iPhoto plugin, compared to $45/month plus some unknown charge for software to upload -- there's no comparison there. The $45/month option is a clear rip-off.

(I'm using Flickr here as an example just because that's the one I'm personally familiar with.)
posted by litlnemo at 3:09 PM on November 16, 2006

Another potential tack is to convince her that for just a little more effort, she could just start her own business. Why put all that time and effort into moving someone else's product for a retail MLM (and as many people have already pointed out, this PhotoMax thing isn't even retail MLM) when she could just market her own ideas?
posted by bobot at 9:37 AM on November 17, 2006

Response by poster: I imagine she doesn't have the capital for that. I think that's part of the attraction of MLM's; if you can scrape together a couple hundred dollars, you can "run your own business!" without having to have the capital you would need to start most "real" businesses.
posted by litlnemo at 3:21 PM on November 17, 2006

Response by poster: (She used to own her own business -- a hair salon -- but had to retire from it for health reasons.)
posted by litlnemo at 3:24 PM on November 17, 2006

Response by poster: Follow-up: I sent her the URL to this page (say "Hi mom!"). She wrote back to tell me she's not going to do the PhotoMax thing. :)
posted by litlnemo at 1:09 AM on November 19, 2006

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