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Unethical Selling by a Doctor:
An MLM Victim Speaks Out

James Cummiskey

My wife Tawnya has been victimized by a doctor who treated her for approximately 24 months. About five months after she began seeing him, the doctor recommended that she purchase products from the Wellness International Network (WIN), a multilevel marketing firm that specializes in weight-management, skin-care, and nutritional supplements.

After presenting his sales pitch in his office, the doctor persuaded Tawnya to buy more than $100 of his "Chinese herbal nutritional supplements." He assured her that these products would result in weight loss, improved energy, enhanced mental acuity, and many other benefits. Not long afterward, she was surprised to receive a new salesman's kit in the mail informing her she was an official distributor for the WIN product line. The doctor had failed to mention that her first payment would include not only the supplements but status as a WIN representative.

Tawnya eventually decided not to buy additional WIN products, which she felt were very expensive. The doctor responded to her decision by sending dozens of e-mails, making personal calls to her home and office, and making personal entreaties during her office visits. He also pressured her to begin recruiting her friends and family to join the WIN network. On several occasions, he recommended that she attend a local WIN seminar.

Throughout all of this, the doctor made it clear that he was profiting personally from Tawnya joining WIN and purchasing more vitamins. Indeed, this was his major selling point for Tawnya to entice her friends to become WIN distributors. Sensing that I was the source of Tawnya's reluctance to participate further, the doctor also encouraged her to "bring hubby [to the meetings], since he is sure I am doing Avon." He constantly alluded to the growing wealth of his fellow WIN distributors and encouraged Tawnya to reconsider her decision.

As Tawnya continued to refuse, the doctor's e-mail took on a thoroughly unprofessional and even threatening tone. He attempted to dismiss her reluctance by claiming she and I were making our decision "out of fear and assumptions." The doctor harassed Tawnya with increasingly inappropriate e-mail comments such as "does hubby always make decisions without information?" When my wife commented that she found his comments upsetting and asked him to "keep this on a professional level vice a personal one," the doctor's curt reply was "The truth can be painful."

Yes, it can be. But in our case, the truth is that the doctor appears to be a manipulative, unprofessional, and completely self-serving person who has placed his own financial interests above that of his patients. He has violated virtually every tenet of the American Medical Association's guidelines regarding the selling of unproven, nonprescription products in his capacity as a physician. My wife and I believe that he is more concerned about lining his pockets than with my wife's health. Needless to say, we have terminated our relationship with him, but who knows how many others he will exploit. Indeed, he continues to shamelessly pander these products directly on his Web site. I have asked the AMA to investigate and rectify the situation.

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Mr. Cummiskey is an information technology professional in Laguna Niguel, California. Mrs. Cummiskey is a manager for a semiconductor manufacturer.

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This article was posted on October 18, 1999.