Multi-level Marketing is a nasty, nasty thing, and it's just gone wearable. MLMs are a barely legal business practice where your customers become your salespeople – your distributors – in exchange for the promise of commissions for the sales that they make and the chance to earn the big bucks if they can convince some of their own clients to become salespeople too.
The greater the number of people you have below you in the structure, the more money you can rake in. The trick, of course, is that the numbers don't work and, in the end, it's only a few people right at the top of the chain who make anything out of it at all. It's what they used to call a pyramid scheme except now, because there's an actual product involved, companies like Wor(l)d Global Network are getting away with ripping people off again. And they're doing it with devices like the Helo LX health band – the most overpriced tracker you'll ever see.
Science vs the sales pitch
Helo is short for Health and Lifestyle Oracle, while LX is supposed to stand for luxury and, in a slightly odd twist of circumstances, we were contacted by one of Wor(l)d Global Network's many young, money-hungry distributors who had the misguided idea of convincing us to become Helo sales agents ourselves.
All we had to do to get in on the gold rush was to purchase a Helo LX at the cost of $319. Now direct from the online store, the Helo LX costs from $199 for the device but many people pay much more than that. It's around $349 for a bundle including bands and a germanium kit and $1,349 for a family pack of four trackers.
At this point we should make it clear that we're not going to reveal the name of this distributor. People lose their jobs for becoming part of this kind of nonsense and we've no evidence to suggest that Mr.G, as we'll call him, has done anything more than be a bit of a sucker.
We should also say that we haven't tested the Helo LX. If Wor(l)d Global Network send us a review sample, we will do so, but the company has not replied to our phone calls to its Miami office or multiple attempts to request a comment via online contact forms over a number of weeks. We reached out to Wor(l)d Global Network to respond to claims about Helo's inability to perform as advertised but received no response.
We had a good long video call with Mr.G while he showcased what was very clearly a fairly generic – and not particularly attractive – device with a basic-looking screen and optical heart-rate sensor on the back. Fair enough, except that he claimed that the Helo LX could measure your blood pressure too and take an ECG (electrocardiogram) reading, and, that within six months, it would possibly be able to deliver your blood glucose levels, blood oxygenation, blood alcohol concentration and even protect you from malarial mosquitos, all with just a firmware update.
"Blood oxygen, body temperature, blood alcohol, blood sugar and the mosquito shield; the updates are regular for the application and for the firmware on the Helo," Mr.G told us. "I don't know if those features are going to be on a new device or the same device but I know that we will have way more features on the same device. I do know that the blood oxygenation works with the same PPG principle using the two diodes. So, I think the update there should be from the same device."
Some of the more medical-style claims, backed up by anecdotes and used to sell this device, could have real impacts on people's health. Mr.G again: "There's one guy that's in my [customer referral] team right now, he went to his doctor who took his measurements and said the accuracy was quite good. For example, for blood oxygen saturation, it's a measurement that's really good, especially for people with bronchitis because those people need to know their oxygenation at all times."
Two of the official claims for the current abilities of the Helo LX are ECG levels of accuracy on heart rate and blood pressure reading. "For the ECG… The main sensor has two light diodes which measure the absorption of the light from your veins and from their reflection they can calculate most of the measurements," Mr.G said to us as part of the pitch. "The blood pressure is the same. You open a different app and press the button but the sensor makes the same measurement. It just uses the diodes. It uses PPG technology – because there are two diodes, it can calculate the difference of the readings of the reflection between the two."
Without so much as a sweat sensor on board, to say that the list of proposed features (blood oxygen, sugar, alcohol) are nigh on impossible is an understatement. These current claims are also ludicrous given that, for the moment, you need a cuff to measure blood pressure. There's no way around it until a new kind of sensor fabric is invented to physically measure the push of the blood vessels in your arm. That's not something that could be done with anything that Mr.G showed us.
We asked a scientist who specialises in optical heart rate monitoring for his opinion on the various claims about what the Helo LX can track.
"From my point of view, the monitor on the smartwatch is a toy so that you can have fun," said Dr Sijung Hu, a senior research fellow and lead of the Photonics Engineering and Health Technology Research Group at Loughborough University. "It's not accurate to clinical standards. However, the correlation of the readings on your wrist are good enough for an idea of your pulse. Blood oxygen saturation, blood pressure readings, though; they are not good enough with conventional PPG."
PPG is the light-measuring technology inside all wrist-worn fitness and wearable heart-rate monitors. It's an oversimplification but Dr Hu and his team have developed more accurate ways to take the readings using what they call OPM, opto-physiological monitoring. Rather than a simplistic differential between the reflected light coming back from your blood vessels, OPM is a deeper analysis of how light interacts with all your biological tissues, examining mechanical, physical and biochemical readings. Still, Dr Hu does not think that even OPM on a device like the Helo LX could do what Wor(l)d Global Network claims.
"We are working to measure these other readings but even then we need to put it in a different position," he told us. "Some things work on your wrist and some don't, so we are developing a stick-on patch. We did a test to see if we could do blood oxygen saturation from the wrist. We use a different, more sophisticated way, but to do blood pressure, we need a minimum of two devices. Anyone giving you your blood pressure readings using standard PPG on your wrist has made none of the necessary calibrations to your individual anatomy. They are stretching the truth."
Mr.G certainly seemed pleased with what he had in his hands, despite our misgivings, and promised to get back in touch a week later once he'd taken it to his doctor and compared the readings to a medical blood pressure monitor. So far, we've not heard back.
The Toshiba & Apple connections
To back up the questionable abilities of the Helo LX, their salespeople will tell you that the device has been made in partnership with Toshiba. We checked with Toshiba. The connection is that the device is powered by a Toshiba chip – not an endorsement, as claimed in several video interviews by the founder of Wor(l)d Global Network's parent company, president Fabio Galdi.
A Toshiba spokesperson told us: "Wor(l)d Global Network is one of our major customers of ApP Lite™. The relationship is purely that of a supplier agreement. Given that the ApP Lite is not a general-purpose solution, Toshiba has worked with Wor(l)d Global Network to adopt its specific needs into the specification (something Toshiba offers to all customers)."
The second claim to win your confidence made by distributors is that the product designer behind the Helo LX is none other than former Apple employee, and brain behind the iPhone 6, iPhone 7 and Apple Watch, Antonio de Rosa. Well, there's some truth there but most of it's garbage. Antonio de Rosa is a graphic designer, primarily, and a very good one at that. He wows the internet with some very well crafted, well thought out and accurate concept ideas of what the next Apple phones should look like. He did win some CES and Photokina awards for his Polaroid Socialmatic product design but he's never worked for Apple.
De Rosa is employed as the Chief Design Officer of the Wor(l)d Media & Technology Corp and, let's be clear about this, there is no part of official company literature that states that he used to work for Apple but it's a line which plenty of the distributors lower down the chain are happy to spin.
We picked on Mr.G but the salespeople all have the same patter about the highly suspect features which, themselves, are not mentioned on the Wor(l)d Global Network product website.
As we were working on this piece, we received an email from Sandra Miller, who refers to herself as a health coach from central Florida, with this pitch (sic throughout): "Apparently you have not heard of HELO- A health and lifestyle oracle like a fitbit on steroids. You can look at a two minute commercial here at www.helo.life. This baby has TOSHIBA app lite technology and is the ONLY wearable to have it's own app store. Helo LX was just introduced to America a few months ago and boasts all the tracking of fitbit PLUS continuous, BP, Breath rate, mood and energy and has TWO patents (18 months before I phone) on non invasive blood sugar testing."
All you'll find on the website on the Helo LX specifically is breath analysis, heart rate, mood measurements and something called "heart check" which is described as "a check of the heart through some combined measurements". So, where's all the confusion coming from?
Well, if you look back at the press release which the newswires got when Helo LX was launched, you can see all the other features – now conveniently absent from the Wor(l)d Global Network product website – all there in black and white, with the link back to Wor(l)d International, which is, of course, now dead.
Todd Johnsen, a politics vlogger who signed up for the Helo distributor membership to the tune of about $420, has expressed his thoughts on the LX – or "Helo 2" – on his YouTube channel. He says he was deceived by the company and that the device is overpriced and should cost more like $99. Take a look at Helo's listing on Amazon and you'll find similar customer reviews with ratings suspiciously swinging from 5 stars – "it's great, I wear it everyday" – to 1 star – "this is a false advertisement" – with very little in between.
There's also a video promo which many of the distributors embed on their sales sites with the same details. Again, you won't find this video on the company website and, technically, this promo is for the Helo not the new and improved Helo LX. Not that this stops the LX distributors from using the material on the Helo to market the more recent device, the Helo LX.
We're not just talking about any old distributors either. Power Couple – their description – Chad and Nattida Chong, veterans of Network Marketing, Grand President Millionaires in the Wor(l)d Global Network scheme structure, are listed on the company website in the 'Management' section; they're using the features mentioned in the press release to sell the products too, the practice seems to be endemic. Incidentally, according to this report, Chad and Nattida Chong generate over $5 million per week as Grand President Millionaires. Nice work if you can get it, and 'if' is the word to look out for.
Old school, illegal, pyramid schemes worked by getting new investors to buy into the structure by sending money to the people many generations ahead of them at the top. The maths didn't stack up for most of the investors to get paid and the pyramid would collapse when people stopped buying in. Only a very small percentage ever saw any money and the schemes were outlawed. MLMs, however, which also have pyramid structures, are not illegal because participants are not simply investing in thin air.
The way they join is by buying a physical product and, in the case of the Wor(l)d Global Network, that product is the Helo LX. In this case, if you don't sell one band each month, then you lose all your achievements and benefits. Instead, you can buy another band from the WGN for yourself or you can pay $59 per month to be part of the loyalty program and protect your position on the pyramid.
MLMs are now commonplace the world over and attract those looking to get rich quick from the comfort of their own homes. Companies sell these buy-in products for far more than they're actually worth and therefore make plenty of money from each new member and sales commissions. It all goes on under the noses of trade commissions whom have yet to legislate against MLMs.
Wor(l)d Global Network's compensation structure is particularly baffling. There are 13 Wor(l)d International Affiliate ranks, retail commissions, residual commissions, generation bonuses, a millionaire pool, a car bonus, a luxury bonus and on it goes.
A quick mention of the other Wor(l)d Global Network products that you can buy to get in on the MLM action. There's the BioZen chip that protects you from the "electrosmog" created by your mobile and computing devices. There's Infolio, the first device to actually come with a BioZen chip built in. There's a Helo app store to buy into, complete with a Helo Pro plan at just $12 per month to extend the features and services.
At the very least, consider what we've written here to be a note of caution against the Helo LX which we do not consider to be a wearable worth your money. At the most, take this as a stark warning against buying into any of Wor(l)d Global Network's schemes. MLMs are huge at the moment and there are people losing thousands with other companies whose set-ups are far nastier and involve more and more consistent investment just to be able to maintain your distributor status in the system. Ordinary people's lives are left in the rubble while those at the very top walk away laughing.
MLMs are also far more dangerous than old pyramid schemes ever were. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are full of distributors trying to convince people that their products are legit and, worst of all, they're pitching it all to people who are supposed to be their friends. There are so many third party websites and blog posts dedicated to how wonderful the likes of the Helo LX are and how much money you can make that it's easy to see why new people sign up. Just make sure you don't end up lining someone else's pockets. As the saying goes, if something looks too good to be true, then it usually is.
Correction: This article originally implied that the Helo LX costs $319. This is the amount the distributor discussed with the writer and is a bundle which includes germanium stones. The Helo LX starts at $199.
Have you purchased a Helo or Helo LX from a distributor? Let us know in the comments.