A pyramid system - also referred to as franchise fraud or chain referral schemes - is an unsustainable business model that involves promising participants payment or services, primarily for enrolling other people into the scheme, rather than supplying any real investment or sale of products or services to the public. The real profit is earned, not by the sale of the product, but by the sale of new distributorships.
In a pyramid scheme, an organization compels individuals to make a payment and join. In exchange, the organization promises its new members a share of the money taken from every additional member that they recruit. The directors of the organization (those at the top of the pyramid) also receive a share of these payments. For the directors, the scheme is potentially lucrative - whether or not they do any work, the organization's membership has a strong incentive to continue recruiting and funneling money to the top of the pyramid.
Such organizations seldom involve sales of products or services with real value. Without creating any goods or services, the only ways for a pyramid scheme to generate revenue are to recruit more members or solicit more money from current members. Eventually, recruiting is no longer possible and the plurality of members are unable to profit from the scheme.
Emphasis on selling franchises rather than the product eventually leads to a point where the supply of potential investors is exhausted and the pyramid collapses. At the heart of each pyramid scheme is typically a representation that new participants can recoup their original investments by inducing two or more prospects to make the same investment. Promoters fail to tell prospective participants that this is mathematically impossible for everyone to do, since some participants drop out, while others recoup their original investments and then drop out.
Various forms of pyramid schemes are illegal in many countries including Albania, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Iran, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Nepal, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States. Many other countries will follow by adjusting their law.
These types of schemes have existed for at least a century, some with variations to hide their true nature. Multi Level Marketing plans have also been classified as pyramid schemes.
Tips for Avoiding Pyramid Schemes:
- Be wary of “opportunities” to invest your money in franchises or investments that require you to bring in subsequent investors to increase your profit or recoup your initial investment.
- Independently verify the legitimacy of any franchise or investment before you invest.
More information about pyramid systems: