pyramid scheme


: a usually illegal operation in which participants pay to join and profit mainly from payments made by subsequent participants

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web Yet, a creator program that users have to pay to use hasn’t been done before and has some users comparing it to a pyramid scheme. Kylie Robison, Fortune, 3 Feb. 2023 Authorities say OneCoin was a pyramid scheme that defrauded people out of more than $4 billion as Ignatova convinced investors in the US and around the globe to throw fistfuls of cash at her company. Faith Karimi, CNN, 22 Jan. 2023 In 2019, AdvoCare disagreed with the FTC’s characterization of its multilevel marketing business model as a pyramid scheme. Dallas News, 5 May 2022 The lawsuit against Cuban follows a $258 million suit against Tesla CEO Elon Musk in June in which a Dogecoin investor accused him of running a pyramid scheme. Dallas News, 11 Aug. 2022 The result was a pyramid scheme, which Scheper-Hughes says is common to kidney markets around the world. Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, Discover Magazine, 12 Aug. 2010 Law-enforcement agencies, meanwhile, have prosecuted some of the worst actors - unveiling charges in August, for example, against 11 individuals allegedly involved in a $300 million pyramid scheme. Tony Romm, Anchorage Daily News, 17 Nov. 2022 Ignatova, meanwhile, is accused of spearheading a pyramid scheme that defrauded investors of over $4 billion, one considered to be among the largest in history. María Luisa Paúl, Washington Post, 1 July 2022 But instead, the plan operated like a pyramid scheme, with people earning money by recruiting new customers into the service, the SEC alleges. Aimee Picchi, CBS News, 1 Aug. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'pyramid scheme.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1949, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of pyramid scheme was in 1949

Dictionary Entries Near pyramid scheme

Cite this Entry

“Pyramid scheme.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Apr. 2023.

More from Merriam-Webster on pyramid scheme

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!

Challenging Standardized Test Words, Vol. 2

  • a pencil broken in half on top of a test answer sheet
  • The business’s new computer system proved not to be a panacea.
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Solve today's spelling word game by finding as many words as you can with using just 7 letters. Longer words score more points.

Can you make 12 words with 7 letters?