Why do people join pyramid schemes?

Branislav Hock*, Mark Button

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Purpose: Pyramid schemes create an unusual situation, where the victims might be effectively turned into offenders, as their role is to recruit more victims to the pyramid scheme. This paper aims to investigate the prevalence of pyramid schemes, their modern forms and why people join them.

Design/methodology/approach: This paper has developed from a structured literature review carried out as part of a wider study into policing pyramid schemes.

Findings: This paper identifies a range of reasons why people join pyramid schemes. Some of these reasons are “participant dominant”, including the vision of high reward for little work and the attraction to a better lifestyle. Other reasons are “organiser dominant”, including the exploitation of specific groups and high-pressure sales. These findings suggest significant differences in levels of culpability of pyramid schemes victims and perpetrators. This complexity is accompanied by conceptual, regulatory and institutional challenges.

Originality/value: Despite the profound and pervasive impact of pyramid schemes, researchers know very little about why some people participate in pyramid schemes. Limited research is largely American and specific to illegal multi-level marketing schemes. To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this paper is the first to provide an overview of a mix of strategies of participants of pyramid schemes to recruit new victims and reasons why people are joining pyramid schemes.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Financial Crime
Early online date11 Nov 2022
Publication statusEarly online - 11 Nov 2022


  • economic crime
  • victims
  • offenders
  • deception
  • dishonesty
  • pyramid schemes
  • policing


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