pyramid scheme

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pyramid scheme

n.
A fraudulent moneymaking scheme in which early participants are paid out of money received from later recruits, with the final recruits putting money in and getting nothing back.
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Noun1.pyramid scheme - a fraudulent scheme in which people are recruited to make payments to the person who recruited them while expecting to receive payments from the persons they recruit; when the number of new recruits fails to sustain the hierarchical payment structure the scheme collapses with most of the participants losing the money they put in
scheme, strategy - an elaborate and systematic plan of action