Sketch of a pyramid scheme.

How to Recover If You've Bought Into a Pyramid Scheme

Pyramid schemes can cause a great deal of trouble—wrecking families, emptying bank accounts, and leaving you distraught and destitute. These get-rich-quick scams work by creating a pyramid shaped financial structure where the top players consisting of less people make money by ensnaring the bottom members in a scheme, often unwittingly. Pyramid schemes are illegal. They pray on your emotions and make you feel like you’ve found a family—only to lose that tightknit group when the pyramid falls apart, which it is certain to do. Here’s a look at how to recover from buying into a pyramid scheme. 

Cut Off Funding

First and foremost, stop sending money. Even if you don’t have proof, even if you’re just suspicious, keep your wallet shut tight. Never send cash or money orders to begin with, but if you’ve been periodically purchasing more products or paying a monthly fee, cease and desist. If you paid with a check, money order, or credit card, contact your bank and they may be able to stop payment before it is too late. 

Do Your Research

Ask questions of your superiors. If you can’t get to anyone, that itself is a sign. Other people may have shared your experience, and there are organizations and websites dedicated to unveiling pyramid schemes. Red flags may include:

  • Offers to make fast, easy money
  • Products that are virtually unsellable (poor quality, overpriced, or demo versions)
  • Hefty start-up costs and fees only obvious after you’ve signed on
  • Demands to personally buy large amounts of product with no guarantees of a buyback

Report the Fraud

Just because you got wise doesn’t mean other people will. You can report pyramid (and other financial schemes) to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commision, and they even provide a level of confidentiality so your name isn’t floating around freely. You can also report to the Federal Trade Commission. At the very least, call your local Better Business Bureau or file a report online. If you live in a country outside the U.S., check with your country for alternative ways to report. 

It can be hard to talk about something if you’re embarrassed for being taken advantage of. But try to be open about it; the more outspoken you are, the more people know not to fall into the same trap. Don’t get taken advantage of while you’re down and out. People tend to be easier to scam when they’re emotional.

But What About My Money?

If you’ve already sunk a lot of money into a pyramid scheme and your loved ones are concerned or angry, you may be anxious to get that money back. It may not happen, so prepare yourself for that. However in some cases, enough evidence and witnesses can be pulled out to file a formal lawsuit through the SEC. In this case, it is possible you’ll get at least a portion of your full investment, even if not the whole thing. In any case, don’t be afraid to be a whistleblower. You can save a lot of people from suffering the same fate, and you might get some recompense yourself. 

Last Updated: April 05, 2017