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Detecting a pyramid scheme

Financial pyramid schemes are fraudulent investment operations, based on the promise of unusually high rates of return for investors, exclusively or mostly paid out of money from investors who join the scheme later rather than of revenue generated by the activities carried out. 

This practice may constitute not only an administrative offence, but also the crime of accepting deposits and other repayable funds.

Consumers should be aware of the following situations, which may indicate that they are faced with a financial pyramid scheme:

  • Contracting the service/product involves the payment of an amount that may be considerable when compared to the real cost of the service/product;
  • Promise of unusually high rates of return in a short period of time, without an actual effort on the part of the participant to sell the products or services in question;
  • Linking the return on funds invested to transactions on products or services which do not exist or, if they exist, have no actual market demand, are not useful and have an unsuitable price. Yet the product or service is presented as totally innovative and the entity involved as a "market leader";  
  • Participants are mainly encouraged to recruit new investors, being offered high commissions or luxury goods. Selling the product or service, even if it actually exists, is merely secondary, with the participant’s success and the progression in the scheme’s hierarchical structure depending on the number of participants in his/her network;
  • “Investment” success and safety are often presented at meetings and social events, held across the country, featuring success stories told by several participants, the involvement of public figures, and the announcement of partnerships with entities considered as trustworthy by the general public;
  • Information is usually scarce about the entity that manages the scheme, which has no head office or only a virtual office, without physical existence.