pyramid selling
noun

an illegal way of selling goods or investments to the public, where each selling agent pays for the franchise to sell the product or service, and sells that right on to other agents together with stock, so that in the end the person who makes the most money is the original franchiser, and sub-agents or investors may lose all their investments

"...much of the population had committed their life savings to get-rich-quick pyramid investment schemes - where newcomers pay the original investors until the money runs out - which inevitably collapsed" [Times]

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