Using a Hybrid Securities Test to Tackle the Problem of Pyramid Fraud

By Corey Matthews

This Note examines federal securities law as a tool to deter and regulate illegal pyramid schemes. Pyramid schemes are among the most prevalent forms of consumer fraud in the United States and they victimize thousands of individuals every year. The rise of the internet and social media has made it even easier for pyramid promoters to target potential recruits, often those who are already particularly vulnerable to consumer fraud. The federal securities laws have proven to be robust regulatory tools against pyramid schemes. However, the test used by federal courts to determine whether a scheme meets the definition of a security has produced uncertainty and inconsistency in the law. This Note proposes that when pyramid schemes are alleged, federal courts should apply a hybrid securities test that incorporates aspects of risk capital analysis. In so doing, courts will be better equipped to focus on the economic reality of pyramid schemes and to draw a more principled line between illegal pyramid fraud and legitimate enterprises.