• To swindle or deceive someone, particularly to acquire their possessions or money
  • (archaic) To escape one's pursuer


One of the many services that the Internet has made more convenient and reliable is the simple act of buying things. Not only has online commerce put everything you could possibly want (and more) just a click away, but sites like eBay and Amazon have made it easy to verify the integrity of vendors so that you know you'll get what you pay for. Even so, every now and then a fraudster out to cash in at an unsuspecting buyer's expense will bilk people out of their money, so it pays to do your research and be careful who you trust with your credit card.

To bilk is to use deception to take advantage of someone, usually to cheat them out of their money or other valuables. The manner in which an unscrupulous character can bilk their victim is limited only to the con artist's imagination. The level of sophistication can range from an elaborate forgery of a legitimate transaction to simply smooth-talking someone into cooperating, and the scope could be anything from hoodwinking one person on the street to operating a global pyramid scheme.

While it is commonly a material good, the object of one's trickery can be anything: one could deceptively offer one's friend pizza in exchange for helping one move only to send the friend home with an empty stomach, thus bilking them out of their time (and muscle power). Abstract or immaterial objects can also rob one another (or people) conceptually, such as when the start of Daylight Savings time in the spring bilks people out of an hour of their day. Whatever the prospective prize, when one person or thing bilks another, the former is after ill-gotten gain.

An alternative, archaic use of the word bilk means to escape from some pursuing force. Again, though this is mostly used in conjunction with human escapees, it can be used in instances where objects, whether actual or metaphorical, elude something. An unusually speedy printer responsible for delivering your last-minute essay could bilk the bell marking the start of class, for instance, just as much as you could as you run down the hall to turn it in on time.

Example: Scammers posing as Nigerian princes often try to bilk people with phony emails asking for money.

Example: Jill got back to her car just in time to drive away and bilk the parking enforcer a few cars behind.


Bilk dates back to the mid-17th century as a term in cribbage meaning "to ruin an opponent's score." Prior to this usage, its origin is unknown. It is thought to be a nonsense word from earlier that century, or else an adaptation of the word balk, which in the 14th century meant "to leave a hill or ridge unplowed."

Derivative Words

Bilked: The past tense of bilk illustrates when one cheated someone at some earlier point.

Example: When he saw the same TV he just bought for half the price at another store, he realized the salesperson had bilked him.

Bilker: This noun describes a person who engages in acts of fraud.

Example: After being tricked by a bilker disguised as a homeless person, she stopped being charitable with her spare change.

Bilking: The active present form of the verb notes when one is in the process of duping someone.

Example: When he suspected the used car salesman was bilking him, he walked away and went off to another dealership.

Bilks: This conjugation of bilk deals with third-parties who cheat someone out of something.

Example: The card shark bilks people so handily that she can almost completely cover her living expenses with the plunder.

In Literature

From Gayle Forman's Sisters in Sanity:

This place is not about fixing you. It's about warehousing you while your clueless parents are bilked out of thousands of dollars.

Forman's narrator here warns that while the institution advertises itself as administering care, this is only a front to trick, or bilk, its patients' parents into giving its owners a small fortune.


  • If you bilk, you're of the con artist's ilk.
  • One would bilk to sell polyester and call it silk.
  • The cow ran so you could not bilk her out of her milk.


Deception, Money

Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of bilk. Did you use bilk in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.