Never been a victim to a Ponzi Scheme? Count your blessings. They are so enticing that sometimes they are made to sound like God send opportunities to take you from ground zero to greater heights
Ponzi scheme or game is an illegal form of fraud that lures investors and pays profits to investors enrolled earlier with funds from newly enrolled investors. The scheme leads victims to believe that profits are coming from product sales or other means, and they remain unaware that other investors are the source of funds. A Ponzi game can maintain the illusion of a sustainable business as long as new investors contribute new funds, and as long as most of the investors do not demand full repayment and still believe in the non-existent assets they are purported to own.
A Ponzi scheme is simply a type of investment scam where investors are promised substantial returns. Companies that participate in Ponzi schemes focus all of their attention on luring new clients. Once the new entrants invest, the money is collected and used to pay the original investors as “returns.”
However, a Ponzi scheme is not the same as a pyramid scheme. With a Ponzi game, investors are made to believe that they are earning returns from their investments. In contrast, participants in a pyramid scheme are aware that the only way they can make profits is by recruiting more people to the scheme. To a great extent, Ponzi schemes are investment tricks
Characteristics of A Ponzi Scheme
Most Ponzi schemes come with some common attributes such as:
1. Promise of high returns with minimal risk
In the real world, every investment one makes carries with it some degree of risk. In fact, investments that offer high returns typically carry more risk. So, if someone offers an investment with high returns and few risks, it is likely to be a too-good-to-be-true deal. Chances are the investor won’t see any returns.
2. Overly consistent returns
Investments experience fluctuations all the time. For example, if one invests in the shares of a given company, there are times when the share price will increase, and other times it will decrease. That said, investors should always be skeptical of investments that generate high returns consistently regardless of the fluctuating market conditions.
3. Unregistered investments
Before rushing to invest in a scheme, it’s important to confirm whether the investment company is registered with state regulators. If it’s registered, then an investor can access information regarding the company to determine whether it’s legitimate and not a Ponzi scheme.
4. Unlicensed sellers
According to federal and state law, one should possess a specific license or be registered with a regulating body. Most Ponzi schemes deal with unlicensed individuals and companies.
5. Secretive, sophisticated strategies
One should avoid investments that consist of procedures that are too complex to understand.
History of the Ponzi Scheme
The scheme got its name from one Charles Ponzi, a fraudster who duped thousands of investors in 1919.
Ponzi promised a 50% return within three months on profits earned from international reply coupons. Back in the day, the postal service offered international reply coupons, which enabled a sender to pre-purchase postage and incorporate it in their correspondence. The recipient would then exchange the coupon for a priority airmail postage stamp at their home post office.
Due to the fluctuations in postage prices, it wasn’t unusual to find that stamps were pricier in one country than another. Ponzi saw an opportunity in the practice and decided to hire agents to buy cheap international reply coupons on his behalf then send them to him. He exchanged the coupons for stamps, which were more expensive than what the coupon was originally bought for. The stamps were then sold at a higher price to make a profit. This type of trade is known as arbitrage, and it’s not illegal.
However, at some point, Ponzi became greedy. Under the Securities Exchange Company, he invited people to invest in the company, promising 50% returns within 45 days and 100% within 90 days. Given his success in the postage stamp scheme, no one doubted his intentions. Unfortunately, Ponzi never really invested the money, he just plowed it back into the scheme by paying off some of the investors. The scheme went on until 1920 when the Securities Exchange Company was investigated.
How to Protect Yourself from a Ponzi Scheme
In the same way that an investor researches a company whose stock he’s about to purchase, an individual should investigate anyone who helps him manage his finances. The easiest way to go about it is to contact the SEC and ask if their accountants are currently conducting open investigations (or investigated prior cases of fraud).
Also, before investing in any scheme, one should ask for the company’s financial records to verify whether they are legit.
A Ponzi scheme is simply an illegal investment. Named after Charles Ponzi, who was a fraudster in the 1920s, the Ponzi schemes promise consistent and high returns, yet supposedly with very little risk. Although such a scheme can work in the short term, it runs out of money eventually. Therefore, investors should always be skeptical of investments that sound too good to be true.
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