If you are into reading news, there’s one frequently appearing sure to catch your eyes: Ponzi scheme. If you’re unlucky, you’ve probably invested in one too.

At times, Ponzi schemes can be worth more than US$50 billion.

What makes a point to schemes really problematic is that they are very difficult to decipher.

Since in a robust economy Ponzi scheme can actually yield some returns, they may be difficult to spot.

Some of them also have invested funds continue to flow in, and you may get the impression that you were earning some money out of it.

It’s exactly what happened during the 2008 position. Many Ponzi schemes lapsed then – as many as hundred and 117 in 2009 alone.

The fact that the average Ponzi scheme is worth nearly $600 million is a worrying trend indeed.

WHAT IS A PONZI SCHEME?

Ponzi scheme is basically an investment fraud where funds collected from new investors are used to pay the returns of existing investors.

It’s been in the news for decades.

The signs are clear. Yet, thousands of people fall prey to this scheme every year.

These schemes come in all types and can affect anyone- from a young student to an experienced businessman.

Idle money is a waste. You invest your money so that it offers you more in return.

But what if the money we invested doesn’t bring any return? Are we stuck in a loop with no legit income coming our way?

As devastating as that sounds, these are the consequences of investing in a Ponzi scheme.

But do not worry.

There are some clear telltale signs that you have invested in a Ponzi scheme and we are going to help you understand how a Ponzi scheme works and how to recognize these signs

HISTORY OF PONZI SCHEMES

Ponzi scheme is named after Charles Ponzi who emigrated to the USA in 1903 from Italy.

He wasn’t exactly the first to start this, but definitely the first to garner worldwide attention.

After trying his hands in a few unsuccessful jobs, Ponzi decided he needed to find a way to make quick cash.

The postal service at that time (and even now in few places) issued international reply coupons which could be redeemed by the receiver at their local post office.

Because of currency fluctuation in any two countries, generally, the postage was more expensive in one country than the other.

Charles hired numerous agents to purchase these coupons at a lower rate and then send to him where he would exchange them for stamps which were costlier and then sell these stamps for profit.

Riding on the success of this business later he started a company where he promised his investors to return of 100% in 90 days and 50% in 45 days.

But Ponzi was not investing the money; he was just shifting it from one investor to another.

This scheme was such a huge success that he managed to earn $4,20,000 by May 1920 ( about $6 million in today’s money).

This cheating was brought to light by the newspaper Boston Post, and it led to arrest of Charles Ponzi in 1920.

But Ponzi wasn’t the last one to defraud his investors this way.

During 1996-97 in Albania, several lending institutions boomed in succession which was running under the same scheme.

At one time, these institutions were claiming to give 19% monthly interest to their investors.

Later, two such major institutions filed for bankruptcy, and this led to others following suit.

People started rioting on the streets, the government failed to control the situation, and there was utter chaos in the country for a long time.

Another popular Ponzi scheme was Bernie Madoff who under the farce of his investment firm, Madoff Investment securities, ran this scheme.

In 2008 during the economic crisis, people started to ask for their money back.

This was when he admitted the fraud to his sons who reported him to the authorities.

Madoff admitted to the investigators that he lost $50 billion of investors funds. The court sentenced Bernie Madoff to 150 years of prison.

HOW DOES A PONZI SCHEME WORK?

Ponzi scheme, also known as a pyramid scheme, works on the principle of “Rob Peter to pay Paul”.

These schemes pop up continuously; however, not all are big enough to make it to the news.

Even though there are different ways and methods by which they work, the key idea remains the same. You need to find investors who are willing to fund their money to earn returns.

It doesn’t matter to them how the investment works.

As long as they are getting incredible returns, there isn’t much that matters.

After the required fund has been collected, sometimes the schemer can use it to rent office space. This will help in attracting the next batch of investors.

With the new funds received, he pays the first batch of investors while keeping a huge portion for himself.

This loop continues to work and gets more complicated with time. People usually get suspicious about getting no returns and so have to be paid regularly.

This means a new batch of investors has to be added continuously in this scheme.

Obviously, there is no happy end to the story.

There comes a time when this whole scheme becomes too heavy to be carried through, and the schemer is exposed.

This happens when the scheme gets saturated, and new members can’t be further added.

ARE PONZI AND PYRAMID SCHEME THE SAME?

Even though these two are used synonymously, there are few vital differences. In the case of Ponzi scheme, you only will be asked to invest the money.

Once the money is collected, you are to sit back and reap the benefits that will occur supposedly.

However, in the case of a pyramid scheme, you have to do some work.

Either you will be appointed as an organizer to bring in new people or work with the schemer to expand his business.

The difference between pyramid and Ponzi scheme is very subtle.

But you must remember that even though some of the pyramid schemes are legal, Ponzi schemes are always illegal.

You can call a Ponzi scheme as a fraudulent investment business whereas a pyramid scheme is a multi-level marketing business that might or not be fraudulent.

SIGNS THAT YOU ARE PART OF A PONZI SCHEME

We all love a good scheme. It’s something that offers security and increases our wealth while securing our future. And when you find one, you just want to grab the opportunity.

Usually, that’s how it starts.

They say the opportunity is “limited”. If you do not available it, someone else will.

And it’s hard to let go, isn’t it?

But everything that shines isn’t gold, and many people have learnt this the hard way.

Even though very subtle, some quite clear signs indicate you are a part of a Ponzi scheme.

They Will Offer You High Return with No or Very Less Risk

Let’s be honest; there is no shortcut to being rich.

Every legit investment in this world carries some degree of risk and investments that boast of higher returns, comes with higher risk attached.

This is the rule; there is no other rule.

Lottery tickets offer a great reward, but there is also big risk attached to them.

Government bonds come with low risk, but the returns are low as well. It is important to remember that if any business “guarantees” high return, you need to be cautious.

High return is used as a tool by schemers in Ponzi scheme to lure in the unsuspecting investors.

This return sounds too good to be true, and they really are, but the possibility of getting rich by without even doing the bare minimum is what attracts the people.

For example, take the recent case of a Ponzi scheme in 2016 in China.

Chinese law enforcement saw that a company called Ezubao duped investors of $7.6 billion by offering them a return of 15%.

Instead, the money was used by the schemers to buy fancy cars and villas.

The Returns Will Initially Be Quite Consistent

If you are promised to get consistent returns by investing in any business, it’s the time for closer inspection.

Unless it is a fixed income scheme, it can’t be offering you with constant returns.

The scheme should move in conjunction with the stock market, and that is in no way moving constantly in one direction.

Sure, the S&P 500 is mainly moving in a positive path.

However, if you look close, you will notice that the returns over the years have been unpredictable.

Any business registered with the S&P 500 should behave in the same manner.

You should be provided with varying returns, and if that’s the case, you probably invested your money in a Ponzi scheme.

The Scheme Isn’t Registered

When you are investing your hard earned money, you need to make sure it is safe in an investment that’s registered with any state regulator or the SEC ( Security exchange commission).

Do a background check before parking your money with any business.

Check their registration status to verify that they are in fact registered, that no fraudulent complaints have been registered against them.

This search can be done easily via the Investment Adviser Public Disclosure provided by SEC or your local securities manager. If they don’t show up in search, think carefully before investing your money with them.

According to Lori Schock, director of Office of Investor Education and Advocacy of SEC, “Most of the retail-facing fraud that we see is committed by those who are not registered. It is unlicensed people selling unregistered products.”

You Haven’t Been Provided with Any Valid Documents or Paperwork

Usually, Ponzi schemes tend to avoid paperwork or issuing any documents to their investors. You might be asked to fill the registration form online.

Then it’s essential that you know how real and valid the website is.

Make sure that you fill in your personal details on any website that you aren’t sure of as this might lead to misuse of your data.

Ponzi scheme businesses also avoid sending you regular statements which shouldn’t be the case.

Also if the statement is provided, they should be simple enough to understand and free of any errors.

If something looks fishy or you are having doubts regarding the authenticity of the documents or the website, start asking questions before it gets too late.

The Sellers Are Not Licensed

Apart from the businesses, people from the investment business also need to get licensed or registered by the SEC or the local state authorities.

You should verify the same before doing any business with him/her.

And it’s not that hard to verify this.

All these documents are public records and can be checked online easily or at your local securities administrator office by paying a nominal fee.

It is important to note that some people look earnest and talk with some passion; it feels right to believe in them.

But you should always be cautious. No matter how much hardworking and honest the person looks, make sure you do the right background checks to verify the same.

Their Method of Doing Business is Too Complex

Are you investing in a business whose way of working confuses you?

Then look closely, for you may be part of the infamous Ponzi scheme.

Businesses that are real and solid works on building the trust of their investors.

Everything about them is clear and verifiable. You understand how they work and how you will earn money if you become a part of their venture.

But this is the opposite case with Ponzi schemes.

They try to keep their businesses as secretive as possible.

This is because they don’t want people to know what’s really going on inside. Their strategies would be complicated enough to bewilder any normal person.

Also, when inquired with the growth and expansion plans, they are met with vague descriptions.

Any information sought is ignored or delayed.

Eventually, the person will give up on understanding the same and let go. You shouldn’t be investing in scheme’s that you don’t really understand.

High Registration Fees Being Charged

Not only is the rewards big in Ponzi scheme, but the fees charged is also as well.

This is because the schemer wants to earn as much money as possible in the shortest amount of time. He doesn’t care about anything else.

He knows that he will be exposed one day as this can’t go perpetually, but by that time he will probably escape.

When questioned about the exorbitant fees, he will probably give some vague response or say that it’s mandatory to keep bringing in the high returns promised.

If you are being charged more than 2% annual maintenance fees by the business for any scheme, it’s time to reconsider their policy as most of the funds currently charge less than 1%.

And when it comes to index funds, this charge is even less and stands somewhere at .25%.

You are Having Trouble Receiving the Returns

Soon, in a Ponzi scheme, you will realize that your returns are not being available when they were promised to.

The seller is vague and inconclusive.

You dig up information and find out that’s the case with other investors as well. You become suspicious; something isn’t right.

You decide that it’s better to play safe and not be a part of it anymore.

But any attempt to cash out your money is met with failure. When you want to exit, the seller tries to lure you further with even better returns.

This is the surest sign that your money is in danger and you have been involved in a Ponzi scheme.

As scary as it might sound, it’s time to take the correct actions instead of just waiting for disaster to strike.

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU FIND OUT YOU ARE A PART OF THE PONZI SCHEME?

If you suspect you are a part of the Ponzi scheme, the first step would be trying to get your money back.

In a few cases, this might be possible as the schemer wants to give an impression that it’s a legitimate business.

Hence he would release some people’s money but not many and never at the same time. It’s better to inform others of your suspicions as well. Don’t disregard your gut instincts.

Do not invest any more money unless your doubts have been resolved. You might also consider taking the help of some expert in this field.

Keep a Check on your greed and take all the due diligence steps before you go any further with the scheme.

Next step would be to report the business to the authorities.

This is necessary to prevent innocent people from being victims of the scheme.

You can also sue the schemer for your money. But in most cases, that does little help.

By the time the Ponzi scheme is exposed, the schemer has spent most of the money.

And the investors get little to none of their money back.

It is easy to report any suspicious Ponzi scheme.

All you have to do is leave a tip to the FBI on their official website with their registered phone number.

You can also make a complaint to the SEC in this regard.

Take a look at your finances.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO THEN?

If you are looking to invest in a Ponzi scheme because of the returns, you may want to take a look at your finances and your financial habits.

Know the 50-30-20 rule of budgeting to be able to do more with your money.

1. Search

A great place to start would be the online banks, as they have less overhead. A savings account at American Express or Discover Bank would yield 1%, which is nothing great but five times the national average.

Check the options at a local bank. Sometimes you can earn around 2% but everything comes at a price, and for such a rate the bank would make it mandatory to make at least 10 debit card transactions a month.

You can check for the best rates to live at money-rates.com/rewardschecking.htm and also visit bankrate.com to make sure that the bank is at least three stars for safety purposes.

2. Borrow if Needed

The banks will offer you some competitive offers.

For example, In November, the home equity loan dropped to as low as 6.98% and the credit card APR’s at 7%.

You should also be advised on the lending rates which are not loosening any soon.

3. Don’t Forget to Apply for a Rewards Card

An excellent credit score opens up many offers for you, wherein the sign-up bonuses are increased by 25%. It will be like this for one more year or so, according to nerdwallet.com.

You should not wait too long to apply. This is because, after the debit card reforms have been passed, then the legislators will turn to credit cards.

There is no such thing as easy money. As lucrative as “guaranteed” high return might sound, it is a sign of big danger hovering over your head. Greed is what leads to the rise of the Ponzi scheme. Not only the investor’s greed but also the schemer’s greed.

Greed is on both sides, but it is the investor that loses his savings. Low-income individuals who invest all their savings in the hope to get rich would be affected the worst.

It always pays to be careful.

Being cautious with your initial endeavours can save you a lot of pain afterwards.

DEALING WITH A PONZI SCHEME

Authorities have busted a large number of Ponzi scheme over the years, yet they continue to thrive. The way these schemers operate is uncannily similar, but it still manages to dupe people nevertheless.

We would advise you to do thorough research before you decide to invest your money anywhere.

The risk is directly proportionate to reward; this is what we were taught since we were kids.

The higher the risk, the higher is the reward. Anyone that tries to explain you otherwise is probably lying.

The Top Signs You Are Part of a Ponzi Scheme

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