A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment. The organizers of the scheme do not invest your money in something with intrinsic value. Instead, they pay you a "return" with the contributions of new investors. Ponzi schemes received their name in the 1920's after Charles Ponzi was convicted of running this type of business. Despite all the knowledge we have of previous Ponzi schemes, they continue to defraud people from all walks of life. We are even seeing a new wave of Ponzi schemes involving virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin. Here is a summary of what to look for to protect yourself against Ponzi schemes:
High returns with little or no risk.
All investments, especially those expecting higher returns, involve risk. Be suspicious if someone is selling you an investment that allegedly defies the odds.
Unusually consistent returns.
Investment values go up and down on a daily basis. If your investment generates regular, positive returns, regardless of the overall market, that is a red flag.
Most, but not all, Ponzi schemes involve unlicensed individuals or unregistered firms. Research your Broker or Investment Advisor to confirm they are registered with the SEC or required state regulators.
Ponzi schemes typically involve investments that have not been registered with regulating authorities. By not registering, they can avoid disclosing details about the company's management, products, services, and finances.
"Black box" strategies.
Don't invest in something you don't understand. It is not a good sign if your Advisor grows irritated with your questions or treats you as if you don't understand something that is obvious.
Lack of detailed or complete paperwork.
You should be able to read about an investment in writing. Confirm the paperwork is detailed and complete without spelling and grammatical errors.
Difficulty receiving your money.
As the pool of investors grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to recruit enough new investors and contributions to keep the scheme running. Therefore, the organizers may encourage you to re-invest your return versus withdrawing it. They may also become more aggressive with their sales tactics and encourage you to tell your friends and family about the investment. If you were told the investment was liquid, but you are unable to retrieve your money in a timely matter, or without significant penalties, that is cause for concern.
Unfortunately, if you are caught up in a Ponzi scheme, there is no guarantee that you will get your money back or that the perpetrators will be prosecuted. There are many reasons for this, one being that the statute of limitations on financial crimes is five years. PWR is fighting to get this extended, but the reality is that many people don't realize they have been defrauded until year two or three, leaving insufficient time to complete the necessary legal proceedings. Therefore, the best way to protect yourself is to avoid a Ponzi scheme altogether.