Ponzi Schemes and HYIPS
Free Money Traps
With the collapse of Bernard Madoff's 50 billion dollar investment fund, Ponzi schemes are very much in the news. Recently, the FPA investigated CRE Capitol Corporation and the TradeLite HYIP, both of which turned out to be Ponzi schemes. I've covered some of this before in my article about managed forex, but since so many people have lost so much money to both classic Ponzi schemes and HYIPS, I thought this style of scam deserved a more in-depth analysis.
Be aware that not every managed forex fraud is a Ponzi scheme. Both Atwood & James and LegendTrader just found different ways to steal money directly from investors without following the typical plan of a .
So, what exactly is a ?
A is an investment that provides returns to investors from deposits, not from investing. In a typical , investors are promised a fixed rate of return (usually fairly high) allegedly from some form of high return investment. The original scheme was devised by Charles Ponzi and was based on a legal method (at that time) of using international postal reply coupons. The problem was that there weren't enough of those coupons in existence to cover all the investment money that poured in. Modern Ponzi schemes claim to make returns based on a number of different investment plans, with forex becoming more and more prominent.
When the first person invests, the company makes very sure the investor gets paid his returns in a timely fashion and encourages him/her to tell friends and family about the investment. For example, if Investor 1 invests $10,000 dollars with PonziFx Investments (fake company name – example only) and is promised a 10% monthly return from their “expertly” run investments. If the scammers keep their overhead costs down, they can pay $1000 per month to Investor 1 for almost 10 months without doing any work at all.
This would seem like a foolish way to scam people, but the scammers have a plan. Whether by advertising or just by encouraging Investor 1 to tell friends and family, they get more investors. Everyone is now making a huge return on their investments. Investor 1 is so pleased, that he might take out a 2nd mortgage and max out his credit cards. Now he places a total of $200,000 with the company. He can now quit his day job and collect $20,000 a month. Of course, he's a nice guy and tells everyone he knows so they can all share in his success. Some are skeptical, but it's hard to keep doing the 9-5 thing when 3 of your relatives and 5 of your neighbors have all quit their jobs and are making huge amounts of money with no effort.
Incentives to recruit new people can be monetary (cash bonuses and/or higher interest for the investor who recruits others) or more personal. I don't know about you, but I'd love to be able to tell my family and friends, “Put your life savings with this company and all your financial worries will be solved forever.” if there really was a company that could always return 5% a month or more per month every month, under all market conditions with no drawdown ever. Wow! I'd be the great fiscal hero to everyone who would listen. This is part of how people get drawn in. People want to believe that they've found the perfect solution to all their money problems. Sometimes, they are cautious and just put in a little money to test it out. Once they get a few payments, it's easy to justify borrowing money at a low interest rate to invest it at a high rate of return.
A well run Ponzi can become huge (current world record - $50 billion), but at some point, it has to end. Either the supply of new investors runs out or the authorities step in – assuming the scammers haven't already decided just to grab the money and leave town beforehand.
Ponzi Warning Signs
1. Many large promises are made about the skill of the traders or the special trading or investing method (could be forex, could be anything), but details are scarce. Trading statements (if any) are unlikely to give information on what brokerage was used to place the trades. Attempts to get details will be gently deflected. Any serious attempt to get details is likely to result in the scammer threatening to not let the potential investor take part in the investment plan.
2. A web search for the people in charge of the company reveals little or nothing about them, despite claims of having long and successful careers managing other people's money. Worse yet, the search may show some civil and criminal legal difficulties, but these will be explained away as “misunderstandings” by people who didn't understand the business. Most of the positive info available is by word of mouth from friends or relatives who have invested.
3. The company will often try to claim that it has a long and solid history, often on Wall Street. There might be a virtual office in New York. There may or may not even be a very nice local office. Asking for information about registrations with the CFTC, NFA, BBB, local, or state authorities will be turned aside, either with excuses about how this isn't necessary, or with threats to keep anyone who would not take the investment seriously won't be allowed to invest.
4. An investor who wants to take some time to consider the investment will often be pressured to place money as soon as possible. Of course a legitimate investment manager will want your business soon in order to collect commissions, but excessive pressure to invest now can mean that the scammer is getting short on cash to pay off prior investors or else is getting ready to run off and wants as much money as possible before disappearing.
A serious investor needs to apply logic. Any legitimate company will be very happy to provide information about which regulators, government agencies, and business groups they belong to. Anyone who asks for your money and says that you aren't entitled to get a full disclosure about the company and how the investments will be handled is either a criminal or a crazy person who thinks that normal rules of investing don't apply. Anyone who threatens not to accept your investment money if you require basic information about the company is a criminal. The company my IRA is with sends me way too much info about my investments and they are happy to answer any question I have by email or phone. Investment companies should want to give you info, not hide it. Any serious managed investment company that claims to have a long, solid track record will be easy to look up online. Lack of bad information is not the same as the presence of good information. Just because your Aunt Mildred has been getting 10% per month for 6 months is no reason to throw all of your money in without researching the company first.
One special note about the Madoff case. He got a lot of very big names to invest in his scam. He even managed to slide under the CFTC's radar many times when they checked his company (yes, he really was registered with the CFTC). The reason he got away with it for so long is that he only offered 10% per year. This made his company seem a lot less suspicious, so many investors as well as investigators didn't examine his books as closely as they should have. Still, some smarter investors who checked things out closely did avoid getting involved.
One other thing about Ponzi schemes. Those who get in early and who don't add to their investment can end up with a significant profit. So, do you think it's ok if you got in early enough to have recovered your initial investment and made a profit? Think again. In the Madoff case, the authorities are working to recover any profits made by early investors to help partially repay the losses of later investors. Just because an investor didn't know it was a criminal enterprise doesn't mean that the investor can profit at the expense of others. Also, there's almost no way to predict when a Ponzi will collapse, so trying to invest with the plan to profit before the scheme fails is dangerous and foolhardy. Knowingly taking part in such a scheme can also attract quite a bit of attention from the authorities and other investors after the scheme falls apart.
Free Money from HYIPS?
stands for High Yield Investment Plan. I can't prove that they are all Ponzi scams, but am willing to bet that at least 99% of them are. Some HYIPS have FAQs claiming that they aren't HYIPS, so let me explain some of the more obvious warning signs that something is a .
HYIP Warning Signs
1. The website will often go on and on about the company having a large team of experts in a wide variety of fields, but when you check the services offered, it's usually just a set of 2-5 “Plans” paying interest in a daily/weekly/monthly basis for anywhere from a few days to 12 months. Sometimes the interest rate is fixed, sometimes it's listed as a maximum or minimum. It's always far more interest than can be had from any legitimate investment. The alleged investment can be just about anything, but forex is very commonly listed. Some of them have names like Real Online Forex, but are just real online scams.
2. A very steep increase in daily/weekly/monthly return as the amount of investment increases. I'd expect to make a little more interest with a legitimate account manager if I place $100,000 instead of $1000, but not somewhere between 2 and 10 times as much. Many also pay investors a percentage to bring in other investors.
3. They usually only accept deposits via one or more e-currencies (Liberty Reserve, e-Gold, StrictPay, etc.), not check, credit card, wire transfer, or anything else easily traceable. Those few that do offer wire transfer almost never have the money sent to a bank in a country with strict regulations. I'm completely in favor of offering a variety of methods to fund and get paid back on investments, but when all of the funding methods are virtually untraceable, this is not a good sign.
4. Minimum investment amounts are typically very low – almost always under $100 and sometimes as little as $1. This is done to lure people in and pay them some huge percentage of profit in order to convince them to invest larger amounts and tell their friends about it. Some people have lost hundreds of thousands when a disappears.
5. There is usually little or no contact info on the website. Contact is typically only by a web form or an email address. This might be fine for a low-cost or free service, but not for some place that claims to be investing significant amounts of your money.
Try to think about this logically. Some of these HYIPS promise over 5% interest per week. Take a moment to do the math. Even uncompounded, that's over $250% per year (5%, 52 times). Compounded weekly, that would be over 1000% per year. If this was all there was to investing, why isn't anyone talking about how great it is in the financial news? These things are very easy to find on the web, so they aren't secrets. Do you really think there's a service that gives away virtually unlimited free money with little or no risk? If these really work, why didn't Bernie Madoff just place a small percentage of the money he had into them and fix the problem he has paying off his investors?
Some people play what I call games. There are rating sites that tell if HYIPs are paying out to investors or not. Some of these sites are honest, but many are owned by the companies and are completely fake. Those who play games look for sites that are fairly new and are currently paying out while trying to lure more people in. They invest modest amounts and try to recover their initial investments as quickly as possible. They leave some money in and try to get as much as they can from the before it collapses and takes all the remaining money. Sometimes they lose everything, but they can make enough on the profitable ones to have at least a chance of coming out ahead. Personally, I consider this to be unethical. Every dollar placed with a makes it possible for that scheme to continue a little longer and steal more money from more people. Those people looking for that “golden moment” to put money in, grab some cash, and get out with a significant profit are only assisting the criminals and taking money from others who still are falling for these scams.
Take action and save yourself from these scams
In conclusion, keep your eyes open, ask a LOT of questions before placing even 1 dollar with a company that you suspect might be running a . Don't let a desire for high returns cloud your judgment. Don't place any money with anything even resembling a , and be very cautious before turning your money over to a person or company that claims to be able to produce stable high returns.
I've said this before and I'll repeat it here. Do some serious research before placing money with an account manager. There are people out there who will spend more time checking out the features of a new TV or stereo system than looking into an account manager or investment funds manger before handing over their life savings. If it takes you a whole month to check out a company, the worst thing that happens is that you've lost one month of lucrative returns. If the company turns out to be a scam, you've given up nothing and saved all of your money. If you don't have the time or skill to investigate, spend some money and pay someone to do it for you. You may end up spending a couple thousand dollars, but could save your entire life savings, your home, and more.
It's your money. Invest it wisely. Learn to trade for yourself or else do the research needed to find a suitable investment plan. Most of these scams are easy to avoid if you know what to look for.
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02-11-2009, 02:25 PM #1
Ponzi Schemes and HYIPs - Free Money Traps
Last edited by Pharaoh; 06-16-2009 at 06:40 AM.
02-11-2009, 04:00 PM #2
02-11-2009, 04:36 PM #3
This is an informative article. It should be known that it requires a tremendous amount of research time to uncover the 1 or 2% out there that are legitimate. Its safe to say that you would have to spend at least 8 hours a day for months before you find just one or two that will be around for more than a few years. How do I know?... I'm a journalist and its what I do for a living (research that is). My writings are only translations and summaries of the information which is there for anyone to find. Given they have the time. Investing is as intoxicating as new love; but remember, its not easy. If it were everyone would be wealthy and in love. You never know it unless you try it. Research is invaluable. Always due your due diligence; Forex Peace Army is a great place to start. Good investing.
02-11-2009, 05:54 PM #4
HYIP And Autosurf Scams
Yet another good, fair warning to anyone who may be considering investing in anor Autosurf. I would, however, disagree with the "99%" figure: 100% of HYIPs and autosurfs are Ponzi scams! I, personally, have been researching these con games for months in parallel with the most infamous promoter of all, Money News Online. This site supposedly "reviews" HYIPs and autosurfs on a daily basis. On a DAILY BASIS?! YES! I think that his site ought to be called review of the latest "scam-du-jour"! In my opinion, the site admin. is probably the "ring leader" of a global network of Ponzi scammers who create hundreds, if not thousands, of new, prefabricated and autosurf sites every day using variations of readily available (and relatively inexpensive) and autosurf templates from outfits like Goldcoders scripts, etc. It's pretty transparent to me that he makes his money from advertising and endorsements of the HYIPs and autosurfs that he supposedly reviews thereby avoiding having to invest any real hard-EARNED money of his own, not to mention all of those lovely "referral bonuses". It just angers me that he seems to feel absolutely no remorse for promoting such obvious scams; nay, he feels that he is actually doing potential investors a SERVICE by providing "honest" impressions of newly introduced "programs" (scams). Of course he rationalizes his fraud promotions by saying that everybody KNOWS that HYIPs and autosurfs are Ponzi schemes, and that one shouldn't invest any more than one can afford to lose!
So...he speaks for EVERYBODY?! Thank God for sites like Forex Peace Army! I defy anybody who reads this post to name a SINGLE, legitimate and/or autosurf investment "program" that is NOT a Ponzi, and can provide irrefutable proof of the program's authenticity and legitimacy.
02-11-2009, 06:25 PM #5
I defy anybody who reads this post to name a SINGLE, legitimateand/or autosurf investment "program" that is NOT a Ponzi, and can provide irrefutable proof of the program's authenticity and legitimacy.
02-11-2009, 07:32 PM #6
02-11-2009, 07:42 PM #7
Excellent article! Everyone intrested in investments should read this simple and logical report.Common sense should have taken care of it ,but it just goes to show that when it comes to money, people instantly loose their intelligence too greed; i.e. traders failing to trade profitably for example.
02-12-2009, 04:07 AM #8
02-12-2009, 02:13 PM #9
02-14-2009, 12:33 AM #10
Ponzi Schemes and HYIPS
Pharaoh...I'm sincerely impressed with your eloquence, writing style, amount of your private time taken to write to this forum and your deep sense for fairness I can read in your articles. Thank you.
When I remember my first visit of site few months ago, I was astonished with the possibility that I can be ...an investor . It looked back then like a highway out from 9-5 work to complete freedom. After very short research I found "HYIP monitor sites". Most are very convincible. What a dumb ass I was. There was a smell of fraud and scam all over the place...but I was hypnotized.
Then I've discovered "payment processors". The facts they come and go, and are off shore registered didn't bother me nor the fact that 95% of their merchants are programs. The magnet force caused by possibility of earning 25-50% per month was to strong.
My first “investment” was in so called managed forex account led by the guy called Richard Falk. Of course it was scam. But I remember that I was 100% percent sure it was not, back then. After that I quickly discovered a world of “autosurfs”. My thinking was if I join the program following the link from “monitor site” that my chances for earning profit are good. Actually, I was even payed few times and reinforced in my “investor” beliefs. But…they all had gone and are replaced with new ones.
You see, when opening an account at any payment processor there is a procedure in which an account holder should send scanned ID documents prior to account opening. Therefore I thought that all of us had identified ourselves to certain payment processor management, which would eventually prevent any fraudulent activities within those accounts. Dumb and naïve ass I was.
I was told that there is no way for them (Perfect Money in my case) to reveal true identity of any account holder, no matter which proves I can give, and that only way to undertake any legal action is to write to the court in Panama, where apparently many processors are registered. Basically, the setup is made which clearly protect all interested parties in these fraudulent activities.
Places like this one, FPA site and people like you are giving hope to all naïve and dumb asses like myself, that someday all this scam will come to the end. Thank you once again.
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