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What distinguishes Ponzi and pyramid schemes?


Investors are lured into the fraudulent investment scheme known as a ponzi scheme by the assurance of extremely high profits.

Charles Ponzi, who became well-known for using this strategy in the early 20th century, is named after the Ponzi scam. It functions under the false assumption that new participants’ investments, not legal earnings, are what fund the returns provided to previous investors. These scams lack a solid foundation for economic operation, so rewards rely on a constant influx of new investors.

Ponzi schemes are notorious for being opaque, sometimes providing only hazy or incorrect information about how they operate. When the inflow of new investors declines, these scams will surely collapse since they are ultimately unprofitable, leaving many investors with substantial losses. Due to their fraudulent nature, Ponzi schemes are unlawful in the majority of nations, and authorities aggressively go after them to safeguard investors’ finances. 

Bernie Madoff invented one of the most well-known Ponzi scams in the banking industry. 2008 saw the discovery of his Ponzi scam after he admitted to running a fake investment firm for many years. Madoff fooled his investors by posing as a reputable investment company and promising them steady, sizable rewards. He exploited fresh investments as leverage to pay incentives to prior investors rather than really investing their money.

For years, Madoff falsified financial records to maintain the illusion of his scheme’s success. Hundreds of investors incurred massive losses as a result of the scheme’s eventual collapse during the global financial crisis, and one of the worst financial scams in history was revealed. Later, Madoff was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to 150 years in jail for his involvement in the Ponzi scheme.

Ponzi schemes have infiltrated the cryptocurrency realm, preying on the attraction of rapid rewards in this developing market.

PlusToken, a gigantic hoax that defrauded Asian investors of billions of dollars, and Bitconnect, a lending platform that failed in 2018, are examples of cryptocurrency Ponzi schemes. These events demonstrate the importance of exercising caution and skepticism when investing in cryptocurrencies since the promise of quick money can occasionally conceal evil intentions. Investors who want to protect themselves from these fraudulent schemes must thus learn to recognize warning flags.

These schemes typically don’t disclose their investment ideas and claim abnormally large returns, often with guarantees. They frequently rely heavily on referral networks, put pressure on investors to act rapidly, and steer clear of governmental audits or inspections.

A pyramid scheme is a dishonest investment plan that seduces people with promises of sizable profits, typically by enlisting new participants. 

An initial financial commitment is necessary for those who participate in a pyramid scheme, and their main focus is on persuading others to join the plan rather than making legitimate product or service sales. The onus on new recruits to bring on more recruits, who will bring on additional participants, results in a hierarchical pyramid structure. It appears prosperous since early participants usually get payouts from later investors for their earnings.

Pyramid systems are unsustainable and bound to fail since it becomes more difficult to attract new partners to maintain the ever-growing pyramid. When they finally fall apart, people at the top frequently profit at the expense of others further down the hierarchy who lose their investments. Pyramid schemes are illegal in many nations due to their exploitative nature and the harm they do to innocent people who become their victims.

Pyramid schemes use the multi-level marketing (MLM) business paradigm. The selling of these items and the recruitment of new members, however, both generate compensation for MLM participants. Contrarily, legitimate goods or services are usually missing from pyramid schemes, and participant recruitment is the major focus rather than providing genuine value.

A financial industry example of a pyramid scam is the Telexfree case. While Telexfree, which operated from 2012 to 2014, claimed to offer internet phone services, participant recruitment was actually the program’s primary goal. In return for running online advertisements and enlisting new members, investors were promised large earnings. Before the plan eventually collapsed, thousands of individuals were tricked.

Sadly, pyramid schemes have entered the world of cryptocurrencies, preying on the allure of quick wealth in this developing market.

Because they promise astronomically large profits and place an excessive focus on recruiting new members rather than offering genuine products or services, pyramid schemes usually trigger warning flags. Cryptocurrency pyramid scheme operators sometimes provide only vague or basic information about their methods of revenue generation or investment intentions. However, in the realm of cryptocurrencies, there are no guarantees owing to the inherent volatility of digital assets. Avoid making any investments that claim to be profitable.

In pyramid schemes, there are typically no real goods or services advertised. The majority of the scheme’s income comes from investments and recruiting rather than real business activities. Furthermore, pyramid schemes might present complicated compensation plans. One should move cautiously if one cannot comprehend how the tactic produces earnings.

OneCoin, a well-known instance of a Ponzi and pyramid scam hybrid that operated from 2014 to 2017, is one such instance. It was positioned as an innovative digital currency that made use of cutting-edge blockchain technology. It lacked actual blockchain features and was opaque. By rewarding people who invested in OneCoin packages and brought in new members with generous prizes, the scheme’s primary goal was to draw in new players.

Both schemes take advantage of investors by making enticing but false promises, and the majority of participants inevitably incur significant financial losses.  

By being aware of the differences between various fraudulent tactics, people may defend themselves. Key variations between both plans are as follows:

Participating in Ponzi schemes may result in allegations of fraud, embezzlement, and securities fraud. Depending on the severity of the offense, a jail sentence might be imposed if proven guilty.

Law enforcement may take property and vehicles that were gained through fraud, and victims may recover compensation in the form of criminal fines. To make up for their financial losses, victims may potentially get compensation from the courts.

Victims of a pyramid scheme scam have the option of bringing civil lawsuits to seek restitution and hold the scheme’s promoters responsible. Regulatory organizations regularly monitor and investigate pyramid schemes to protect consumers and promote market integrity. Still, before making any investing decisions, investors should use prudence and do their research.


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Dr. William Odion is a financial coach and consultant who specializes in Forex and Crypto trading. He is also an author, founder and CEO of Probaba EA Consults a.k.a Probabafx, and a brand influencer and real estate investor.

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