Named for the Italian con artist Carlo (or Charles) Ponzi, who in the 1920s relieved investors of about $420,000 (equivalent to about $4.5 million if he’d done something similar in the 21st century). The main characteristics of what’s now called a Ponzi Scheme is that it pays “profits” to investors from their own money, or from the money provided by subsequent investors. They rarely make any legitimate profits. They’re often based on vague promises and unrealistic projections, as indeed are many of the originally legal schemes like hedge funds; hedge funds can also very easily degenerate into illegal Ponzi schemes when they go wrong, and this has happened with particular frequency since the turn of the last century. Ponzi Schemes inevitably collapse either on purpose– because the fraudster makes off with all the money, as they always intended to– or when investment stalls.

Of course Ponzi was neither the first…

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