The Biggest Ponzi Schemes in Modern History
Some things simply sound too good to be true, but when money is involved, our judgement can become clouded.
This is often the case with Ponzi schemes, a type of financial fraud that lures investors by promising abnormally high returns. Money brought in by new members is used to pay the scheme’s founders, as well as its earlier investors.
The scheme is named after Charles Ponzi, an Italian who became infamous in the 1920s for claiming he could double his clients’ money within 90 days. Since then, numerous Ponzi schemes have been orchestrated around the globe.
To help you learn more about these sophisticated crimes, this infographic examines some of the biggest Ponzi schemes in modern history.
Ponzi Schemes in the 20th Century
The 1990s saw a number of large Ponzi schemes worth upwards of $500 million.
|Country||Date Ended||Name of Scheme and Founder||Value (USD)|
|Belgium||1991||Moneytron, Jean-Pierre Van Rossem||$860M|
|Romania||1994||Caritas, Ioan Stoica||$1B - $5B|
|Russia||1994||MMM, Sergei Mavrodi||$10B|
|U.S.||1997||Great Ministries International, Geral Payne||$500M|
In many cases, these schemes thrived by taking advantage of the unsuspecting public who often lacked any knowledge of investing. Caritas, for example, was a Ponzi scheme based in Romania that marketed itself as a “self-help game” for the poor.
The scheme was initially very successful, tricking millions of people into making deposits by offering the chance to earn an 800% return after three months. This was not sustainable, and Caritas was eventually unable to distribute further winnings.
Caritas operated for only two years, but its “success” was undeniable. In 1993, it was estimated that a third of the country’s money was circulating through the scheme.
Ponzi Schemes in the 21st Century
The American public has fallen victim to numerous multi-billion dollar Ponzi schemes since the beginning of the 21st century.
|Country||Date Ended||Name of Scheme and Founder||Value (USD)|
|U.S.||2003||Mutual Benefits Company, Joel Steinger||$1B|
|U.S.||2003||Petters Group Worldwide, Tom Petters||$4B|
|U.S.||2008||Madoff Investment Scandal, Bernie Madoff||$65B|
|U.S.||2012||Stanford Financial Group, Allen Stanford||$7B|
Many of these schemes have made major headlines, but much less is said about the thousands of everyday Americans that were left in financial ruin.
For victims of the Madoff Investment Scandal, receiving any form of compensation has been a drawn-out process. In 2018, 10 years after the scheme was uncovered, a court-appointed trustee managed to recover $13 billion by liquidating Madoff’s firm and personal assets.
As NPR reported, investors may recover up to 60 to 70 percent of their initial investment only. For victims who had to delay retirement or drastically alter their lifestyles, this compensation likely provides little solace.
Do the Crime, Pay the Time
Running a Ponzi scheme is likely to land you in jail for a long time, at least in the U.S.
In 2009, for example, 71-year-old Bernie Madoff pled guilty to 11 federal felonies and was sentenced to 150 years in prison. That’s 135 years longer than the average U.S. murder conviction.
Outside of the U.S., it’s a much different story. Weaker regulation and enforcement, particularly in developing countries, means a number of schemes are ongoing today.
Sergei Mavrodi, known for running the Russian Ponzi scheme MMM, started a new organization named MMM Global after being released from prison in 2011. Although he died in March 2018, his self-described “social financial network” has established a base in several Southeast Asian and African countries.
If you or someone you know is worried about falling victim to a Ponzi scheme, this checklist from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) may be a useful resource.
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33 Problems With Media in One Chart
In this infographic, we catalog 33 problems with the social and mass media ecosystem.
33 Problems With Media in One Chart
One of the hallmarks of democratic society is a healthy, free-flowing media ecosystem.
In times past, that media ecosystem would include various mass media outlets, from newspapers to cable TV networks. Today, the internet and social media platforms have greatly expanded the scope and reach of communication within society.
Of course, journalism plays a key role within that ecosystem. High quality journalism and the unprecedented transparency of social media keeps power structures in check—and sometimes, these forces can drive genuine societal change. Reporters bring us news from the front lines of conflict, and uncover hard truths through investigative journalism.
That said, these positive impacts are sometimes overshadowed by harmful practices and negative externalities occurring in the media ecosystem.
The graphic above is an attempt to catalog problems within the media ecosystem as a basis for discussion. Many of the problems are easy to understand once they’re identified. However, in some cases, there is an interplay between these issues that is worth digging into. Below are a few of those instances.
Editor’s note: For a full list of sources, please go to the end of this article. If we missed a problem, let us know!
Explicit Bias vs. Implicit Bias
Broadly speaking, bias in media breaks down into two types: explicit and implicit.
Publishers with explicit biases will overtly dictate the types of stories that are covered in their publications and control the framing of those stories. They usually have a political or ideological leaning, and these outlets will use narrative fallacies or false balance in an effort to push their own agenda.
Unintentional filtering or skewing of information is referred to as implicit bias, and this can manifest in a few different ways. For example, a publication may turn a blind eye to a topic or issue because it would paint an advertiser in a bad light. These are called no fly zones, and given the financial struggles of the news industry, these no fly zones are becoming increasingly treacherous territory.
Misinformation vs. Disinformation
Both of these terms imply that information being shared is not factually sound. The key difference is that misinformation is unintentional, and disinformation is deliberately created to deceive people.
Fake news stories, and concepts like deepfakes, fall into the latter category. We broke down the entire spectrum of fake news and how to spot it, in a previous infographic.
Mass media and social feeds are the ultimate Darwinistic scenario for ideas.
Through social media, stories are shared widely by many participants, and the most compelling framing usually wins out. More often than not, it’s the pithy, provocative posts that spread the furthest. This process strips context away from an idea, potentially warping its meaning.
Video clips shared on social platforms are a prime example of context stripping in action. An (often shocking) event occurs, and it generates a massive amount of discussion despite the complete lack of context.
This unintentionally encourages viewers to stereotype the persons in the video and bring our own preconceived ideas to the table to help fill in the gaps.
Members of the media are also looking for punchy story angles to capture attention and prove the point they’re making in an article. This can lead to cherrypicking facts and ideas. Cherrypicking is especially problematic because the facts are often correct, so they make sense at face value, however, they lack important context.
Simplified models of the world make for compelling narratives, like good-vs-evil, but situations are often far more complex than what meets the eye.
The News Media Squeeze
It’s no secret that journalism is facing lean times. Newsrooms are operating with much smaller teams and budgets, and one result is ‘churnalism’. This term refers to the practice of publishing articles directly from wire services and public relations releases.
Churnalism not only replaces more rigorous forms of reporting—but also acts as an avenue for advertising and propaganda that is harder to distinguish from the news.
The increased sense of urgency to drive revenue is causing other problems as well. High-quality content is increasingly being hidden behind paywalls.
The end result is a two-tiered system, with subscribers receiving thoughtful, high-quality news, and everyone else accessing shallow or sensationalized content. That everyone else isn’t just people with lower incomes, it also largely includes younger people. The average age of today’s paid news subscriber is 50 years old, raising questions about the future of the subscription business model.
For outlets that rely on advertising, desperate times have called for desperate measures. User experience has taken a backseat to ad impressions, with ad clutter (e.g. auto-play videos, pop-ups, and prompts) interrupting content at every turn. Meanwhile, in the background, third-party trackers are still watching your every digital move, despite all the privacy opt-in prompts.
How Can We Fix the Problems with Media?
With great influence comes great responsibility. There is no easy fix to the issues that plague news and social media. But the first step is identifying these issues, and talking about them.
The more media literate we collectively become, the better equipped we will be to reform these broken systems, and push for accuracy and transparency in the communication channels that bind society together.
Visualizing the Current State of the Global Gender Gap
At our current rate of change, it will take up to 136 years to close the global gender gap. Here’s a look at gender inequality across regions.
The Current State of the Global Gender Gap
As a global society, we still have a long way to go before we reach gender equality around the world.
According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) latest Global Gender Gap Report, it could take up to 135.6 years to close the global gender gap, based on the current rate of change.
This graphic by Sebastian Gräff gives a breakdown of gender equality worldwide, showing how long it will take before each region reaches gender parity.
How Gender Gap is Measured
In its 15th edition, the Global Gender Gap Report analyzes gender-based discrepancies across 156 different countries. To gauge each region’s gender gap, the report digs into four key areas:
- Economic Participation and Opportunity
- Educational Attainment
- Health and Survival
- Political Empowerment
Each subindex is given its own score, then an average across the four pillars is calculated to give each country a final score between zero (exceptionally unequal) and one (completely equal).
Out of all the regions, Western Europe has the smallest gender gap, with a score of 0.78. At this rate, the gender gap in Western Europe could be closed in approximately 52.1 years, more than 83 years faster than the global estimate.
|Rank||Region||Overall Gender Gap Index (2021)|
|3||Latin America and the Caribbean||0.71|
|4||Eastern Europe and Central Asia||0.71|
|5||East Asia and the Pacific||0.69|
|8||Middle East and North Africa||0.61|
Western Europe scores particularly high in educational attainment (1.0) and health and survival (0.97). Here’s a look at the category breakdown for each region:
|Region||Economic Participation and Opportunity||Educational Attainment||Health and Survival||Political Empowerment|
|Latin America and the Caribbean||0.64||1.00||0.98||0.27|
|Eastern Europe and Central Asia||0.74||1.00||0.98||0.14|
|East Asia and the Pacific||0.70||0.98||0.95||0.14|
|Middle East and North Africa||0.41||0.94||0.97||0.12|
But it might be surprising to see that political empowerment in Western Europe received a score of only 0.44. This is higher than the global average for political empowerment of 0.21, but still indicative of a large gender gap in this area.
Globally, political empowerment tended to receive the lowest scores in the report, as women are grossly underrepresented in politics. A study by the Council of Foreign Relations revealed that out of 195 different countries’ national cabinets, only 14 countries had at least 50% of their ministerial positions held by women.
Economic participation and opportunity is the second weakest category, with a global average score of 0.58. A good example of how this gap manifests itself is in entrepreneurship and business, where women still struggle to find investors and gain access to venture capital. Further, on average, women continue to make less money than men. According to the UN, women across the globe make approximately 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.
The Economic Benefit of Gender Equality
Research shows that empowering women in the workforce is in everyone’s best interest. Closing the gender gap in the global workforce could lead to a boost of more than $28 trillion to the global economy.
Yet across the globe, COVID-19 has created new challenges that have hindered our progress towards gender equality. This is partly because some of the sectors that have been impacted the most by COVID-19 restrictions, such as hospitality, food services, and personal care, are largely dominated by female workers.
As we continue to recover from the impact of COVID-19, world leaders will face numerous policy challenges, including how to build back better, creating more opportunities for women to thrive in the global economy.
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