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Visualized: The Biggest Ponzi Schemes in Modern History

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Biggest Ponzi Schemes

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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.

CountryDate EndedName of Scheme and FounderValue (USD)
Belgium1991Moneytron, Jean-Pierre Van Rossem$860M
Romania1994Caritas, Ioan Stoica$1B - $5B
Russia1994MMM, Sergei Mavrodi$10B
U.S.1997Great 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.

CountryDate EndedName of Scheme and FounderValue (USD)
U.S.2003Mutual Benefits Company, Joel Steinger$1B
U.S.2003Petters Group Worldwide, Tom Petters$4B
U.S.2008Madoff Investment Scandal, Bernie Madoff$65B
U.S.2012Stanford 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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Mapped: Chinese Provinces With Cities Over 1 Million People

Some Chinese provinces are so populous they rival entire countries. But how many of them have cities over a million people?

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A cropped map of all the Chinese provinces with cities over 1 million people.

Mapped: Chinese Provinces With Cities Over 1 Million People

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Almost two-thirds of the 1.4 billion Chinese population lives in an urban area. But how does this play out across the country’s geography?

This map shows the Chinese provinces with cities over a million residents. Data for this graphic is sourced from citypopulation.de.

Ranked: Chinese Provinces With Cities Over 1 Million People

China’s Guangdong province has 17 cities with a population size of 1 million or more. It is also China’s most populous province, home to 127 million people. This makes it comparable to the size of Japan, the 12th most populous country in the world.

RankProvinceCities With 1 Million People
1Guangdong17
2Jiangsu12
3Shandong9
4Hebei6
5Zhejiang6
6Liaoning5
7Guangxi*4
8Henan4
9Anhui3
10Fujian3
11Heilongjiang3
12Hubei3
13Hunan3
14Inner Mongolia*3
15Jiangxi3
16Jilin2
17Gansu2
18Shaanxi2
19Shanxi2
20Sichuan2
21Xinjiang*2
22Beijing**1
23Chongqing**1
24Guizhou1
25Hainan1
26Ningxia*1
27Qinghai1
28Shanghai**1
29Tianjin**1
30Yunnan1
31Hong Kong***1
32Macao***1

*Autonomous Region. **Direct-Administered Municipality. ***Special Administrative Region.

Jiangsu, ranked fourth in population overall, is the only other province which has 10+ cities with a million or more inhabitants.

Meanwhile, some of China’s most populous cities—Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, and Chongqing—are administered directly by the central government, and do not fall under provincial control.

In fact, Shanghai and Beijing have informal “population caps” to prevent them from growing larger, in a bid to reduce pollution, overcrowding, and pressure on public services.

On the other hand, Tibet’s cold climes and rugged terrain make for a sparsely-populated area, totalling 3 million people across 1.2 million km². Tibet is the only province-level division in China without a single city over a million residents.

All together, China has 105 cities with more than one million inhabitants. For comparison, India has 65, and the U.S. has nine.

Learn More About Population Metrics from Visual Capitalist

If you enjoyed this post, check out Interactive Map: The World as 1,000 People. This visualization shows how unevenly people are distributed across the globe, re-imagining the entire 8 billion human population as only 1,000 people.

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