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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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Gaming

Charting Grand Theft Auto: GTA’s Budget and Revenues

Dive into the GTA budget through the years, with GTA VI set to be the most expensive video game of all time.

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A cropped chart comparing the GTA budget and revenue across three game titles.

Charting Grand Theft Auto: GTA’s Budget and Revenues

Over 10 years since the launch of Grand Theft Auto V (GTA V), the second most-sold video game in history, Rockstar Games has announced its sequel GTA VI will be “coming 2025.”

As the anticipation only grows for this next big entry in the franchise, we take a look at the GTA budget through the years. How much have the last two games cost to make, how much have they earned, and how do they compare with the latest entry?

Data for this visualization comes from Statista, TweakTown, and Twitch Metrics.

How Much Has GTA VI Cost to Make?

The GTA franchise has grown enormously in scale from humble beginnings as a top-down, 2D video game in 1997. Fifteen installments later, the upcoming release, GTA VI, is estimated to be the most expensive video game to be made yet.

Here’s a look at how much GTA VI and the last two major releases cost, and how much revenue they’ve earned as of August 2023.

YearTitleProduction Costs ($)Revenue ($)Copies Sold
2025 (est.)GTA VI$2B (rumored)N/AN/A
2013GTA V $265M$7.7B185M
2008GTA IV$100M$2B25M

In 2008, GTA IV cost around $100 million—already a budget that rivalled big Hollywood releases. However with 25 million copies sold, the game earned nearly $2 billion—a five-fold return on its production cost.

Five years later, GTA V (2013) cost more than $200 million to make—twice GTA IV’s budget. A decade after its release, GTA V has generated close to $8 billion, with hundreds of millions in annual revenue from subscriptions and in-game purchases—a model that its successor is sure to follow.

In fact, subscription fees and in-game purchases represented 78% of Take-Two Interactive’s (parent of GTA developer Rockstar Games) revenues in 2023.

Analysts estimate the to-be-released GTA VI’s costs at $2 billion, including marketing and other expenses. A massive open-world (set in the Miami-inspired “Vice City”), cutting edge graphics, and a reportedly brand-new game engine are all reasons for the game’s outsized budget.

For comparison, the current most expensive games to have been made include Red Dead Redemption 2 (also by Rockstar) and Star Citizen, both reportedly with a $500 million budget.

Meanwhile, Take-Two Interactive shares are up more than 50% for the year.

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