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Ponzi schemes

An investment scam that recruits through friends and family

Page reading time: 2 minutes

Ponzi schemes are investment scams that pay existing investors with funds collected from new investors. There is no real investment.

Ponzi scheme promoters use money deposited by early investors to pay the first 'dividend'. Investors feel comfortable and decide to invest more, and often encourage their family and friends to join.

Eventually all Ponzi schemes fall apart. They collapse when the promoter spends the money too quickly or the pool of investors dries up.

Warning signs of a Ponzi scheme

Podcast: The power of a Ponzi scheme

Hear how Ponzi schemes work and how to avoid getting caught up in a scheme.

How Ponzi schemes work

Ponzi scheme promoters convince people to invest money by promising high returns.

The promoter uses the money invested to pay a return. The investor thinks they're getting the promised return and don't suspect anything's wrong.

Investors often encourage their friends and work colleagues to invest too. Ponzi scheme promoters can target community groups, like churches, to find victims. Ponzi schemes can have hundreds of victims.

What to do if you have invested in a Ponzi scheme

  1. Don't invest any more money.
  2. Check if they are on the investor alert list.
  3. Check the company's licence number on ASIC Connect's Professional Registers.
  4. Report the investment scam.
  5. Warn your family and friends to stop them from becoming victims.
  6. Watch out for follow up scams or offers to 'help' you get your money back.

If you think you’ve been targeted by scammers, act quickly.

For steps to take, see what to do if you've been scammed.

Couple sitting in front of a laptop, drinking coffee.

Tiana and Simon fall for a Ponzi scheme

In January, a Ponzi scheme promoter convinces Tiana to invest $100,000. The promoter promises a 10% return each month. He pays Tiana $10,000 each month using Tiana's own money.

Tiana receives $10,000 each month as promised. She doesn't suspect anything is wrong. Tiana encourages friends and colleagues to invest too. After three months, Tiana's friend Simon invests $100,000 after hearing about Tiana's great returns.

The returns continue to come in until April. In May, Tiana and Simon hear nothing from the promoter. They try to contact him but his number has been disconnected.

The promoter has taken off with the money. Tiana loses $70,000 and Simon loses $90,000. The promoter gets $160,000 out of the scheme.