Extant knowledge of Ponzi schemes in the accounting and finance literature is mainly anecdotal. The consequence of this is that it is difficult to know what, if anything, can be done to deter these frauds. We seek to fill part of our knowledge gap about Ponzi schemes by providing large-scale evidence based on a sample of 376 Ponzi schemes prosecuted by the SEC between 1988 and 2012. Our evidence indicates that the majority of SEC-prosecuted schemes involve sums that are much lower than those in the highly visible frauds perpetrated by Bernard Madoff and Allen Stanford. The mean duration of Ponzi schemes in our sample is about four years and these schemes have a mean (median) average per-investor investment of around $431,700 ($87,800). Ponzi schemes are more likely to occur in U.S. states where the citizenry is inherently more trusting and where they have fewer alternate opportunities for local investment. The ex post success of a Ponzi scheme (as measured by duration, total amount invested, or the percentage cut to perpetrators) tends to be greater when an affinity link is present, the elderly are targeted, and whether the perpetrator provides financial incentives to third-parties to recruit victims into the scheme.
Deason, Stephen, Shivaram Rajgopal, Gregory Waymire, and Roger White. "Who Gets Swindled in Ponzi Schemes?" Columbia Business School, May 2015.
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