December 29, 2009 by Robert Tharp at 3:14:18 pm
Thanks to the recession and heightened vigilance following Bernard Madoff's 2008 arrest, Ponzi scheme investigations really spiked in 2009, according to an excellent Associated Press analysis. In fact, the AP is declaring 2009 the year of the Ponzi scheme.
The AP reports that 2009 saw four times as many Ponzi schemes unravel than in 2008. Writes the AP: Tens of thousands of investors, some of them losing their life's savings, watched more than $16.5 billion disappear like smoke in 2009, according to an Associated Press analysis of scams in all 50 states.
In all, more than 150 Ponzi schemes collapsed in 2009, compared to about 40 in 2008, according to the AP's examination of criminal cases at all U.S. attorneys' offices and the FBI, as well as criminal and civil actions taken by state prosecutors and regulators at both the federal and state levels.
A Ponzi scheme depends on a constant infusion of new investors to pay older ones and furnish the cash for the scammers' lavish lifestyles. This year, when the pool of people willing to become new investors shrank and existing investors clamored to withdraw money, scams collapsed across the country.
They're also resulting in a spike in federal class-action filings. "Increasingly common are class actions based on what a bank should have known, even if the institution acted as a passive custodian of the funds," says Kenneth Johnston of Dallas's Kane Russell Coleman & Logan. "Banks may face costly claims for failing to identify that, for example, one of its customers was in fact a Ponzi scheme." Johnston also notes that SEC receivers and bankruptcy trustees are aggressively pursuing fraudulent transfer claims against both banks and investors who merely held or received Ponzi scheme distributions.
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