Ponzi schemes are fraud schemes in which the person or people running them use new investor money to pay out earlier investors. They share many common characteristics. Look for these warning signs:
-They promise high investment returns with little or no risk. In fact, every investment carries some degree of risk, and investments yielding higher returns typically involve more risk. Be highly suspicious of any "guaranteed" investment opportunity.
-Overly consistent returns. Investments tend to go up and down over time, especially those seeking high returns. Be suspect of an investment that continues to generate regular, positive returns regardless of overall market conditions.
-Unregistered investments. Ponzi schemes typically involve investments that have not been registered with the SEC or with state regulators. Registration is important because it provides investors with access to key information about the company's management, products, services, and finances.
-Unlicensed sellers. Federal and state securities laws require investment professionals and their firms to be licensed or registered. Most Ponzi schemes involve unlicensed individuals or unregistered firms.
-Secretive and/or complex strategies. Avoiding investments you don't understand or for which you can't get complete information is a good rule of thumb.
-Issues with paperwork. Ignore excuses regarding why you can't review information about an investment in writing, and always read an investment's prospectus or disclosure statement carefully before you invest. Also, account statement errors may be a sign that funds are not being invested as promised.
-Difficulty receiving payments. Be suspicious if you don't receive a payment or have difficulty cashing out your investment. Keep in mind that Ponzi scheme promoters sometimes encourage participants to "roll over" promised payments by offering even higher investment returns.