Tom Hardin notes that investor money ensnared in alleged Ponzi schemes has hit its highest level in a decade, leading to concern that a booming stock market and de-regulatory agenda are pushing more fraudsters to bilk unsuspecting investors. State and federal authorities uncovered 60 alleged Ponzi schemes last year with a total of $3.25 billion in investor funds — the largest amount of money unearthed in these scams since 2010 and more than double the amount from 2018, according to data from the website Ponzitracker. A Ponzi scheme is a type of fraud whereby crooks steal money from investors and mask the theft by funneling returns to clients from funds contributed by newer investors. Bernard Madoff ran the largest Ponzi scheme in history, a $65 billion scam encompassing thousands of investors that was uncovered in 2008. Madoff, who is serving a 150-year sentence in federal prison, recently said he was dying from terminal kidney disease and asked a judge to grant him early release. Ponzi schemes alleged by civil and criminal authorities last year pale in comparison to scams unearthed around the time of the 2008 financial crisis, such as Madoff’s and those of other notorious criminals such as Thomas Petters and Allen Stanford, who ran respective $3.7 billion and $8 billion frauds. In 2008, for example, authorities found 40 Ponzi schemes with a combined $23 billion of investor funds — roughly seven times the amount of funds from last year, according to Ponzitracker, data of which is compiled by Jordan Maglich, an attorney at Quarles & Brady. While it’s too soon to tell if last year’s total was an anomaly, some experts fear it could herald a return to more sinister times.
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