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|Ponzi Schemes: A General Anatomy
The terms ‘Ponzi Scheme’ and ‘Fraud’ have
been widely used interchangeably in the
news as of late. Although all Ponzi
Schemes are frauds, not all frauds are
Ponzi Schemes. They are actually not
synonymous terms. A Ponzi Scheme is a
very specific type of fraud.
There are various different types of retail
frauds. In general, a fraud is a fake event
designed to draw attention away from the
operator’s true intentions. Every single
episode of the cartoon program Scooby Doo is
a short play about fraud. The operator is
disguised as a ghost in order to scare people
away from a hotel he is trying to buy. Recently
a Fort Collins area couple released a weather
balloon and called the police, claiming that one
of their children was trapped inside it. Here the
operator’s action, releasing a weather balloon
and calling the police, was in service of an
objective, helping the operator land a reality
television show. Most frauds are going to follow
the patterns of the two outlined above. All that
differs is whether the operator’s overt action is
distracting or supportive of his overall objective.
Ponzi Schemes are frauds which disguise
themselves as investment plans. They are also
called Bubble Games, after the Tulip Bubble,
an ill fated investment scheme of the 1630s.
Although the Tulip Bubble wasn’t a fraud in
strict terms, it is illustrative of a market that is
being driven by pure speculation as opposed
to the sales of a given item or commodity to
some party that has a need for it. The collapse
of the Tulip Bubble is similar to today’s
problems in housing and commercial real
estate. Bubbles involve the run up in price of a
given item, fueled mostly by sales between
parties who are hoping to sell at a profit, as
opposed to end users. In general, bubbles
usually only involve items no one actually
needs, such as old beer cans and Beanie
Babies and tulips. On rare occasions they can
affect the values of goods with actual end user
consumer demand, such as real estate, but
other factors are usually in play. In the case of
real estate, the speculation was being powered
by the flush availability of dodgy financing.
There are two types of Ponzi Schemes:
the Pure Bubble Game and Faked
Solvency. In the Pure Bubble Game, the
operator is out to convince his targets that the
item he is selling is in a particularly hot market.
The idea is for the investor to get into the
market while it is still in the phase of being
fueled by speculation. With Faked Solvency,
the operator is simply convincing people that
his operation is profitable to some degree.
Faked Solvency operations either have no
income or are claiming to have returns from a
source which does not exist.
Like many public trusts we traded at about
seventeen times earnings. When it came to
dividends, you would probably be better off
with a CD. Those really interested in a
fashionable ROI needed to wait for our
share price to appreciate. Given that we are
in flooring, which is tied to housing, which is
in the crapper, you might be growing some
cobwebs during the aforementioned wait.
Imagine our surprise when an offer for our
firm came in unexpected over the transom.
|Hillman Publications was a curious
publisher. Having started in
digests, it produced pulps, general
interest magazines, comic books
and paperbacks. Although often
discounted as an also ran, the firm
was more innovative and diverse
than is generally known, At its core
was an operator who was much
bigger than his enterprise and
whose legacy of good works
continues to this day.
Empire of a Public Citizen:
A History of Alex Hillman’s