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Friday, 3 July 2009

Run your own Ponzi scheme

If you don't have the Wall Street contacts of a Bernie Madoff, or Caribbean political contacts of Charles Standford, but fancy your chances in a Make Money Fast scheme, then you could learn a lot from Michael Brown, the so-called bond investor who gave millions to the Liberal Democrats.

How Brown managed to con several millionaires into giving him millions of dollars is set out in the court judgement of the case between several of the losing investors and HSBC. You can read the judgement here.

The gist of his trick was to convince the investors that they and not Brown controlled the accounts into which they deposited money, although the bank with which the deposits were placed knew the accounts were controlled by Brown. Critical to the scheme were "Letters of Instruction" which were basically gobbledegook that the depositors were told were instructions to pay funds from the accounts only to them. On the other hand the bank was told the Letters were simply a proof of the source of the money w#ich they were to keep on file (for their auditors/regulators etc), and that they were to acknowledge receipt of the letters by stamping them with an acknowledgement, which the Bank did, thus making it look to the investor that the bank was acknowledging the protection of their rights to the cash, which of course they weren't.

Very crafty, but also quite dumb because the whole scheme just doesn't look right and the dcuments use a financial lexicon unheard of in true financial circles, but with some currency in "high yield investment" schemes. The trouble was for the investors that the HSBC staff were equally financially illiterate and took the documents at face value without cnsidering wheter there was a dodgy scheme.

But a word of warning. If you did try it, I seriously doubt that you would be any more successful than Messrs Ponzi, Madoff, Sandford and Brown.

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