In Washington, investment fraud can happen in a number of ways. Two of the most prevalent scams are "Pyramid" and "Ponzi " schemes. Sometimes these types of scams are confused with legitimate multi-level marketing ventures. Here's an overview of what's considered illegal.
A pyramid scheme is formed when a promoter collects money from a certain number of people and instructs them to collect more money from others. The cycle goes on from there. As the pyramid grows, the number of people needed to sustain the pyramid becomes too large. Some people will fail to send in their money, or to recruit others, and the pyramid collapses. The majority of people end up on the “bottom” of the pyramid and inevitably lose their initial “investment.” They won’t get their money back or earn their promised fortune because no one is beneath them in the pyramid adding new money to the pot.
Does the Attorney General's Office review multi-level marketing ventures for legality?
Some illegal pyramid fraudsters may tell you that the details of the program were sent to the Attorney General's Office and that the office did not express any objection. That does not mean the program is in compliance with state law, since the office doesn't provide that kind of advice.
The Attorney General doesn't endorse or approve any marketing program. Anyone who says that their program is approved of by the Attorney general may be engaging in a deceptive act. It is a violation of state law for any pyramid operator to claim or imply the program has the approval of the Attorney General's Office.
A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment scheme that uses the money from new investors to pay off the old investors. Although Ponzi schemes are different from pyramid schemes, a pyramid is a good way to understand it. Like a pyramid, you need to get continually bigger groups of investors at the bottom in order to support the people above them. Sometimes a fraudster will get people to reinvest in the Ponzi scheme, which limits the number of new investors they need to recruit. However, if they don’t continually get new investors, they are liable to fall apart.
Here is a brief overview of how the state of Washington combats pyramid and Ponzi schemes to protect consumers. See White Collar Crimes, Financial Crimes, Securities Fraud, Wire Fraud and Property Crimes for more information.
Anti-Pyramid Promotional Scheme Act Chapter 19.275 RCW
||Pyramid nicknames: multi-level marketing ventures, games, endless chain letters, buying clubs, motivational companies, mail order operations, or investment organizations
|What is Prohibited
Pyramid Scheme: A pyramid sales plan is any scheme, whereby a person pays money or some other financial benefit for the chance or opportunity to receive compensation, regardless of whether he also receives other rights or property.
Ponzi Scheme: A swindle in which a quick return, made up of money from new investors, on an initial investment lures the victim into much bigger risks. Generally prosecuted as a federal crime, but can be prosecuted as state-crime under fraud and other state statutes.
|Type of Crime
||Felony or Misdemeanor-varies on nature of the crime
|Who Enforces/Prosecutes the Law?
||Washington State Office of the Attorney General , 1-800-551-4636
||Violators are subject to prison or county jail, probation, fines, restitution to victim, community service, injunction/restraining order, revocation of business license, freezing business assets.
There are several federal protections that may be available to you. To learn more about federal consumer protection laws, contact the following agencies:
State laws are constantly changing -- please contact a local consumer protection lawyer or a criminal defense attorney who can help you better understand the current laws.