Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Madoff Ponzi Scheme – How Can This Happen?

At one time, I thought nothing could be worse for the state of our financial markets than the recent dive in the stock market, the problems with our financial institutions, and the greed of people who invested in real estate that they couldn’t afford.

But, I was wrong. Now we have the shame of a swindler by the name of Bernard Madoff, who masterminded probably the biggest Ponzi scheme ever, putting even Mr. Ponzi himself to shame.

If you don’t know what a Ponzi scheme is, it is a pyramid scheme where people who get in on the deal early on reap the benefits of the system, which are usually funded by the hapless fools who enter the program farther down in the process, instead of an investment which is paid as a result of true profit from a business venture or investment. The scheme was named after the man who took this type scheme to new heights in the early 1900s. And 100 years later, we have another man, Bernard Madoff, who found a way to make the fraud even more spectacular, hoodwinking tons of smart and not so smart people in order to bilk $50+ BILLION (yes, billion) from them. Sadly, many charitable organizations have been hurt in the process. Keep in mind that Madoff had also recently served as the chairman of the NASDAQ stock exchange, so I suppose some thought that this meant he actually had scruples, morals, and was honest.

What I don’t get is how, in this day in age with all kinds of supposed financial controls, that no one caught this sooner. Publicly head companies have to be audited regularly to make sure that everything is kept on the up and up, and that there is no fraud. I am not sure if Madoff’s company was considered public or private, but regardless, isn’t anyone watching these kinds of businesses or investments? Is our financial world so filled with MBAs that are so out of touch with the real world that they can’t spot fraud and deception? I just don’t get how Madoff “made off” with so much money with no one even blinking and eye. Had the stock market not taken a massive nosedive, precipitating some of those investors asking for their money, the scheme may have gone on a lot longer.

I can understand why some people think it’s safer right now to just keep their saved money in their mattress. Is there no one in control of making sure that our money is safe? Also, while I feel very sorry for the charitable organizations that will lose out because of this deception, I feel no sympathy for those people who in some cases invested all they had with Madoff, and now are whining they are left with nothing. That’s what greed can do. I can’t recall what specific news broadcast where I saw this particular story – it may have been NBC Nightly News – where an older couple was sitting in the beautiful home with nice furniture and with their manicured landscaping, whining that they now have nothing. Sorry, but to me they look like they were able to afford living a nice life without that money, so maybe they will just have to change their lifestyle, like the rest of the people who have lost their jobs, or their investments, because of the recent downturn in the economy. If a person makes an investment hoping to get a big return, there is usually a big risk that comes along with it. That’s the price one has to pay.

Still, Madoff should be forced to pay restitution – with whatever they can liquidate out of him – and pay the charities first. Then, they should lock him in jail and throw away the key, and maybe force him to watch CSI Miami reruns for the rest of his life. Yeah, I know it’s harsh, but he deserves it.

We do need better financial oversight in this country, though. Is there no one out there with the integrity and the brains that we can trust to take on this task? I can only hope that there is, because we could sure use him or her right now.

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