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The use of anti-money laundering tools to regulate Ponzi and other fraudulent investment schemes

Norman Mugarura (Department of Research, Global Action Research and Development Initiative Limited, London, UK)

Journal of Money Laundering Control

ISSN: 1368-5201

Article publication date: 3 July 2017




The purpose of this paper is to explore dynamic issues relating to Ponzi and other fraudulent investment schemes to demonstrate how scammers convince victims of investment opportunities that turn out to be nothing but fraudulent. Specifically, it explores the nature of Ponzi, Pyramid, Advance fees scams and the mechanisms used to defraud unsuspecting victims of their money. The risks associated with Ponzi schemes can be gleaned in the fraud case of Bernie Madoff (1998) who had been running a Ponzi scheme in the USA for 20 years and reaping investors of their returns without ever discovering it until the business collapsed. The other notorious investment scams include “the Nigerian letter frauds” which combine the threat of impersonation fraud with a variation of an advance fee scheme in which a letter is mailed to offer recipients the “opportunity” to share in a percentage of millions of dollars that the author – a self-proclaimed government official – is trying to transfer out of his country. This article assesses the possibility of using anti-money laundering regulatory tools such as a “risk based approach” and “Know Your Customer” to protect victims of fraudulent investment schemes.


The paper was written by analysis of primary and secondary data and by utilising newspaper reports on different types of fraudulent investment schemes and the context in which they normally happen in practice. It has also utilized case studies and relevant examples to demonstrate different typologies of fraudulent schemes and the possibility of using anti-money laundering regulatory tools to regulate them.


The findings suggest that many people who fall victims of fraudulent investment schemes such as Ponzi and advance fee fraud are not gullible but lack knowledge of their sophistication and how they operate to defraud unsuspecting victims of their savings.

Research limitations/implications

The paper was largely a library-based research, and there were no interviews carried out to corroborate some of the data used in writing it. This minimises inherent bias in the use of secondary data sources to undertake a study.

Practical implications

The practical implication of the paper is to highlight the inherent risks in Ponzi and other fictitious investment schemes that are often cleverly conjured to exploit ignorance of the public and defraud them of their savings. It demonstrates that while financial institutions can use their regulatory tools such as KYC to safeguard financial markets from criminal exploitation, people should be vigilant to avoid falling victims of criminal exploitation and lose their savings.

Social implications

With globalisation, the market is awash with different types of investment opportunities, but people need to keep in mind that it has also created opportunities for criminal exploitation. Some opportunities that are being offered such as advance fee and other schemes are cleverly devised to exploit ignorance of the public. Therefore, this paper highlights the pitfalls which potential investors need to bear in mind when deciding on where to invest and how to invest their money.


Research on Ponzi schemes, advance fee fraud and misuse of letters of credit do not seem to have received proportionate scholarly attention as other forms of financial crimes. This paper, therefore, addresses a need in the market on many issues it relates.



Mugarura, N. (2017), "The use of anti-money laundering tools to regulate Ponzi and other fraudulent investment schemes", Journal of Money Laundering Control, Vol. 20 No. 3, pp. 231-246.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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