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Year made public: 1920
Estimated Losses: About $20 million
In 1920, Charles Ponzi duped thousands of investors, promising massive returns on international reply coupons, which could be purchased in one country and redeemed for postage stamps in another. The profit was to be made on the difference in prices between countries. Ponzi became a millionaire in a few months, but the scam's scope brought him down. Curious parties began examining the accounts because there weren't sufficient international reply coupons for his investment plan to function. In fact, Ponzi was repaying investors with newer investors' money, pocketing much of it himself. He took in $20 million in a few months, equal to $222 million in current dollar values, and six banks crumbled.