Eve Online Investments: A Ponzi Scheme in the making?

Moomin Amatin 2019-03-02

Header art by Empanada.

Promises of no/low risk wealth generation within New Eden have a long and very often sordid history. To find such scams only requires that you sit in Jita for a few minutes. The form that such scams take shape is quite varied. These can range from contract scams to more complex “investment opportunities” and of course we should never forget the ISK doubling schemes. Irrespective of how such scams are sold they all have similar characteristics. You get free ISK for little or no effort. The only catch is that you need to hand over assets merely on the basis of trust. Despite this the appeal is undoubtedly attractive to some.

To be fair to call such schemes scams can seem a little harsh. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that such ventures start with the best of intentions. Figures would have have been calculated in good faith and management selected with good standing in mind. But as we know all too well the starting point of such an organisation can easily go off the rails. This is ever more likely as the time the organisation exists for increases. Even with the most rigorous accountability it will only take one bad actor to throw the whole system into a nose-dive where the slower to react will invariably lose out.

Speaking of accountability. Having spent a fair amount of time observing such organisations, accountability is normally absent. There is no ability or even will to allow for the accounts to be inspected. No quarterly reports. Transactions are just thrown into a pot and goodwill is supposed to safeguard investors. Ultimately you have to simply trust those running such organisations. The very first rule I was informed of in Eve Online was to “trust no one”.

Financial regulation within New Eden does not exist. Anyone can start a financial scheme and require no oversight, no insurance and most importantly no real consequences should things go awry. In such a landscape that is unfettered by any of the aforementioned points there is an ever present risk that a bad actor will abscond with investors property.

With this in mind, the very human elements of greed and deceit are ever present.

IChooseYou

Being a keen watcher of Dotlan I noticed that the trading alliance IChooseYou (ICY) had a new corporation join, “Tradors’R’us” (TRARU). Now this was interesting as it pulled in over 350 members into a trading alliance. What could possibly be happening for such a thing to happen?

IChooseYou have a storied history in their own right. This is somewhat unusual for a trading cabal to have. When Pandemic Horde (PH) turned their gaze to hisec trading ICY were quick to sense that collaboration was prudent. With ICY being early in forming a relationship with PH they had a significant advantage in stability over their competition. Any hisec trading entity not paying tribute to PH would soon find themselves in trouble. All the time ICY could cultivate their relationship with PH and it would not be unreasonable to suggest that ICY could influence PH in ensuring that their competition was suppressed. It has been hinted at that the profits garnered by ICY made the payments to PH somewhat trivial. Not a bad relationship on the whole. ICY provided the market expertise and PH provided the muscle.

Additionally there have been a number of complaints about the tax rates for the ICY hisec citadels being somewhat more volatile than advertised. The alleged trick is to simply let locals gain confidence in the set tax rate and to then bump up the tax rate when the citadel was well stocked with orders.

Not so long ago Test Alliance Please Ignore (TAPI) threw a spanner into the works by setting up their own hisec trade hub. TAPI have further looked to disrupt the marketplace by setting taxes for transactions to 0.1 percent.

Crunching the Numbers

Investors in ICY can see a 2% return per month with a minimum investment of 1 billion ISK. This would equate to 20 million being paid each month for each billion invested. To get into a position where the initial investment would be offset by any risk would of course take 50 months. Comparing this to a different form of wealth creation we can simply look at ratting. For an initial investment of 100 million you would easily be looking at a return of 40 million per hour even if you were doing it all quite badly. Even though I say an hour the amount of attention required is significantly less, perhaps 10 minutes per hour at most. So after 2.5 hours you would make the money back for your VNI, still own the ship, not have to rely on trust and profit for every hour after that.

Generally the market traders that I have spoken to in the past would say that 2% is a very low margin. When trading a return of 10% would not be an unreasonable expectation on all trades. If the same level of return is applicable in this instance then 8% can be considered the margin for ICY.

It would also be easily to flip this around and to say that each investor is actually providing an unsecured loan to ICY for a 2% return per month. These seem very favourable terms for ICY.

If this were a Ponzi scheme the managers of the fund could simply pay you back your own investment for 50 months and then abscond. As long as there was not a rush on the bank any deceit would remain hidden for some considerable time.

Selling the Dream

Language is quite telling when “selling” a service. The use of words such as “Fully Guaranteed” or others to exude confidence is quite frequent. This is more the case when there is realistically no possibility of being able to provide a true guarantee.

Reams of text will be provided and grand claims of reliability. “How I made my first Trillion” would be a headline that would catch the attention of those looking to increase their wealth with no or little effort. But those trickier questions that are asked will often go unanswered.

Posts and upvotes are likely to appear in numbers. But given the fact that an organisation is willing to buy and manage hundreds of characters can such positive reviews be taken with any real seriousness?

Closing Thoughts

Possibly one of the most interesting things about this recent development with ICY is the motivation behind it. We know from relatively recent events that ICY’s business took a hit with the deployment of the Test trading keepstar in the system of Perimeter. The income generated by the Perimeter trading hub is considered to be quite substantial if the comments from TAPI leadership is to be believed. TAPI leadership put the value income per month to be in excess of 400 billion per month. A sum not to be sneezed at.

Of course ICY is not the only organisation to practice such business tactics. Other such schemes also exist within New Eden. But with ICY being one of the louder organisations of this type it seemed a good time to cover this specialised game-play style.

Oh and one final thought on all of this; “A fool and their money are easily parted”.

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Comments

  • Rammel Kas

    A Moomin piece! :yum:

    March 2, 2019 at 5:52 PM
  • Axhind

    As Ayrth always says, those who need your isk don’t deserve it and those that do deserve it don’t need it.

    It is a scam, it is always a scam.

    March 4, 2019 at 8:12 AM
  • Super Duper

    Reminds me of the Eve Intergalactic Bank 🙂

    March 6, 2019 at 6:58 AM
  • Too old for nonsense

    All fair comments.

    You fail to consider that some people might be attracted (for various reasons) to passively-generated income.

    March 14, 2019 at 11:53 AM