Full Tilt Poker a Ponzi scheme? Like Groupon?

The U.S. Justice Department accusing Full Tilt Poker of being a "global Ponzi scheme" is the latest example of large online concerns being accused of being mega-Madoffs. Does the Web make Ponzis easier to manage?

I've been living in slight confusion lately, which has made it very hard to keep up with the hurtling sands of time.

So when I read moments ago that the U.S. Department of Justice had impounded the Full Tilt Poker Web site and accused the organization of being a "global Ponzi scheme," I thought that my mind had perhaps missed a day--or even a month.

I was sure that I'd been told very recently that it was social security that was a Ponzi scheme. How could social security have anything in common with poker played online against professionals of the, um, sport?

Was it merely that some people put money in and other people took money out? This could conceivably describe a large swath of Wall Street--which, come to think of it, does have some striking similarities to Full Tilt Poker. The full-tilt part, for example. Then there's the poker part, too.

Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

As my memory began to judder into a base life-form, I suddenly recalled that someone mentioned that Groupon is allegedly a Ponzi scheme too.

I majored in sports at school, so I might leave the absolute definitions of Ponzidom to those who ponzificate.

However, the keenness with which some online company bosses remove much of their cash before a possible crash suggests that they might be fully aware of the precarious nature of seemingly easy online business.

This Full Tilt virtual kerfuffle made me wonder about the way we look at virtual money. Sometimes it's easier to believe that money we commit to the Web isn't quite real money. In some sense, we know that it is. But in another, too many people are becoming used to virtual currency in online games.

As the real becomes virtual and the virtual becomes real, our antennas seem to undergo interference that makes our perceptions lose total clarity.

Too often, we've become relaxed about trusting Web sites with real money, when we don't necessarily have huge reason to believe that the people behind it can be virtually trusted.

When a transaction is easy and automatic--feeding into our essential laziness--we don't so much switch off as never switch on.

When our joy at the instant transaction releases itself at full tilt, someone, somewhere might have Madoff with the money.

 

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