A high-yield investment program (HYIP) is a type of Ponzi scheme, an investment scam that promises unsustainably high return on investment by paying previous investors with the money invested by new investors.
Operators generally set up a website offering an "investment program" which promises very high returns, such as 1% per day (3778% APY when returns are compounded every day), disclosing little or no detail about the underlying management, location, or other aspects of how money is to be invested. Though Ponzi schemes have existed since at least the early 1900s, the rise of digital payment systems has made it much easier for operators of such websites to accept payments from people worldwide. Electronic money systems are generally accepted by HYIP operators because they are more accessible to operators than traditional merchant accounts.
A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation where the operator, an individual or organization, pays returns to its investors from new capital paid to the operators by new investors, rather than from profit earned through legitimate sources. Operators of Ponzi schemes usually entice new investors by offering higher returns than other investments, in the form of short-term returns that are either abnormally high or unusually consistent.
Ponzi schemes occasionally begin as legitimate businesses, until the business fails to achieve the returns expected. The business becomes a Ponzi scheme if it then continues under fraudulent terms. Whatever the initial situation, the perpetuation of the high returns requires an ever-increasing flow of money from new investors to sustain the scheme.