Feature

A scam turns into a shoot-out

And more of the week's best financial insight

Here are three of the week's top pieces of financial insight, gathered from around the web:

A scam turns into a shoot-out

The FBI is investigating an alleged Ponzi scheme that became violent when one of the salesmen turned his gun on federal agents, said Ben Foldy in The Wall Street Journal. After being shot twice by the SWAT team called to his Las Vegas home, Matthew Beasley confessed that the "high-return, zero-risk investment plan" he helped pitch to investors was a fraud. "Investors, the majority of them Mormons," were solicited to help finance a company that made "short-term loans to people awaiting payouts from settled personal-injury lawsuits." They claimed payouts were 12.5 percent a year and not a single loan of the "over 16,000 in six-plus years" had gone bad. Nate Anderson, founder of the Hindenburg Research firm that uncovered the fraud through a citizen sting operation, called it "the most obvious Ponzi scheme we've ever seen."

Getting money from your home

With property values at historic highs, it's not a bad time to consider ways to tap your home equity, said Alexis Leondis in Bloomberg — if you do it safely. "If you're looking to do home renovations" that could upgrade the value of your home, opening a home equity line of credit "can be prudent." It may "feel scary to borrow against equity that magically appeared in the past year," but banks are providing more guardrails than in the past. Most home equity credit lines come with adjustable interest rates "that float with the market" and could rise quickly. However, "some banks offer the option of taking out a fixed amount at a set interest rate within the line of credit."

New record for Wall Street pay

The average bonus paid last year to those working in the New York City securities industry hit a record $257,500, said Alex Mitchell in the New York Post. That's a 1,743 percent increase from the $13,970 paid in 1985 and comes on top of an average base salary of $254,000. The total bonus pool also hit a record high, at $45 billion. Banks have justified their ballooning payouts by citing the "competition for talent." Major banks, including Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan, reported sharply higher expenses this year "in part because of the fat pay packages they're doling out in a tight labor market." Critics point out how far Wall Street compensation has outpaced pay for ordinary workers. "If the minimum wage grew at the same rate as Wall Street bonuses have over the past 37 years, it would be $61.75 today."

This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.

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