The get-rich-quick scheme: the easy way to make money from home—that never works. Almost never. Here are five stories of get-rich-quick schemes that actually paid off.
Catch Me If You Can
Perhaps the most famous successful get-rich-quick scheme, thanks to Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, is Frank Abagnale, Jr.'s check forging adventure. The movie follows DiCaprio as Abagnale, Jr. impersonating a pilot, substitute teacher and other roles. The real Abagnale, Jr. also created fake identities as a physician and an attorney, claiming he legitimately passed the Louisiana bar exam.
Abagnale's real profits came from check forgery. He estimated that he cashed $2.5 million worth of forged checks during five years in the 1960s. He made some of it by printing his bank account number on deposit slips so that other people accidentally made deposits into his account. Most of his success came from his skill at printing near-perfect fakes of payroll and other checks and persuading banks to give him the cash in advance.
Of course, Abagnale didn't make it out unscathed. He spent time in prisons in several countries, including a twelve-year sentence in U.S. federal prison. But $2.5 million (almost $20 million in 2016 dollars) is still a heavy stack of money to weigh against the less than five years he actually served of his federal sentence. And his forging experience has landed him lucrative speaking gigs and fraud-prevention jobs. So, yeah, successful. (Please don't do this. There are other ways to get rich without being a criminal.)
Online retail startup Jet.com held a contest. Not a "win $100 in gift cards for signing up ten friends" contest, but a "win 100,000 shares of the company for signing up the most people" contest. That's quite a prize, even for a company whose shares haven't gone public yet. And, like so many other online money-making "games"—poker, fantasy football, you know the rest—the real winners are the professionals, the people who make it a full-time job.
That's what Eric Martin did. Martin, from York, PA, had the idea to basically crowd-fund his own win: he tried recruiting sign-ups from Facebook and other social media outlets, but with little success. He eventually tried websites that offer prizes for users who sign up for things. After investing about $18,000 in advertising on those websites, he had 8,000 sign-ups in 3 weeks.
And he won. Awaiting a Jet.com IPO, Martin can only estimate the value of his 100,000 shares. One estimate values his ownership at $10 to 20 million. That's over 100,000% return. And that's quite a win.
Another ingenious exploit of a company contest. Healthy Choice pudding offered a mail-in rebate in 1999, giving away 500 frequent flyer miles for every 10 bar codes that a person mailed in. David Phillips was one of those people.
He did some calculations and found that, by buying the 25¢ individual cups and sending them in during the double-points month, he could earn 1,000 miles for every $2.50 worth of pudding. He eventually spent about $3,000 on pudding and earned 1.25 million miles. The kicker: those miles were worth $150,000, a 5,000% return.
The Brooklyn Bridge
Gregor MacGregor pulled off one of the biggest and most destructive get-rich-quick cons in history. In 1822, he returned to England after fighting in South America and announced that he was the prince of the land of Poyais off the coast of Honduras. He wrote a constitution, drafted banking systems, even created a guidebook, all to attract investors and colonists to the fertile country.
MacGregor raised £200,000 ($250,000) in direct investments and the market value of the bonds he sold rose to £3.6 billion, or $4.5 billion, in today's currency. Not only that, he also convinced seven ships of settlers to prepare to sail to Poyais. The first two left harbor in 1823 and journeyed across the Atlantic to what they found to be a completely deserted jungle. Only a third of the original colonists survived.
MacGregor fled to France and what did he do there? He started his scheme again and gathered a new fleet of French colonists to make the same journey. But the French government investigated and sent MacGregor to prison. His success, though, is infamous and the land he called Poyais remains a wilderness.
The Wolf of Wall Street
Yep, another successful get-rich-quick scheme adapted into a film with Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role. DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, the stock broker who started selling penny stocks and eventually made millions of dollars inflating penny stock prices and selling them through his firm, Stratton Oakmont.
At its peak, the brokerage firm employed over a thousand brokers and issued stocks worth around $1 billion. As anyone who's seen the movie knows, Belfort found himself, like several others on this list, in prison. He only served 22 months in prison but faces a $100 million fine. That's okay, though. In 2014 he was making $30,000 per speaking engagement and he claimed that, with the royalties from the Scorsese film, he'd make upwards of $100 million in that year, alone.
It Can Happen
There you have it: once in a blue moon, a get-rich-quick scheme might pay off—and it might pay off in a huge way. You might be looking at a couple years of prison time, but the book deals and lecture tours will give you a salary once you're out. Oh, and call up Leo: he's in the middle of his post-Oscar celebration and he's done with gritty, hairy characters. He's looking for the next witty millionaire to play on screen, so take advantage of those Hollywood royalties to supplement your income.
Want a jail-free scheme that the Internet makes potentially easy? Go to your favorite crowd-funding site and ask 1,000,000 people for $1 each. Just don't forget to say thank you.
Let’s face it: this sucks.
After a massive vaccine campaign, a pretty successful hot-vax summer, and a pre-holiday season which made us believe things would finally-finally be getting back to normal, we were introduced to the Omicron variant.
As booster shots slowly rolled out, none of us were prepared for how hard and how fast this surge would hit. Unlike other variants, Omicron is more resistant to the vaccine and is infecting even those with booster shots and antibodies.
And it’s really effing scary.
Places like New York are teetering on the edge of another lockdown as restaurants close, offices shut down, and events get canceled. In short: it feels like March 2020 again.
In the words of the perpetually relatable Olivia Rodrigo: “do you get deja vu?” Yes, Olivia, we do.
There are some differences to this surge. Luckily most people — especially the vaccinated among us — are experiencing mild symptoms. While numbers are up, hospitals are not as overwhelmed as they were when the virus first slammed us.
However, this time, many of us are experiencing pandemic burn out — mentally and financially.
When the pandemic first began, no one could have imagined how long it would last. Many people who were furloughed or working from home saw it as taking a few weeks off to relax and unwind. Obviously, this was not the case. Rates of unemployment skyrocketed and some were forced to move out of their homes to save money or take other dramatic, unexpected measures.
What did this look like? Burning through savings accounts, plunging into credit card debt, and adopting the precarious paycheck-to-paycheck cycle. According to CNBC “42% of U.S. adults with credit card debt have increased those balances since the Covid-19 pandemic began in March 2020.”
And while employment rates are up in 2021 and the Great Resignation has seen people seeking and finding better opportunities, the Omicron surge proves it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
In a recent money confessional on Slate’s “Pay Dirt” column, one reader expressed their frustration at the financial setbacks they experienced during the pandemic. While they were not totaled by the changes, they had to drastically adjust their life plans.
The columnist responded: “A lot of people had their dreams shattered in 2020 … Just because your situation isn’t the same as your more-hard-hit co-workers’ doesn’t mean that you aren’t grieving the loss of your income,” giving us all permission to feel the negative feelings. They continued: “Toxic positivity is very real in the United States and inspires a lot of people to say that no matter what their life is like, they should be happy … But you can be happy and grateful, yet still, acknowledge the suck in a situation.”
This perspective reflects a necessary shift that we all need to make. Especially as we approach yet another perilous year in the land of Covidia. It’s soooo hard to continue — and continue and continue — being grateful and not be, quite frankly, fed up. So what can we do about it?
As everything is spiraling out of control, there are small things you can do to feel less overwhelmed. And maybe, less bitter, sad, or resentful — provide room to process and accept this unfortunate reality as best you can.
Feel Your Feelings
Toxic positivity festers when we assume we should feel a certain way and don’t pause to let ourselves feel our negative feelings. Emotion comes from the Latin emovere - to "move out, remove, agitate." If we really break it down we get ex "out" + movere "to move." What does that mean to us living in America in the early days of 2022? Get those negative emotions outta here. Feel them and move ‘em out.
Then take a deep look, free from judgment, at how you’re actually doing in your day-to-day life. Try daily journaling, or delve into meditation.
Take Stock of your Life
Often, without realizing it, we fall into habits that become patterns and routines that eventually become our whole lives. So, when these habits are disrupted …. by, I don’t know, a global pandemic … we’re shaken out of our comfort zone and into reality. Take a glance at your life. What are you actually, truly, grateful for? What is mere distraction?
Make a Plan
Our spending habits are the first thing to spiral out of control and the most difficult to course-correct. If you’re worried about your financial health during this time — or you want to be more vigilant just in case — try the Cleo app. This holistic service manages your money for you and helps you gain control and improve your situation. Managing your money no longer feels like a chore, and it’s actually fun!
All in all, Meet Cleo makes you feel like you have a handle on your finances. And in these uncertain times, just being aware of your standing can offer a world of comfort. With Meet Cleo as your side, you no longer have to cave to toxic positivity. This app keeps it real and chats with you like your honest, most blunt friend. And for that, we thank her.
Find out more about Cleo here and put yourself on the path to financial control.
When you think of personal finance, what springs to mind?
Kevin O'Leary of Shark Tank fame? Dave Ramsay yelling into a podcast mic? Finance bros tracking their bitcoin? Unfortunately, these are the images we're constantly bombarded by. So they're the archetypes overwhelmingly represented in personal finance.
But it's not all Chads in down vests and dad-types shaming you about your financial faux paus, the personal finance world has grown increasingly more dynamic and diverse.
With the rise of social media, the importance of financial literacy has entered the mainstream, as essential information is no longer confined to impenetrable, official documents. Instead, educators have changed their approach and are making the intimidating world of managing your money far less scary.
Through graphics, memes — and other whimsical mediums — online financial advice that's geared to younger generations is more and more common.
Now, with the help of TikTok — an app unique for wildly popularizing previously niche subjects — personal finance talk has become ubiquitous.
Who's Doing the Talking
The beauty of social media is its power to democratize. Though TikTok has been criticized for promoting those its algorithm chooses — and has even resulted in strikes from Black Creators demanding to be given more credit — it's also granted platforms to people with different experiences and backgrounds.
When it comes to financial advice, TikTok makes it super relatable. No longer is advice restricted to "skip your morning latte" and "quit that avocado toast" or other millennial-shaming behavior. These days, young people directly advise their peers by sharing sympathetic experiences.
From debt repayment to financial freedom journeys, people are engaging with the obscure realm of finances in a charismatic way.
Financial Feminists … But Don't Call Them Girlbosses
One huge TikTok sub-movement that's emerged is the Financial Feminist movement, which urges women specifically to take charge of their finances.
However, this isn't a repeat of the early 2010s Girlboss Feminism or even Corporate Feminism which encourages women to rise up within an established system. This is a whole new ball game.
By empowering women to speak to each other, personal finance is no longer a shame-game. Instead of scrolling through Reddit threads that mock people who support the trappings of the patriarchy like makeup or highly-feminine clothing — which are often deemed necessary for society to take one seriously, if not by Reddit bloggers — women learn from other women about how to manage their lives.
There's also information about unlearning feminized behaviors, helping women break out of socially coded patterns which hold them back from asking for help, asking for more or asserting — and believing! — their true value.
Financial Feminism takes into account the wage gap, talking about gendered norms and systems that prevent us from living financial lives equal to male counterparts.
Even more radical, however, are accounts which incorporate intersectional politics and social commentary. Instead of merely assessing the numbers, they examine the social structures and hierarchies that cause people to treat their money differently and radically affects how they live their lives.
These little communities have become hubs for financial empowerment for marginalized genders with the mission of helping them know themselves better, do better — and have fun while doing it!
Despite its addictive charm, you can't live your life on TikTok alone.
So while Personal Finance TikTok is an okay place to start, taking effective action means getting off TikTok… and onto a better app. Cleo is a budgeting app that's as engaging as TikTok, but actually helps you do the things you're learning.
According to their website, Cleo integrates all your accounts and — like a financially savvy and brutally honest friend — reveals what's truly going on in your wallet.
Cleo is like the coolest finance major you'll ever meet. Simply text her all your questions about your spending, your habits, and your current balances, and she'll give it to you straight.
She'll also tell you when you're running low — like when you really should skip that Starbucks stop so you'll have money left for the subway home — and keeps you on track of your goals.
Ah yes, 'tis finally the giving season!
As someone whose love-language is gift giving, I relish most opportunities to spoil my friends with sweet tokens of appreciation. I am the queen of spontaneous gifts. When I'm puttering around the city, doing my silly little tasks, I always perk up when I find some small trinket that I can give my friends.
Nothing says "I love you" more than saying, "hey, this reminded me of you." And then handing them a nod to a past conversation, or a memory we share. So, sorry to my friends for cluttering your houses with sentimental junk, but I'm even more apologetic for my fatal flaw: when it comes to the holidays … I always draw a blank!
To me, organic gifting is much more genuine than holiday gifting. Yet, if I were to use that as an excuse for turning up empty-handed to every single holiday party this season. I fear I'd start the new year off with fewer friends. And, as someone who loves to receive gifts just as much, I don't want to chance burning bridges that might hold presents on the other side.
So, when the holiday season arrives, I spend far too much of my precious time strategizing my gifts for my friends.
Often, when I draw a blank, I end up splurging on expensive gifts — a luxury candle, a decadent face oil, a classy bottle of perfume. Sure, these opulent gifts are a cop out, but they're guaranteed successes. Upon opening a package containing their favorite, overpriced indulgence who wouldn't smile?
Due to my holiday default, I'm forced to do some serious budget planning to accommodate my lavish spending. Or, more often, I go spectacularly over-budget.
However, this year, I must make a change. After my summer of post-vax hedonism that granted justification to spend more money than I'd ever dare, my holiday budget's looking pretty lean.
After sitting myself down and giving myself a strict talking to about prioritizing my savings, I've come up with some tips on how to save money around the holidays:
Review your budget
The amount of money we think we spend and the money we actually spend are two very different numbers. Grab a drink, pull out your bank statements, it's time to get to the bottom of your spending.
Take a look at two or three months and categorize your purchases. Which ones were intentional? Which ones were emotional? And how many times did you go to the coffee shop just to feel something and leave with a $10 latte and pastry? Once the truth is laid out in front of you, it's easy to see where you're bleeding money.
For me, it's coffee shops and boutique clothing stores I discover during jaunts around trendy neighborhoods. Whatever your vices are, do your best to become aware of them.
Budgeting apps like Cleo have helped me curb my impulse spending a ton! Cleo talks to me like a friend would — a friend who is not afraid to tell me no and call me out on my overspending. We all need a friend like Cleo, so download the app and watch your budget change overnight.
via Cleo App
Cut out what you don't need
It's all well and good to glance at your spending, but the next step is brutal: get honest with yourself about the purchases you could have gone without. But this isn't about deprivation, it's prioritization. What can you relinquish now to ensure you have a great holiday season later?
Cringing at past impulse buys I've made, I vowed to avoid my typical temptations, since I couldn't resist them. I know I'm easily lured into charming little storefronts downtown. So I took new routes home, avoiding the streets where all the cool clothes lie, waiting for me to cave.
I'm sure, in good time, I'll be back. But that's a problem for 2022-me. Until then, we just have to hold out for less than two months, get the gifts our friends deserve, and then it's back to regularly scheduled planning.
Make a spending plan
Saving without a plan usually leads to spending. As you narrow down what you can afford, figure out what you want to buy. I like to split it into categories: larger expenses vs. affordable picks.
Here's the fun part: shopping around. Sometimes I only have a general idea of what I want to buy, and sometimes I have specifics in mind. Either way, I love to shop around for a deal.
When it comes to saving money, research is paramount. Various vendors might have different prices, promotional codes, or sales. A quick Google search can often save you 10% or more, so don't take the first price you see as gospel.
via Cleo App
After finding the best price, I can budget for what I'm going to buy and when. Which takes me to ….
Take advantage of sales … strategically
The holiday season brings with it the promise of big, blowout sales. But, if you're not careful, you can end up spending more money during a sale — which is precisely the stores' intention.
Don't fall victim to the allure of those big, red "SALE" stickers. Instead, plot out how to take advantage of a number of sales for different products. Adding those sale prices to your spending plan will keep you focused and on track, instead of buying frivolous items no one will ever use just because the prices are slashed.
Saving money over the holidays doesn't mean you have to make a Scrooge of yourself. You can still gift and gift well, just more intelligently. Spending with intention is key to savings, while investing thoughtfully into your relationships.
Apps like Cleo can help you keep your finances on track without feeling overwhelming. With one download, you could be on your way to mega-savings.