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.
The tech industry's having a tough time. Only months ago, those who were bragging about their hot tech jobs and (seemingly) hyper-performing Crypto portfolios are probably screaming, crying, gnashing their teeth, and throwing up. And they may or may not be unemployed.
First, the recession is obliterating the stock market as we speak. Then, the summer Crypto proved the “decentralized marketplace” isn’t as impervious as Crypto nerds claimed. And now, the entire tech industry is facing a serious reckoning. It’s meltdown season — and Mercury isn’t even in retrograde.
First, Elon Musk bought Twitter. He subsequently fired a staggering number of employees. He then instituted Twitter Blue, a verification subscription which was a spectacular FAILURE. Most notably, causing the stock price of every significant insulin company to plummet by BILLIONS. It’s a long story, but the takeaway: the best $8 some random Twitter user ever spent.
Meanwhile, major tech companies like Meta, Salesforce, Redfin — and more — have been laying off thousands of employees. Wave after wave of layoffs are tearing through the entire tech sector, leaving thousands bamboozled and bereft. And this — alllll this — is happening while Jeff Bezos is giving away his money to Dolly Parton. I love her, but she has a theme park. These people don’t have jobs!
But this is nothing compared to the drama going on at former-Crypto giant FTX. And somehow, Tom Brady and Gisele are implicated!?! First, the divorce, now this.
Here’s a simplified version of events — and you don’t even need to understand crypto to follow along.
The Super Bowl: The true origins can be traced back to the Super Bowl, where much ad time was devoted to emergent crypto companies vying for the attention of potential investors. Among them: FTX.
January 2022: FTX was valued at an estimated $32 billion. They even had an NBA stadium named after them in Miami. But most prominently, their now infamous Super Bowl ad starring Larry David, who had never appeared in a commercial before. Just imagine that shoot. You should’ve stuck to your guns, Larry.
Don't Miss Out on Crypto: Larry David FTX Commercial www.youtube.com
Nov 2: The real drama started — as it always does — with some shady trades. CoinDesk published a report that exposed that Alameda Research – owned by the same people as FTX – had bought a ton of FTT … FTX’s cryptocurrency.
Nov 6: In a Tweet, the founder of Binance — one of FTX’s biggest competitors — said their company was going to dump their FTX tokens "due to recent revelations that have came to light." Investors panicked and followed suit. And so began the FTT price plummet.
But with all their investors cashing in their coins, FTX was on the hook for all that money — which it could not afford to pay out. This is when things started to look really hairy.
Nov 8: With their tails between their legs, FTX went to Binance for an out. Binance agreed to acquire FTX.
Nov 9: Just kidding! Whatever was in those docs must have scared off Binance because they pulled out of the deal just a day later. Does this feel like an episode of Succession to you, too?
Nov. 11: FTX had no way to repay all this money. And any potential buys were not going anywhere near this dumpster fire. So FTX was forced to file for bankruptcy. 30-year-old CEO and founder Sam Bankman-Fried resigned.
He tweeted that he was “really sorry,” though! SO maybe that counts for something. Cue the world’s tiniest violin playing in the background.
\u201cFun fact:\n\nIf you spent $1,000 shorting the 2022 Super Bowl advertisers, you'd be a billionaire today:\n\n\u25ab\ufe0f FTX\n\u25ab\ufe0f Carvana\n\u25ab\ufe0f DraftKings\n\u25ab\ufe0f Uber Eats\n\u25ab\ufe0f Meta Oculus\n\u25ab\ufe0f Rocket Mortgage\n\u25ab\ufe0f Coinbase\n\u25ab\ufe0f Vroom\n\u25ab\ufe0f Salesforce\n\u25ab\ufe0f GM\u201d— Chris Bakke (@Chris Bakke) 1667931782
But there’s more!
Later that day, reports emerged that FTX transferred $10 BILLION to Alameda — the same sister company mentioned above. That’s right, the one that started this mess — sparking controversy about how much access top leaders had to the company's finances.
Nov 13: Where’s the money? New reports reveal that those BILLIONS of dollars had just … disappeared?
Nov 14: Now the cops are involved. Where the hell is the money, man? Regulators are trying to get to the bottom of this, while looking into criminal liabilities.
Nov 16: Here comes the class action. Defendants are suing FTX’s Bankman-Fried for misleading information. But the walls are now closing in on celebrities who appeared in FTX commercials, including Tom Brady, Gisele Bundchen, Stephen Curry, Larry David, and Shaquille O’Neal.
"FTX’s fraudulent scheme was designed to take advantage of unsophisticated investors from across the country, who utilize mobile apps to make their investments," the lawsuit alleges. "As a result, American consumers collectively sustained over $11 billion dollars in damages.”
There you have it. But don’t hold your breath — there’s more to come, I’m sure. In fact, the documentary is already in the works
And if you still don’t follow, here are some TikToks tracking the drama:
SBF bears a striking resemblance to Bernard Madoff. #money #crypto #ftx #finance #sbf #news #binance #alameda #bitcoin #ethereum #ftt #coin #cryptocurrency
Every time payday rolls around, I’m on top of the world. Jeff Bezos-level rich - even though I’m anything but. And then somehow the very next day, rent is due.
The cycle continues. The next payday, bills for my apartment. I find myself without a surplus of savings since I just moved and newly-furnished my apartment completely.
Even more terrifying is the looming presence of the holiday season. Halloween’s officially over and before we know it, hello Thanksgiving…and then there’s Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s. It’s insane.
I’ve been feeling very British lately. Not in a Union-Jack-obsessed, “Keep Calm and Carry-On” way. I went through that phase in 2012 with everyone else… no thank you. And it’s not even a surge of patriotism catalyzed by the Queen dying — I’m firmly team Diana and team Meghan.
Now that fall is officially here, the holidays will sweep in and I’ll have to contend with the fact that I won’t be spending them with my family in the UK. I went home to London earlier this year, so there’s not much left in my travel budget for another trip across the pond. A few domestic jaunts might be in my future, but the closest I’ll get to England this winter is watching Love Island and Love, Actually.
So in that spirit, I’ve been filling my days with content from my favorite Brits. I’m listening to all the old British rock bands I grew up listening to, patiently awaiting the new Arctic Monkeys album, and rewatching anything with Michaela Coel in it. I even shipped myself an order of British Baked Beans, so you know it’s dire.
I’ve also been watching British YouTubers like Grace Beverley — my favorite. Generally, I only go on YouTube to watch Vogue Beauty Secrets and AD Open Door videos. But I’m so glad I stumbled on Grace. Her content is a mix of London lifestyle (what lured me in), relatable entrepreneurship, and mindful productivity. I’m not a hustle-and-grind-girlboss, but as a creative person in a 9-to-5, I need all the help I can get to stay plugged in. So, the video “how to be really really really productive without getting overwhelmed” changed my approach to WFH.
Grace outlines her own productivity method: the to-do table. Instead of making a simple to-do list, she divides her tasks into a table that anyone can follow. As someone who’s survived with to-do lists for years, I recently implemented Grace’s method, and it’s revolutionized my workdays.
how to be really really really productive without getting overwhelmed www.youtube.com
I follow her routine to a tee. Here’s how it works:
Essentially, she divides her daily responsibilities into four categories: quick ticks, tasks, projects, and non-negotiables.
- Quick Ticks: Actions that take less than 5-minutes
- Tasks: To-do’s that take up to 30-minutes. Probably don’t take too much brain energy.
- Projects: Long-term list items. These help guide your priorities, even if you’re not crossing them off in one day.
- Non-negotiables: Pick 3 things each day that you must get done. This is how you’ll truly measure success.
With everything written down and sorted, next address your schedule. Meetings, deadlines, and time blocks — whatever works best for you. Write it down. Then make a pact with yourself to stick to them.
This way of categorization provides a roadmap for prioritizing your day — making you far more productive. Have you ever spent the entire day on small tasks and then suddenly realized you hadn’t moved the needle on any task? Or do you spend way too much time on tasks that aren’t a priority? No more. With your non-negotiables laid out, you know what to laser-focus on and what to dedicate energy towards.
Also, it pays to know your working style. I’m not a morning person. Yet, I have to be up and at ‘em super early. So, first thing in the morning, I march through my Quick Ticks to warm me up. I set a time limit, so I can knock out some easy wins which is totally inspiring. Then I move on to bigger things without lingering on emails or admin. For others, it might be more helpful to tackle the big things with all that early-in-the-day brain power earlier.
Grace has great tips on avoiding overwhelm and burnout. My favorite is taking more intentional breaks rather than scrolling through social media. I call this scrolling “productive” because I’m “coming up with pitches.” Oh, the lies we tell ourselves. It’s more productive in the long run to giving my brain a break with non-screen related stimuli.
Grace’s solution? Set a timer to read a real, an actual book. I’ve never thought of this. It’s a genius way to check off some books on my TBR and kickstart my creativity. After reading a good book, I’m completely inspired to write. So having books near my desk helps me step away from the computer during my lunch break for an actual reset. (And yes, the current books I’m reading are by British authors: Assembly by Natasha Brown, and Love in Color: Mythical Tales from Around the World, Retold by Bolu Babalolu.)
In my pursuit of switching out my WFH set-up and getting my life together, I’ve engineered my workstation for success. With my new WFH essentials and Grace’s productivity technique, I’m revitalized for work — despite the fall blues and my melancholy about the pending holidays.
Here are the things getting me hyped for work and helping me crush my Grace Beverley-inspired to-do tables — no lists in sight: