Did that just say, illegal side hustles???
Hey, times are tough out there…
The world is falling apart, and desperate times call for desperate measures. It might be time to get shady with it.
Yep, today we’re looking at the best crimes to make money.
Full disclaimer: This post is entirely for entertainment purposes, obviously. But even those of us on the up-and-up can learn a thing or two from the criminal world of fast money, easy money, and illegal side hustles. (And if you’re seriously considering any of these shady money making ideas, read until the end to see why they’re totally not worth it…)
So without further ado, welcome to the dark and crazy world of illegal side hustles.
Here are the 10 best:
1. Get rich with an illegal ponzi scheme.
The classic Ponzi scheme is one of the oldest tricks in the book. But that hasn’t stopped it from being widely successful throughout history!
With a Ponzi scheme, you promise investors out-sized returns. But instead of actually earning those returns, you just pay out profits using funds from newer investors.
While investors think the returns are from incredible product sales, your brilliant investing decisions, or some other means, the perpetrator of the Ponzi Scheme is literally just robbing Peter to pay Paul.
The scheme was named after the conman Charles Ponzi, who in the 1920s, promised U.S. investors a 50% profit within 45 days by investing in postage stamps. (Or for the patient, a 100% profit in 90 days!)
His scheme was so wildly successful that he even got a front page feature on The Boston Globe, resulting in thousands of new investors lining up outside his office, ready to give Ponzi their money.
At its peak, Ponzi’s scheme was earning him over $250,000 a day (about $3 million in today’s dollars) and Charles Ponzi lived a lifestyle of big mansions, fancy cars, and first-class ocean liner tickets.
However, there’s just one problem with Ponzi schemes – they’re pretty much doomed to failure.
A few months later, Ponzi’s con came crashing down when people finally did the math and realized his investment strategy was impossible. This lead to another front page newspaper story. Except this time, it was about his history of fraud in Canada. Knowing he was about to be arrested, Ponzi turned himself in.
All told, Ponzi stole $20 million from his fraud – nearly $200 million in today’s dollars.
Not to be outdone, American investor Bernie Madoff resurrected the Ponzi scheme in the early 2000s. He did a good job, too! Madoff is the current Ponzi Scheme champ, a title that also gives him the infamous title as the perpetrator of the largest financial fraud in world history.
From 1960 to 2008, Madoff ran a well-respected wealth management company and was widely considered one of Wall Street’s best investors. So much so, that he raised $36 billion from many of the world’s wealthiest and most famous people.
There was just one problem…
Madoff wasn’t actually earning those amazing returns. He was just writing them down on paper and then hoping his house of cards never fell.
Unfortunately, Madoff’s con came crashing down in 2008. With the stock market falling, Madoff’s investors began panicking and asking to withdraw their money from the fund in unprecedented volumes. But since Ponzi schemes rely on a steady stream of new investors, Madoff quickly found himself $100 million short…
He was arrested in December 2008 and sentenced to 150 years in prison. Total estimated cost of his fraud? $64.8 billion dollars.
2. Rob a bank.
Is there a more cliche way to get rich illegally than pulling off a bank heist?
Probably not. Which is why this strategy has wielded some of the wildest and craziest true stories ever.
There’s the 2006 classic Securitas Depot Robbery, where a British team of 6+ robbers (including former UFC fighter, Lee Murray) impersonated a police officer, kidnapped the depot manager and his family at gunpoint, and forced him to open the vaults.
That team made off with $92 million in cash – so much that they literally spent hours loading it onto multiple trucks. To this day, it’s still the largest bank heist ever. (Topped only by a strange technicality, when Saddam Hussein pulled some political strings to rob the Central Bank of Iraq of nearly $1 billion dollars. But that’s cheating.)
They almost got away with it too. Despite the world knowing he was guilty, Lee Murray fled to Morocco, where he spent months living it up in a million dollar mansion and golden Mercedes-Benz, thanks to a strange extradition policy between the U.K. and Morocco at the time. Eventually though, Murray was arrested, and he’s currently serving 25 years in a Moroccan prison.
Then there’s the Banco Central Burglary in Brazil. There, a 25 member gang created a fake landscaping businesses, bought property next to the bank, and spent three months digging a 300 foot underground tunnel leading underneath the bank vault’s floor. Then, over the weekend, the team poked a hole in the floor and ran off with $72 million dollars.
($50 million was never recovered, and many team members were never arrested.)
And if all else fails, there’s always the much simpler route. In 2016, a Reddit user hosted an Ask Me Anything where he confessed to getting away with numerous bank robberies before turning himself into authorities.
His master plan? He’d walk into banks, armed with nothing more than a hand written note, and ask the teller for all their cash. Afterwards, he’d grab something to eat from Chili’s.
In his own words:
Q: What did you say to the teller?
A: Walked in the bank and waited in line like a regular customer. Whichever teller was available to help me is the one I robbed. I simply walked up to them when it was my turn to be helped, and I told them — usually via handwritten instructions on an envelope — to give me their $50s and $100s. There was no threat. I just told them what I wanted, and they complied. This is how it works in America because the amount of money a bank gives up ($5-$7k on average) per bank robbery is infinitely less than the amount of business they’d lose if sh*t got wild in a bank full of customers.
Q: Where did you go after your escape?
A: I usually went to Chili’s or somewhere to eat and chill out.”
3. Sell illegal counterfeit goods.
According to Forbes, counterfeiting is now the largest criminal enterprise in the world.
How large? Try a $1.7 trillion industry.
Anyone who’s ever spent time in New York City’s Chinatown knows that selling knock-off handbags, cologne, and fashion accessories is big business.
The most counterfeited brands? Rayban, Rolex, Supreme, Louis Vitton, and Nike according to the OECED, an anti-counterfeiting organization.
But criminals don’t limit their counterfeiting to just fashion. Ripping off electronics, toys, and cigarettes are also big money makers. Plus, the most dangerous counterfeit category of them all – pharmaceutical drugs.
(Most of the pill overdoses you hear about, including high profile cases like the deaths of Prince and Heath Ledger, can be traced back to counterfeit opioids.)
Whether it’s a drug or a sneaker, if it’s got a brand, somebody’s probably trying to copy it.
By far though, my favorite counterfeit good story is the dude from Netflix’s Sour Grapes documentary. Rudy Kurniawan was a wine connoisseur known for his impeccable palate. Supposedly, he could taste nearly any wine and immediately identify not only the type, but the exact maker and region of the wine.
Unfortunately, ‘ole Rudy ended up using that golden palate of his for evil. When the FBI raided his home in 2012, they discovered he’d been strategically mixing common wines in recipe-like proportions, until his cheap concoctions were able to fool even the world’s most premier sommeliers into believing they were drinking rare, expensive burgundy.
(Hey, you gotta respect a guy that can make 2 buck chuck taste good!)
He then relabeled his cheap homemade blends with the stickers from prestigious winemakers, before selling them at auction for millions of dollars.
All told, it’s estimated his counterfeit wines sold for nearly $50 million dollars. To this day, there may be as many as 10,000 of his counterfeit bottles still in private collections.
4. Become a drug dealer.
Cocaine Kingpin Pablo Escobar once had so much money that instead of turning on the heater, he burned $2 million in cash.
I guess that’s what you can do when you’re supplying 80% of the world’s cocaine – an accomplishment that earned him $420 million a week during his cartel’s peak. (And had him spending $1,000 per week on… rubber bands for all that cash.)
Yes, Pablo Escobar made $22 billion a year selling drugs. Seriously.
In fact, Escobar’s insane earnings actually led to his downfall, because he was bringing in so much cash that he literally couldn’t launder the money fast enough. Instead, he resorted to storing cash in old warehouses, inside the walls of his houses, and even in empty farm fields.
Not ideal. Which is probably why his accountant budgeted a staggering $2.1 billion a year in ruined cash, usually from water damage, mold, or rats eating the bills.
5. Play the lines like an illegal sports gambler.
While most gambling has a reputation for degenerate losers, sports betting holds an interesting subset of big time “whales” who’ve had so much success in the industry, they’re known to move the odds of a game by themselves.
Some famous gamblers, like Billy Walters, made a name for themselves by being one of the first gamblers to use computer analysis to help his sports predictions. The result was a 30-year winning streak that earned Billy millions of dollars, and eventually got him banned from Las Vegas casinos.
Other sports gamblers take a less glamorous approach.
One of the most common strategies is to utilize arbitrage. That is, gamblers will look for less popular games or events and try to find discrepancies in the odds at various casinos.
A minor league baseball game? Perfect. A horse race nobody’s ever heard of before? Even better.
By laying strategically hedged bets at different casinos, a clever gambler can virtually guarantee a profit in certain instances.
Easier said than done, for sure.
Interesting, this only becomes an illegal side hustle if you’re placing your bets in a state where sports gambling is outlawed.
6. Start Embezzling.
Oh my, does anything signify white collar crime like a little good old fashioned embezzlement?
The key factor to embezzlement? Legally, you must have a “fiduciary duty” to the funds you’re stealing. In other words, you’ll really need to up your scumbag levels if you ever want to make it as an embezzler, since you’ll have to be specifically entrusted with the funds you’re stealing. Otherwise, it’s just good old fashioned theft, and that’s not nearly as fun.
But once you start paying attention, the opportunity for embezzlement is everywhere!
- Acting as treasurer to your volunteer church group? A good embezzler would surely skim a few bucks off the top for themselves.
- Running payroll for a large corporation? Consider adding a random friend or family member to start drawing unearned income against the company. Embezzled!
- Maybe you’re a bank teller or cashier. Instead of recording the sales, you just pocket the money for yourself. Whoops!
In fact, embezzlement in retail is so common that the industry has its own term for it. It’s called “shrinkage” and the average rate is nearly 2% of all retail sales.
Across the industry, that’s nearly $50 billion a year!
(Apparently, gift cards are the number one target for shrinkage, since they’re so easy to put in your pocket and walk away with.)
7. Become a spammer.
Spammers, how we all hate you…
But the unfortunate truth is that spamming just makes a whole lot of business sense. Here’s how it works:
A desperate company is looking for advertising opportunities, which through a trip, a fall, and a subsequent plunge to rock bottom leads them to a cleverly advertised spamming company. For $100, the spammer offers to send an absolutely insane number of emails, usually around 500,000.
While 99.9% of recipients will immediately delete the junk, that still leaves 500 clueless folks accidentally making a purchase. Depending on the price of your Viagra knockoffs or Nigerian prince requests, that can be extremely profitable.
It’s simply a numbers game, and some people really take this to extremes.
Like Oleg Nikolaenko. This Russian National ditched the proverbial middleman (which in the spamming business means the servers upon servers needed to email hundreds of thousands of poor email users) and instead decided to develop malware that infected an estimated 500,000 different computers around the globe.
The result was that by using the resources of his infected computers, this one dude was able to send up to 10 billion spam emails per day. Billion!
It’s estimated this 24-year-old was responsible for 1/3 of the entire world’s spam emails.
One word of advice though. If you’re going to go the spamming route, it really helps to move to a cheaper, second world country with a super low cost of living. Otherwise, the $100 you’ll get paid to side hustle thousands of emails per day really just doesn’t make sense. The margins are just too low.
(PS – If you can adopt some broken English for your email messages, even better!)
At this point, you might be wondering where these spammers even get the email addresses. Well, that usually comes from some random email list you signed up for years ago, who in desperate times decides to sell your contact info to the gray market.
Hey, not all email subscriptions can be as awesome as the Money Wizard email newsletter!
8. Become a hacker.
Continuing with the theme of cyber-crime, if spamming is too low-brow for you, consider keeping things high class and becoming a hacker instead.
In fact, many hackers actually make a ton of money, legally.
Apple famously offered a $1 million reward to any hacker who could hack the iPhone. And they’re not alone.
Companies all over the world flock to websites like HackerOne, a global conduit where companies like Google, GM, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft, and even the U.S. Department of Defense offer bounties to honest hackers who can exploit vulnerabilities in exchange for lucrative lump-sum payments, before the bad guys find them.
From those companies’ perspectives, it makes a lot more sense to tap into the world’s most talented freelance hackers than it does to try to salary an in-house security expert, who still might not find everything.
From the hackers’ perspective, making a ton of money legally sure beats risking jail time.
But for those hackers unphased by some time in the clinker, things can get even more wild.
One of the most notorious is the Carbanak Hackers. This group of Eastern European hackers used phishing emails to exploit bank vulnerabilities to the tune of an estimated $1 billion dollars.
Some of their favorite techniques sound like something straight out of a movie:
- Hackers altered bank databases to pump up individual bank accounts, then siphon off the excess cash unbeknownst to the user.
- They infected point of sale systems to lift credit card information from customers, then either go on unauthorized shopping sprees or sell the card details on the black market.
- They infected ATM machines with scripts that dispensed all their cash at specific times of day. At the same time, money mules would be waiting nearby, ready to collect the slot machine style shower of dollar bills.
Speaking of the last one. Apparently, there’s an app called Winpot.exe which you can buy on the deep web for around 1 bitcoin (roughly $7,000) that you can install on a USB key, plug into any ATM, and have that ATM immediately dispense all its cash. 🤷
9. Sell your body.
Prostitution is one of the oldest ways to make money illegally, and it’s simple economics. Thanks to a steady stream of demand, you’ll always be in business as long as you’re supplying!
That said, this illegal side hustle pays for its incredible job security with a lack of physical security. Unfortunately, there’s no avoiding close quarters with a wide range of customers, many with questionable backgrounds.
Plus, the front-lines nature of this line of work makes you an easy target to get pinched by law enforcement.
That said, how much you make as a prostitute will depend greatly on your marketing skills.
- The going rate for an average prostitute marketing their services online is about $300 per hour for what people in this line of work refer to as “full service.”
- On the low end are your average streetwalkers. They’ve been known to accept a job for as little as $20 for half an hour. Or even just a pack of smokes.
- And then there’s the interesting world of high class escorts. The 2008 Elliot Spitzer scandal shined a spotlight on this segment of the market, after it came out that many politicians, financiers, and wealthy celebrities were ordering prostitutes at the staggering price of $5,500 per hour.
As with any business, marketing is everything!
10. Start pimpin’. (Just know that it ain’t easy.)
If you’re interested in getting into the prostitution business, but you’re aspiring for more of a managerial position, then pimping might be a fantastic illegal side hustle for you.
According to a study published by The Urban Institute, the average pimp makes anywhere from $5,000 to $30,000 a week.
This job isn’t for the faint of heart though. As all the rap songs have told me, pimpin’ ain’t easy. To keep your business afloat, you’ll have to keep the proverbial pimp hand strong.
Unfortunately, most pimps rely on psychical and psychological abuse to manage their employees. In his memoir covering four decades in the business, legendary pimp Iceburg Slim explains the intricate psychological abuse he employed while managing up to 400 women at a time. And when all else failed, he recounts beating his employees with wire hangers.
Finally, why trying to get rich quick illegally is actually a really, really bad side hustle idea…
Obviously, I wrote this post for fun. It should go without saying that illegal side hustles and illegal jobs are definitely NOT the best ways to get rich.
But since a shocking number of people are actually googling about how to get rich quick illegally or “illegal ways to make money fast” I thought it’d be worth taking a moment to think through this logically.
At best, most of these ideas might score you a few quick bucks. But they’re definitely not going to make you rich.
Take the Reddit bank robber example. The guy risked everything just to make a fast $5,000. Or a quick 10 grand, on a good day.
He’s now sitting in prison for a decade. Even at just $8-$15 an hour, that adds up to $150,000 to $300,000 in total lost income. That’s a lot more than most of these illegal side hustles make.
But let’s say things go better than that.
Let’s say you go full Pablo Escobar. You become the greatest drug lord in history and you earn billions a year. (Before dying from a gunshot wound to the head, that is.)
But is that, or any of the incredible stories in this article, really a fair expectation? In order to become the world’s #1 drug dealer, Pablo clearly worked unbelievably hard, and was an incredible businessmen, too. Imagine if he applied that same skill to a legal business?
The rewards there would be wealth that dwarfed anything and everything on this list of illegal side hustles.
Becoming the #1 businessman in the world doesn’t end with a gunshot to the head. It ends with Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos money: $100 billion dollars. No jail time required.
I think the big takeaway here is that if you hustle and grind, the world will pay you for it. The people at the top of their field, whether that field is lined with cocaine plants or not, will get paid handsomely for it.
But from where I’m standing, the highest rewards, by far, still go to those hustling legally.
While we can all learn something from the grit and ingenuity of these criminals, in a world where elementary school teachers can use basic investment strategies to get richer than NBA superstars, where a simple strategy of $30 a day can make you a millionaire, or where a phone and an app can get you $90,000 richer in just 4 years, trying to make money illegally truly isn’t worth the risk.