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A get-rich-quick scheme is a plan to obtain high rates of return for a small investment. The term "get rich quick" has been used to describe shady investments since at least the early 20th century.
Most schemes create an impression that participants can obtain this high rate of return with little risk, and with little skill, effort, or time. Get-rich-quick schemes often assert that wealth can be obtained by working at home. Legal and quasi-legal get-rich-quick schemes are frequently advertised on infomercials and in magazines and newspapers. Illegal schemes or scams are often advertised through spam or cold calling. Some forms of advertising for these schemes market books or compact discs about getting rich quick rather than asking participants to invest directly in a concrete scheme.
Obviously, it is theoretically possible to get rich both quickly and legally if one is prepared to accept very high levels of risk – this is the premise of the gambling industry. However, a key difference between legal, regulated gambling and get-rich quick schemes is that the near-certainty of a gambler completely losing the original stake over the long term (even if it offers regular wins along the way) is known (and expected to be accepted) to the players, furthermore nearly all jurisdictions which allow legalized gambling in any form require casinos and other licensed gaming promoters to disclose these risks as part of their responsible gambling initiatives.
Economic theory states that all opportunities for profit which are truly risk-free are unstable because they will quickly be exploited by arbitrageurs.
Legality of get-rich-quick schemes
- When there is lack of pretense at selling a product, many get-rich-quick schemes qualify as pyramid schemes or matrix schemes, which are illegal in many jurisdictions.
- Ponzi schemes, which are similar to pyramid schemes and offer exorbitant returns on investment, are also similarly illegal in many jurisdictions.
- Advance-fee scams are likewise an illegal form of a get-rich-quick scheme.
Get-rich-quick schemes that operate entirely on the Internet usually promote "secret formulas" to affiliate marketing and affiliate advertising. The scheme will usually claim that it does not require any special IT or marketing skills and will provide an unrealistic timeframe in which the consumer could make hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars.
Schemes of this nature usually have catchy titles and images associated with wealth and luxury to encourage potential victims into paying sign-up fees which can range from several dollars to thousands of dollars. The get-rich-quick scheme will heavily imply that the consumer will be able to earn much more than this small investment when they apply the special, secret techniques revealed in their training material they will send. Such training material is typically in the form of e-books or training CDs.
These schemes rarely work since the material sent to victims is frequently just basic or intermediate marketing material that is neither secret nor a guarantee to making a lot of money online. Often, the initial materials include heavy promotion of expensive seminars or classes, with the implication that not purchasing these items means the reader is not "serious" or "ready to make money". Sometimes buying the materials subscribes the purchaser to a newsletter (or other communication) whose cost is automatically deducted from the bank account used to make the purchase each month; typically this condition is buried in the fine print, and cancelling the subscription is extremely difficult.
Get-rich-quick schemes of this nature habitually share the same warning indicators that include:
- They will imply that anyone signing up will become rich within months to a year.
- They will inform potential victims that the route to success is by following "secret formulas" that no one else knows about.
- They will often claim they have been seen on certain websites including Google and YouTube, causing the viewer to assume said websites endorse the product.
- They will utilize pressuring tactics to encourage the victim to sign up quickly, such as claiming that there are only a certain number of copies of a CD left, or using special discount prices that are only available for a short amount of time.
- Schemes of this nature will often employ the tactic of displaying testimonials from "previous users".
- When trying to navigate away from their website, users are often presented with popup windows offering further discounts, in an attempt to make the user feel special.
Another indicator is the manner in which the schemes are advertised. Many schemes will post so-called "success stories" on post-your-own-article websites.
Schemes of this nature will also be advertised through serial promoters. Serial promoters are individuals who are not directly associated with a given scheme, but will promote from one to the next almost every day. In return, the owner of the scheme may do the same for them, or if the get-rich-scheme is a Ponzi scheme, the serial promoters will be invited to join early in order for them to make money from new recruits.
An example of such products is the infamous Google scams, where the scheme will imply that viewers can make an income from home using affiliate advertising with Google, or simply posting links. These schemes have various titles and will trick the user into thinking they are endorsed or affiliated with Google Inc. through improper use of trademarks and logos.
Other popular online get-rich-quick schemes can include survey taking, whereby a user would complete surveys of varying subjects and get paid for the time. Get-rich-quick schemes take advantage of this and often promise that users can make a good income from doing this, which is not the case. Individuals who partake in survey taking can expect small profits that can supplement another full-time income.
A different tack is taken by online "Clairvoyants" who offer to untangle psychic or ethereal blocks to wealth, for a one off or ongoing fee. Each has a different pitch, which, buying lucky talismans, obtaining lucky numbers for lotteries, or performing wealth attracting rituals, often feature. Several such "Mystics", under different aliases, operate from Rambouillet, near Paris.
The legality of such schemes is often a matter of extreme controversy. These online get-rich-quick schemes cannot be described as illegal outright scams since the majority do send an end product to the user, but they do employ severely misleading sales tactics in order to get victims to sign up. Users should always be aware when signing up for schemes online that promise to show the route to financial freedom, especially if there is an initial investment to be made.
Often online get-rich-quick schemes use a bait and switch strategy which invites viewing of a particular offer (the bait) and then shows a completely different and frequently inferior one (the switch).
Recently, get-rich-quick schemes featuring Bitcoin have become quite common. Bitcoin's perceived anonymity and rapid growth in popularity has become an attractive asset for scammers who use the likeness and image of Bitcoin to promote their unrelated schemes. Typically these schemes promise to turn a certain amount of Bitcoin into a larger amount of money either by "investing" into what likely turns out to be a Ponzi Scheme or by "flipping" it (see money flipping).
Lotto advice as get-rich-quick
Richard Lustig, a seven-time lottery winner from the US, wrote a 2013 booklet explaining the methods to which he attributed his success which became a best-seller on Amazon.com. Finance journalist Felix Salmon characterized Lustig as "a get-rich-quick" hack.
- 'Get Rich Quick' Insurance from the Inside", The World's work, Volume 22, (1911)
- S.A. Nelson "The Blockite and the Get-Rich-Quick Man", Everybody's Magazine, vol 10, 1904.
- Little, Lineka (21 October 2010). "How One Man Became a Serial Lottery Winner". ABC News. Retrieved 23 March 2013.
- Salmon, Felix (14 March 2012). "The worst personal-finance video ever". Reuters. Retrieved 11 January 2016.