Understanding and Avoiding Get-Rich-Quick Schemes

By Rebecca Lake · November 21, 2023 · 12 minute read

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Understanding and Avoiding Get-Rich-Quick Schemes

Unless you’re already a millionaire, you might be interested in finding ways to make more money and increase your net worth so you can join the ranks of the rich. You may be tempted to participate in a get-rich-quick scheme to achieve your goals.

But hold on a minute: Get-rich-quick schemes attract people with the lure of easy money, but more often than not, they can create more financial problems instead of solving them.

Understanding these scams can help you avoid them — and avoid getting scammed by fraudsters.

Key Points

•   Get-rich-quick schemes promise large amounts of money for little to no investment but often fail to deliver.

•   Scammers use enticing language and false claims to attract victims to these schemes.

•   Examples of get-rich-quick schemes include MLMs (multilevel marketing), work-at-home scams, investment scams, and debt relief scams.

•   Spotting a get-rich-quick scheme involves looking out for upfront payments, misleading claims, secret tips, and unrealistic guarantees.

•   Legitimate alternatives to get-rich-quick schemes include starting a business, investing, and working with financial advisors.

What Is a Get-Rich-Quick Scheme?

Generally speaking, a get-rich-quick scheme is any plan or strategy that promises large amounts of money for little to no investment. The term “get rich quick” has a less than desirable connotation, since these ventures often fail to live up to their claims.

It’s not uncommon to see get rich-quick-schemes advertised or promoted using language that’s designed to pique consumers’ interest. For example, you might come across a social media influencer that promises to help you “make money while you sleep” or “make money instantly without paying anything”.

That type of wording is often a red flag, and it may be a sign that a get-rich-quick scheme is actually a thinly veiled scam.

Get-rich-quick schemers can also take a more subtle approach and make promises that seem legitimate when taken at face value. Student loan forgiveness scams that claim to be able to help you wipe out student debt in exchange for a fee are a great example of this (you’ll learn more examples of these traps in a minute).

How Do Get-Rich-Quick Schemes Work?

Get-rich-quick schemes work by drawing people in and using some type of financial incentive as bait. Potential victims may be told that they’ll be able to make a large amount of money very quickly if they just pay a fee or make an initial investment. Or they’ll be told that they can get their debts eliminated for much less than what they owe.

In other cases, a get-rich-quick scheme is a major money scam that’s designed to get people to part with their hard-earned money in exchange for a product or service that will supposedly help them make more money. The purpose of this type of scheme is to get people to purchase something; the individual who’s hawking it can then make money themselves. Put simply, you are unlikely to benefit financially.

So, using social media influencers as an example again, an influencer might promote a book or a course that teaches a “proven” system for how to make money online. They encourage their followers to buy the book or course and suggest that if they do so, they’ll be able to grow their income and get rich.

What their followers may not realize is that the influencer is getting paid for that promotion. Their posts may be sponsored by the book author or course creator. Or perhaps they’re earning affiliate commissions for referring people to the products. If the influencer convinces enough people to buy whatever it is they’re selling, they might get rich quick while their followers may not.

Technically, influencers and bloggers are required to disclose paid relationships to their audience. But disclosure alone doesn’t convey any guarantee that the product they’re promoting will work the way they say it will. So people buy in, expecting results that they may or may not see.

Are Get-Rich-Quick Schemes Illegal?

Get-rich-quick schemes themselves are not outlawed, though there are numerous regulations that attempt to protect consumers from scammers. As mentioned, influencers are required to disclose relationships they have with the brands that they promote. The Truth in Advertising Act exists to prevent companies or individuals from making false or misleading claims when advertising products and services. Advertisers must also be able to back up the claims they make with scientific evidence, when appropriate.

Whether a get-rich-quick scheme falls within legal boundaries or is illegal can largely depend on the nature of the scheme. Multi-level marketing (MLM) is a great example. What is an MLM? In simple terms, it’s a business structure in which people earn commissions by selling products or services to friends and family members. Mary Kay and Avon are two well-known examples of multi-level marketing operations that are legit.

MLMs are not illegal, but pyramid schemes are. What’s known as a pyramid scheme can resemble an MLM, but the difference is that all the money is made by bringing new people into the program. The person who recruited a new participant earns money by charging them an entry or registration fee or perhaps an introductory product package of some sort. The higher up you are in the pyramid, the more money you can make.

A Ponzi scheme is another type of illegal get rich quick scheme. In a Ponzi scheme, the person or persons at the top promise investors they can double or triple their money. They take the investors’ money and keep it for themselves, paying out nominal amounts to people who invested earlier in the scheme. The scheme can keep going — and continue making the people at the top rich — as long as new investors keep joining. Bernie Madoff, the convicted financial fraudster, was notorious for running one of the largest Ponzi schemes in history.

Examples of Get-Rich-Quick Schemes

Get-rich-quick schemes can take many different forms, and it isn’t always easy to recognize them for what they are. Some of the most common examples of legal (and illegal) get-rich-quick schemes include:

•   MLMs and pyramid schemes disguised as MLMs

•   Work-at-home scams that promise you’ll earn major money

•   Investment scams that promise high returns for very little money

•   Side hustle and online business scams

•   Debt relief and credit repair scams

•   Lottery scams

•   Fake job listing scams

•   Scams related to student loan forgiveness or government benefits

•   Home improvement scams

•   Mystery shopping scams

•   Giveaway or free prize scams

And of course, there’s the ever-enduring Nigerian prince scheme. This scam and its many variations promise you a large inheritance, finder’s fee, or compensation in exchange for accepting a deposit into your bank account. Scammers, who claim to be royalty (perhaps hoping that will impress their target and sound legitimate) ask that once you receive the deposit, you send part of the money back to them and keep the rest.

In reality, the scammer is trying to trick you into handing over your bank information, so they can try to use your account number and routing number to cheat you. Or else they ask you to wire them a small amount to cover processing fees before they can send the money along to you. It’s an ongoing get-rich-quick scheme that unfortunately continues to collect victims.

Are Get-Rich-Quick Schemes Reliable?

A get-rich-quick scheme can make lots of promises, but more often than not, they fall short when it comes to the delivery. What you can usually count on with a get-rich-quick scheme is that you’ll lose money if you participate. That’s because that’s how these schemes are designed to operate.

Getting money for nothing sounds attractive, and so it’s easy to fall victim to influencer schemes when you see the lavish lives they lead on social media. But there’s a significant difference between rich vs. wealthy and again, there’s no guarantee that any get rich quick scheme will produce the results you want.

Even if you don’t lose money outright, you may only get a small return on investment. Or it can take much longer to see results. For example, say you’re interested in becoming a blogger so you can quit your full-time job. You see a popular writing course advertised by lots of different bloggers who claim to be making six figures a year.

You buy the course, believing that in exchange for your payment of just $497 you’ll soon be on your way to making $10,000 or more each month from home. Except you complete the course and don’t see instant results. In fact, it takes you more than three years to build up your business to the point where you’re making steady income.

You might eventually get rich, but there’s no “quick” about it. That’s why get-rich-quick schemes are so problematic. They rely on people looking for a shortcut to easy money, despite that building one’s income and net worth can in reality take years.

Recommended: Are You Bad with Money? Here’s How to Get Better

Tips to Spot a Get-Rich-Quick Scheme

Identifying a get-rich-quick scam isn’t always easy since some scammers can be so convincing and seem so sincere. And in some cases, schemes for quick riches are based on legitimate ways to make or invest money. If you’re worried about getting hit by a get-rich-quick schemer, here are some of the ways to spot a scam in action.

Upfront Payment

A request for upfront payment is often a dead giveaway that a scam is afoot. Email phishing scams like the Nigerian prince scheme are a great example. There are some common credit card scams that fall into this category as well. These scams make false claims about being able to raise your credit scores overnight or wipe out credit card debt instantly, as long as you pay their fee first.

Misleading Headlines With False Claims

Scammers often use clickbait-y headlines to grab consumers’ attention. They can make claims that are grandiose or outright false to get you to click and check out their product or service. You may not realize how misleading those claims are until you’ve bought into the scheme.

Secret Tips and Information

Another tactic scammers may use to get your attention is to tell you they have insider information that they’re willing to share with you to help you get rich. Of course, you’ll only be able to access those secret tips once you’ve purchased something or paid them a fee. It’s particularly important to be wary of those so-called secrets when it comes to investing, since insider trading is illegal.

‘100% Success Rate Guaranteed!’

Scammers may also use language that suggests that everyone who’s ever used their product or service has seen success or that success is guaranteed. That could fall under the heading of misleading information in violation of the Truth in Advertising Act. And even if it’s technically true that the success rate is 100%, the results may not be the same for everyone.

If It Sounds Too Good to Be True

Here’s perhaps the easier rule for spotting a get rich quick scam: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is, as the saying goes. Attempting to fact-check or verify claims that someone is making about a product or service can help to weed out scammers. If you can’t verify any of the claims they’re making, that’s a sign to be wary of their statements.

Going to Trusted Sources, Not Influencers or Celebrities

Influencers and celebrities can make a lot of money promoting products or services that are designed to help you get rich. But again, they may be getting paid for that promotion, so they can’t be considered a reliable source.

Researching get-rich-quick offers through trusted sources is important for separating fact from fiction. For example, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can be a great resource for reading up on the latest scams targeting consumers.

Unwilling to Share Their Business Model

Transparency is key to rooting out get-rich-quick scammers. Let’s say someone claims to be able to help you make $10,000 by starting your own business from home but is unwilling to tell you how they do it. That’s a sign that you might not want to take them at their word.

‘You Do Not Need Any Experience!’

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could make a fortune with no prior experience or knowledge? That’s the hope upon which some get-rich-quick fraudsters capitalize. While there are legitimate ways to make money that don’t necessarily require years of experience, scammers can use that to persuade people to buy into a product or service that leaves you holding the bag. Or they can twist their wording to make it seem like you can make money even without experience, when really, there’s a steep learning curve involved.

Recommended: Guide to Financially Downsizing Your Life and Saving Money

Alternatives to Get-Rich-Quick Schemes

Getting rich overnight probably isn’t the cards for most people, unless they happen to win the lottery or a wealthy relative passes away and leaves them a huge inheritance. If you want to get rich (or become wealthy), you’ll most likely need to put in some effort and give it some time.

Here are some legitimate wealth-building alternatives to get-rich-quick schemes:

•   Starting and growing a business

•   Using side hustles to supplement your income

•   Asking for a raise or promotion at work

•   Moving to a higher-paying job with a different company

•   Reducing spending and paying down debt

•   Investing money consistently

•   Working with a financial advisor or wealth manager

Admittedly, these ideas may seem a lot more boring and difficult than get-rich-quick schemes. But they’re all proven ways to increase financial stability and raise your net worth.

Getting financial advice from trusted professionals can help you make the most of the money you’re earning, saving, and investing. But is wealth management worth it? It can be, if it helps you to achieve your financial goals. And it’s likely a better alternative to trusting in the get-rich-quick schemes that abound today.

Banking With SoFi

Trying to get rich may be a lofty and elusive goal, but you can certainly take steps to improve your financial situation. Keeping your money in the right bank account can be a great place to start.

When you open a SoFi bank account, you can get checking and savings in one convenient place. You can manage your money online or via the SoFi mobile app and earn a competitive APY on balances. And you can get paid up to two days early with a qualifying direct deposit.

Better banking is here with SoFi, NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Checking Account Overall.* Enjoy up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.


Can get-rich-quick schemes be good?

More often than not, get-rich-quick schemes require you to pay money for an investment or product that claims to help you grow your wealth immediately. Typically, though, the results you get can be very different from what you expect. In other words, they are unlikely to be good.

How many businesses are considered get-rich-quick schemes?

There are no definitive statistics on how many businesses are considered to be get-rich-quick schemes. Multi-level marketing companies and direct sales companies often get labeled as get-rich-quick operations, even when those businesses are legitimate. This makes hard numbers difficult to find.

What can I do if I have fallen for a get-rich-quick scheme?

If you’ve fallen for a scam, try to minimize or limit your losses by not funneling any more money into the scheme. If you believe the scheme is illegal, you can report it to the Federal Trade Commission. You could also file a police report and report the scheme to your state attorney general’s office. If a scammer tricked you into handing over your banking or financial information, alert your bank to monitor your account for potentially fraudulent transactions. You may also need to update your login details for financial websites.

Photo credit: iStock/alfexe

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