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6 proven ways to make a dishonest living

Ready to make some easy money for a change? Here's a list of popular ploys you can use to separate your fellow humans from their hard-earned cash.

By Stacy Johnson Oct 3, 2012 2:36PM

This post comes from Stacy Johnson at partner site Money Talks News.


Money Talks News logoAbout 10 years ago, I did a TV news story on a local nonprofit claiming to help battered women. Their funding method was to solicit boat donations, which they'd then sell to fund their charitable work.


Image: Business man with open hand out © Le Club Symphonie, Cultura, Getty ImagesWhile the "charity" wouldn't talk to me, their tax returns had plenty to say. For example, in the year previous to my report, their income was about $23 million. But they donated only $50,000 to a local women's shelter. The vast majority of the remaining money -- more than $20 million -- went to marketing. It was paid to a for-profit company, which happened to be owned by the same group of people who ran the charity.


After putting together my news story, I contacted the state attorney general's office to report what was obviously a scam disguised as a nonprofit. Their response was essentially that it was unclear they were doing anything illegal, and even if they were, state investigators were far too busy to look into it.


I've seen lots of similar stories in the 20-plus years I've been doing consumer news. And I'd be lying if I didn't admit there have been times when I wondered why I was working so hard while surrounded by others so willing to throw their integrity under the bus in exchange for some quick cash.


If you're like me -- saddled with inconvenient morals and ethics -- use the following list as businesses to beware of. But if you're not so encumbered, the following proven moneymakers might lead to a lucrative new career.


1. Be an investment guru.

Don't let a total lack of expertise hold you back. Use this simple method to convince the gullible you're the next Warren Buffett:

  • Purchase a large list of likely investors. Divide it into two or more groups.
  • Send a different stock idea to each group. (Use a dart board to pick them -- it doesn't matter.)
  • Wait a few weeks. Throw out the group that received a losing recommendation. Send an additional pick to those who got a winner.
  • Repeat this process until what remains is a group you've supplied with three or four consecutive winners.
  • Offer them the opportunity to harness your "Super-Secret Proven Investment Method!" for a mere $199 a month.

If that seems like too much hassle, just run ads promising a 50% return. Your victims should be wary: After all, if you can earn 50% on your own money, you'd hardly need theirs. Don't worry. That won't occur to them.


2. Start a nonprofit.

As mentioned above, call yourself a charity, and cash is sure to follow. From children to dolphins, show people pictures of mammals in distress and they'll hand over money. Inexplicably, they'll often do so without taking the few seconds required to check out a nonprofit at free sites like Better Business BureauGuidestar or Charity Navigator.


Hate the idea of filing the paperwork necessary to start a nonprofit? Just fake it.


Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, I began seeing collection boxes on various store counters in my neighborhood soliciting donations for a charity called The Orphans of 9/11. Instead of dropping in my change, I called the charity to request their tax return. Turns out they weren't collecting donations in my state and didn't use collection boxes at all.


Someone had merely stolen their logo and fabricated the boxes. They'd been emptying them regularly for months, but I was the first person who attempted to verify they were legitimate.


When I called my local police department to report this despicable crime, they took a report, but said they didn't have the manpower to stake out the boxes and catch the thief. Their advice: Go around my neighborhood and inform the merchants.


3. Offer simple solutions to complex problems.

From losing weight to getting rich, a lot of people are desperate to believe there's gain without pain.


I did my first news story on weight-loss products more than 15 years ago. The subject was fat-burning pants that supposedly made you thinner while you slept. The expert I interviewed was a physician specializing in weight-loss research at a local university. I don't need the script to remember his exact words: "There are two ways to lose weight: Eat less or exercise more."


Because so many people are unwilling to exert effort to accomplish meaningful change in their lives, this field is wide open. There's no shortage of problems out there. Pick one, create a product or service offering a simple solution -- whether it works or not is irrelevant -- and you're off to the races.


And if you're worried about a watchdog government agency like the Federal Trade Commission raining on your parade, check out the next idea.

4. Cure what ails.

Create a product that promises a quick fix to a common illness, and you're in business. Don't worry about people reading the label. Just create a catchy ad.


In 2008 we did a TV news story on a widely advertised headache remedy called HeadOn: You can watch the story here. The idea seemed appealing: Rub a wax stick resembling lip balm on your head and your headache would disappear.


HeadOn was marketed back then as a homeopathic medicine. (Apparently, it's since been sold to another company and reformulated.) Homeopathic remedies are supposed to work by essentially taking a curative active ingredient, then diluting it to the point where it's basically no longer present. In the case of HeadOn, for example, the active ingredient was diluted to the point of an eye-dropper in a swimming pool. Then it was put into wax tubes and was supposed to cure a headache by being rubbed on the surface of the skin.


If that can be sold, what can't be? Don't be concerned the big drugstore chains will laugh you out of their office when you come up with your concoction. When I did my story, at least one major chain not only offered HeadOn, it created its own generic version.


5. Predict the future.

Whether it's love or money, we'd all like to know what's going to happen next. Alas, life is complicated. There are simply too many variables for anyone to reliably know what the future holds. But that doesn't prevent everyone from psychic hotlines to Wall Street investment houses from promising you they can predict what's ahead -- and charging money to do it.


For nearly 10 years, Money Talks News has been getting annual economic predictions from a major Wall Street analyst, then comparing them with responses from people we stop on the street. The verdict? When it comes to things like oil prices, stock market returns, and housing prices, Main Street is often just as accurate as Wall Street.


Perhaps picking on Wall Street professionals is unfair: At least their guesses are educated, and they'll admit their predictions are based on events subject to change. Psychics and fortunetellers, on the other hand, operate openly without those constraints and rake in millions doing so.


We all know -- or certainly should -- that the future is unknowable. But because the desire to see what's ahead is so compelling, this is an area rife with promise for anyone willing to convince others they have a crystal ball.


6. Kick people while they're down.

While there's always an audience for practically anything that promises a quick fix to a common problem, the desperate are the mother lode for the unscrupulous. From foreclosure rescue to debt settlement to nonexistent government grants, many of the most successful scams target those down on their luck.


People drowning in a sea of debt and desperation will cling to any lifeline you care to throw. Keep in mind, however, before wading in: It's critical to be utterly devoid of decency.


The bottom line

If you're looking to make a buck or two, and can leave your scruples at the door, there's plenty of opportunity out there. So stop worrying about what's honest and start thinking about what sells!


My list is hardly complete. What can you add? Tell me below. And the next time you encounter someone who says there's no need for any sort of government regulation, send them a link to this article.


More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

Oct 4, 2012 7:10AM
sneak into the country and live off the government  should be listed.
Oct 4, 2012 10:11AM
Get into politics, Congress, Senate or some sort of presidential appointment, you can make good money with great benefits.  You can screw up and then pass the buck to your suborninates, remember crap flows downhill.  Government rule of thumb.
Oct 3, 2012 9:10PM
A friend of mine in NYC got laid off in September 2008 and a guy we knew told him to smuggle cigarettes from an Native American Indian Reservation to NYC.  The difference in legal cigarettes and untaxed was about $6.00 a pack. So he started with 299 cartons (300 cartons was a class C felony, the lowest) and started selling them to factory workers in Brooklyn during lunch hours. Within three months he was taking orders from people for dozens of cartons and doesn't pay a dime in taxes. He's now making about $4,000 a week, all cash. And it's easier and less dangerous than selling drugs. Penalities can be a bitch if caught but usually no jail time, just fines. Oh, and be sure to use leased vehicles. They can seize the vehicle if it's yours.
Oct 3, 2012 8:07PM
This article missed the biggest way.  Go into politics.
Oct 4, 2012 12:02AM

While living overseas in Southeast Asia, I would occasionally have to use internet cafe's to go online.  I would always see girls and dudes dressed as girls chatting on computers with foreigners on  foreign dating sites.  They would have several different chat windows open all at once.  Some of them with web cams and some of them didn't use the web cam.  Anyways after living there a while you meet all sorts of people and I found out that was big business for those people.  Westerners send huge amounts of money to those girls on the dating sites.  Some of them are not even girls, and some are married with children and they just consider it a job.  They message hundreds of lonely men on those sites daily.  They develop online relationships with them overtime sometimes months before ever asking for any money.  Then an emergency comes up and then thats when the money rolls in.  Some of them are really good at it and spend up to 8hrs a day at it.  Its sad and wrong how they take advantage of old lonely dudes, but its partly their fault.  Not that it makes it any better.   The list forgot how powerful loneliness is, and how it can be used to make money.   

Oct 4, 2012 12:04AM
Apparently MSN does not want the truth on their sites.  Express an opinion about the fraud in government and it's deleted.  Censorship like this is what awaits us in the future from these types of news agencies and the politicans.  I stand by my post that they deleted. 
Oct 3, 2012 11:56PM
Unfortunately most of the people that are supposed to protect us don't give a shi*.  I remember when someone stole my credit card info and used it illegally, and I had info as to who that person might be.  The police said if I investigated or did anything other than request a refund from the bank and get a new credit card, that I would be the one that was arrested.  Isn't it interesting that no one is following up the Solyndra (or however it's spelled) where we lost half a billion.  I don't see anyone doing any jail time for that either.  The administration after pushing through that green company pretends it never happened.  That got pushed under the rug pretty fast.  Why the hel* is that?  To those that think Bush is the only crook, come on.  It scares the Shi* out of me this arrogant person we have as president will get elected to another term.  So many people think of Wall Street or big corporations as awful people when they don't seem to acknowlege the fraud in all of our politicans and unions across the board who screw all of us and are bankrupting us all.  I'm still waiting to hear about the a** who served one term as police chief of Bell, Ca. in his mid-50s who's trying to collect a yearly pension of over $500,000 a year.  Saw another YouTube of a pilot of 20 years from a major airline collecting a pension of $78 a month.  We're surrounded by massive fraud and no one does anything. 
Oct 3, 2012 6:37PM
Or get yourself elected to a federal level office.
Then all you have to do is talk,  delay,  and waffle.
The bucks just come in naturally,  you only need to count them and send them to some safe place.
And you'll never stop getting ridiculous benefits for the rest of your life.

Oct 3, 2012 5:22PM
Oct 3, 2012 5:17PM

you left out drug dealing.  and don't forget befriending the homeless then taking out insurance on them and running them over, I remember seeing a story about some women doing that.  In fact, murder for hire is definitely a seller's market if you can prove you're not a cop.



Oct 3, 2012 9:53PM
Right on!  Excellent article and very true about the failure of our government agencies to do an adequate job at policing these scam artists.  The problem is not enough allocation for investigators - the government's investigative workforce is entirely overweight on homeland security instead (in many areas a scam on its own, wasting taxpayer money).  Another area that needs scrutiny is the legal profession and local judges - a bunch of thieves taking advantage of our failed investigative agencies.
Oct 3, 2012 9:56PM
How about you claim you are a messiah from the planet Kolob and you got a message from heaven in the form of a golden salamander.  Then you recruit people ( especially men ) and tell them that they are duty bound to take multiple wives and have as many children as possible.  Then send the children out to recruit more people with promises that they are God's chosen and will reign supreme in the universe.  Finally tell them that they must give 10% of everything they own to you so you can invest in strip malls and strip joints.
Oct 4, 2012 8:40AM

Another easy scam.  Become friends with a high powered executive or business owner.  Take him out, get him drunk, get some embarrassing photos.  Coerce him into giving you a well-paying job at his company, without defined responsibilities or expectations - even without requiring you to show up at the office.  Dip into company perks.  Even better, you can set this up with multiple companies at the same time.  Sit on the beach while your paychecks roll in!

Oct 3, 2012 5:39PM
Appealing to greed is the quickest way I know of to take advantage of people. If they think they can "get rich quick" by whatever it is you are saying then they may as well hand over their wallets and have done with it.
Oct 4, 2012 11:05AM
If you lie, cheat, or steal it is just your way of telling the world (and yourself) that you are not good enough to make it through life on your own merits.
Oct 4, 2012 6:29AM
Pimp, prostitute, union leader..... 
Oct 3, 2012 11:14PM
Waitwaitwait...  Ok, so I certainly enjoyed your article Stacy, but I do take issue with your last sentence: not only can laws/regulations prevent predatory behavior, but you countered your own argument by pointing out that you have received basically an 'f- off' when you've contacted authorities about businesses you found to be unscrupulous...
Oct 3, 2012 7:24PM
They forgot used car managers, dealerships are rife with cash payoffs and scams usually involving crooked wholesalers and auction scams thus screwing the owners and salesman. Some of these guys are making 100k+ plus on the side some as much as 400k. this on top of a salary of 100k - 250k  f'ing crooks.
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