In this post I thought it would be interesting to talk about illegal ways to make money. Note that I say “interesting” – I am not condoning any of these ideas or suggesting you try them.
I just thought this could be a fun, if not so serious, topic to think about. The way I see it, even if we think we would never “try this at home,” there could still be something to learn from it.
Why Do People Make Money Illegally?
The answers to this question are potentially many, so I certainly can’t give one answer that applies to everyone who resorts to illicit activity.
The obvious reason, of course, is that many illegal money-making ventures are extremely lucrative. If it doesn’t bother you knowing you are very likely harming others in the process (it would certainly bother me), then you can make a lot of money through illegal means. Admittedly much more than from taking surveys.
But that is just the obvious aspect of it. There are other, more nuanced, and more complex socio-economic reasons for why people resort to illegal means of making money.
Consider this clip from the classic movie, Aladdin:
In this scene, we see Aladdin and his pet monkey, Abu, collude to steal a melon from the marketplace. If you don’t know, Aladdin is a street urchin. He is poor and must steal the melon for the sake of survival.
Sure, you could argue he should find a way to develop real skills so he doesn’t have to resort to stealing. At that exact moment, though, he is fighting for survival and doesn’t have the breathing room to start learning a new skill.
This is not unlike what can happen in real life. Some people are just in a tough situation. Maybe they don’t want to resort to illegal activity – but maybe they don’t have a choice.
Illegal Ways To Make Money Online
Again, I just want to reiterate that anyone actually do any of these illegal activities to make money. This is more about building awareness about these things and trying to understand why people do them.
1. Stealing Personal Data
You may have heard “cash is king,” but let’s be honest: these days, data is king.
I’m sure you have heard about the many data breaches that have happened in recent years, such as those with Experian, Target, and other companies.
The result of these breaches was hundreds of millions of people having their data, and possibly even their identities, compromised.
Obviously, this type of crime requires advanced technical knowledge, and the punishment can be steep.
2. Email Scams
I’m sure you have heard of the “Nigerian prince” character by now. Although it has almost become a farce in the world of the internet, it is nevertheless rooted in reality.
The basic concept is that some rich person you’ve never heard of sends you an email saying you are owed some ungodly amount of money, like $100 million. Now, all they need is your banking info to send it to you!
I hope you see where this is going.
Sadly, many people have fallen for this one over the years. Don’t be one of them. And definitely don’t try to run this scam on others.
3. Email Spam
Viagra pills, anyone? Although this is similar with #2, it’s not quite the same thing. Usually, spam doesn’t have the intention to deceive, but the message will be unsightly and/or annoying.
Yes, Viagra advertisements are one example. As are life insurance ads, personal loan ads, and many others.
Indeed, typically these will be product ads, but what makes them spam is that they are being sent to millions of people when, in reality, a relatively small number of people will actually be interested.
By the way, this is not actually illegal in the US. It is, however, illegal in places with stricter email regulations – you may have heard of GDPR.
Luckily, many email providers such as Gmail do have spam filters. Every now and then, however, these emails do slip through, and it can be annoying to receive them for sure.
But, due to the sheer number of these emails being sent out (think in the millions), those sending them are able to generate revenue since they have the ability to mass-send so many of them.
4. Malware Infections
Malware infections are similar to stealing personal data. The biggest difference is that end-users are typically targeted directly.
The result of malware infections can be many, such as stealing personal data from personal computers. We have also seen ransomware, in which malware locks up a computer and can only be unlocked after the user pays a fee.
Malware attacks are one of the costliest types of cyber attacks, with companies in 2018 spending over $2 million on them in just 2018 alone.
5. Identity Theft
Similar to stealing data is identity theft. Rather than simply stealing people’s data and then selling it to a third party, an identity thief takes over a person’s entire identity.
This can be used to make purchases in the person’s name, commit fraud, or do other illicit activities where it is beneficial to use someone else’s identity.
“Real World” Illegal Ways to Make Money
The above schemes primarily focus on things done online or leveraging technology. Now we’re going to cover illegal money-making activities that happen in the real world.
6. Robbing Banks or Stores
This can be robbing a bank, convenience store, or anything that results directly in the loss of cash for a business owner.
You may have noticed, though, that this type of crime is becoming more difficult to commit. That’s because while most retail stores accept cash, it is either taken away at the end of the day, or the till won’t open after the close of business.
Given the lowered success rate of this rate and the overall danger involved, it doesn’t seem worth doing, although many people still attempt it.
7. Theft of Property
In addition to robbing stores, many people choose to steal property instead. These days, with so many people carrying around valuable devices, this one seems like a low-hanging fruit in a way.
I have heard of lots of people having phones, laptops, and other electronics stolen from inside their cars – whether locked or unlocked.
In less-common scenarios, sometimes people even have their cars stolen.
While it is certainly difficult to estimate the cost of property theft, it is usually estimated to cost Americans around $15 billion every year.
8. Selling Drugs
Selling drugs on the street is never good regardless of the type of drug. Even if the drug is a legal one, it’s still illegal to sell it if the seller is not properly licensed.
Of course, things only compound from there if the person is also selling a drug that is totally illegal, such as hard drugs.
And the opioid epidemic only makes this one worse from a moral/ethical standpoint. And given that drug dealers may not even clear six figures, this one isn’t worth it in my opinion.
I buy a box [a kilogram] for £8,500 every two weeks. I’ll sell half of it for £5,000 straight away, which makes the ounce price on the other 18 just under £200 each. I sell them for £350, so I make around £5,500 profit a month.-Drug dealer named Ali, from a Vice article
Sure, that’s a decent amount of money, but it only works out to £66,000 ($86,000 currently) to sell drugs illegally. Ali was selling ketamine.
Now, when I say gambling, I’m not referring to feeding penny slots. Slot machines are pure luck, and, of course, the house always wins (in the long run).
What I’m actually referring to are those who play games where you can increase your chances of winning with the right level of skill and know-how. One example of this would be poker.
And then there are those who make millions playing fantasy football. These stories are surprisingly common nowadays. However, you can’t expect to make millions playing fantasy sports casually.
Some of these guys (and yes, it’s mostly guys) have complex systems in place that most of us couldn’t fathom drumming up.
All that being said, some of this activity is illegal depending on where you live. State laws often have to be taken into consideration, but playing poker for money at people’s houses is illegal in many states. Same goes for playing fantasy sports for money.
These activities might be fun and even profitable for some, but that doesn’t mean they are legal.
Conclusion on Illegal Ways to Make Money
As you can see, there are many ways to make money illegally. Unsurprisingly, though, most of them are risky and often dangerous.
In order to successfully make money in an illegal way, you usually have to be highly skilled in some way (or in multiple ways). And if you get caught, the penalties are understandably steep.
For this reason (and others) I would needless to say not recommend trying any of these. However, it is good to be aware of them so we can protect ourselves.
After all, the unfortunate reality is that there is always someone trying to carry out some kind of heist. The more you know, the safer you’ll be!