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What is a get Rich Quick Scheme?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 17, 2024
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There are legitimate ways to accumulate a substantial amount of wealth in a relative short period of time, but they generally require a high amount of personal financial risk. A person may also get rich quickly by investing in a winning lottery ticket or hitting a jackpot on a gambling machine. An actual get rich quick scheme, however, may involve violating the law through fraud or other illegal activity.

A get rich quick scheme can best be described as an effort to acquire instant wealth by taking financial or personal advantage of others. Selling multi-vitamins may seem like a legitimate enterprise, for instance, but when the ultimate goal is to create a multi-level marketing company it becomes a get rich quick scheme. Once the original investors have recouped their investment and a substantial profit, they will often pull out completely and abandon later investors.

It may be helpful to look at each element of a "get rich quick scheme" separately to understand how it all works. The first element focuses on getting rich, meaning to acquire a significant amount of wealth with minimal investment. Many of these schemes involve high-level investments with artificially high rates of return, such as selling options in a speculative financial market or volatile commodity such as silver or oil. Unscrupulous brokers may cold call potential investors and convince them to purchase options at an inflated price, then sell off the options at a much lower price, a practice known as pump and dump.

The second element of a get rich quick scheme has to do with the fast return on investment. Those intent on becoming rich quickly do not have the luxury of time when it comes to profiting from an investment. The enterprise has to generate significant amounts of cash in a very short period of time in order to avoid discovery by legal or financial authorities.

A person may decide to place an advertisement in a local newspaper to attract investors in a "free" educational course on real estate sales, house flipping, refund processing or other get rich quick programs. The investors may end up paying for expensive start-up supplies necessary to start their own enterprises, but only the advertiser ends up profiting from those sales. The entire "get rich program" may only consist of taking out newspaper ads in order to sell the same educational program scam to new victims.

The final element of a get rich quick scheme is the word scheme. While there may be legitimate methods of gaining some wealth quickly, a get rich quick scheme is just that: a scheme. Some people may be tempted to participate in a letter-stuffing operation or a mystery shopper program, for example, but they rarely if ever realize any of the profits or benefits. The companies take advantage of people who believe it is possible to earn significant amounts of money through minimal effort, such as stuffing envelopes or other home-based piece work. In reality, these companies make more money from the content of those envelopes than by paying people to stuff them at home.

Falling for a get rich quick scheme is not as difficult as some people may choose to believe. The idea of accumulating instant wealth through minimal effort or investment is almost universally appealing. This natural desire for instant gratification drives the gambling industry, and a typical get rich quick scheme can be viewed as another form of gambling in the guise of a legitimate investment opportunity.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By JerseyJoe — On Aug 03, 2008

Henk: Marvin prayed daily to God to win the lottery. Not winning the lottery, Marvin became dejected and communicated his feelings to God.

Then God spoke to Marvin asking him to at least meet Him half way. And how do I do this inquired Marvin? God replied, for starters you might want to purchase a ticket.

By henk — On May 29, 2008

Mr. Michael Pollick, I agree with today's content in wiseGEEK regarding the (rare) pros and (usual)cons to get rich quick schemes with minimal financial outlay, if any at all, and with promised overnight results.

However, if the discussion of easy gain comes up amongst friends and strangers who gamble on lotteries or whatever, I surprise them by stating that I win on every lottery offered to me.

On observing their raised eyebrows I state that I never buy a ticket and keep the cash in my pocket.

Failproof gain if compared to failproof loss.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range...
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