There are more than 10.4 million millionaire households and 540 billionaire households in the United States, according to the research firm Spectrem Group, and who doesn't want to join their ranks? But most of the truly rich got that way through capital gains -- selling property and investments -- and by owning businesses. Trying to get rich quick without a stock market killing or genius business idea can make people susceptible to scams, schemes, and downright bad ideas. Here are 18 ways you can go broke trying to get rich.
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The odds of winning the Powerball lottery jackpot are 1 in 292,201,338. Buying 10 tickets, or 100, or even 1,000 doesn't greatly improve the chances -- the odds of getting killed by a meteorite are significantly better (1 in at least 700,000). But that doesn't stop people people from buying tickets: Last year Americans spent $74 billion on lottery tickets, the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries says. While no one is going to go broke spending a dollar or two a few times a year, some people spend astronomical sums of money hoping to hit the jackpot.
There's a saying that you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have. But that can be taken to a financially damaging extreme -- $400 Jimmy Choo shoes might not be a good idea for a barista at Starbucks. Still, a widely reported survey last spring found that 1 in 8 Americans were okay with going $1,000 or more in debt to make it look like they were living like the Kardashians.
Some 400,000 businesses launch each year -- but 470,000 close, the U.S. Census Bureau has reported. Entrepreneurs need more than just an idea to make it; they need enough customers who want their products or services, and the ability to hang in there until the cash starts flowing.
The stock market isn't a path to wealth for everyone. It's not easy to be a day trader. "Today's investing environment is exceedingly difficult for individual investors to generate superior returns to those provided by low-cost index funds," says CPA Sean Stein Smith, a member of the National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. "Past performance is no guarantee of future success, and technology has only made this more difficult."
It's unwise to put money into the stock market without holding back enough savings for when things don't work out. Investments may never yield a profit, and investors who encounter an emergency when they've funneled all their money into the stock market will be in serious financial trouble.
Individuals with a get-rich-quick mentality may want money as quickly as possible for investments or business opportunities, and payday loan companies provide it, few questions asked. But these loans are a trap: With an average $15 fee for each $100 borrowed, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says, that's a 400 percent APR.
Countless scams and schemes prey on victims who are some mix of sympathetic and greedy, often based on getting them to send money with the promise of getting much more back later. Many are long, sad stories explaining the need to transfer money out of a faraway country. By the time victims wise up and stop sending money, it's too late; the scammers not only have their money but also have enough information to start impersonating the victim and maybe even withdraw all the money in their bank accounts.
It may sound like the plot from a Lifetime movie, but the FBI says people really do use fake dating profiles to take advantage of unsuspecting lonely hearts. They begin an online romance with someone in another state or country and always use some sort of last-minute emergency to avoid face-to-face meetings -- and eventually ask for money.
Timeshares are property shared by several people, with each paying a portion of the value and upkeep costs for the privilege of staying there one to three weeks a year. But according to financial expert Dave Ramsey, the maintenance fees are ridiculously high, and investors don't get any equity out of the property.
Who wouldn't want to earn an extra $550 to $3,000 a week just by sitting at home stuffing envelopes, especially with free postage and supplies? But the Federal Trade Commission warns that consumers have to send money for the opportunity. In return they receive a letter instructing them to get friends and family to also become envelope stuffers. What they never receive is money for stuffing envelopes.
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This is yet another bogus way to make money from home. With just a computer and internet access, consumers can make anywhere from $20,000 to $45,000 a year from medical billing, no experience necessary. But this "business opportunity" requires a fee of up to thousands of dollars for software (unauthorized) and a list of potential clients (outdated). Doctors already have professionals with the proper training and credentials to do their billing -- and those professionals know a scam when they see one.
This scam starts with a call, letter, or email claiming you've won some prize or gift -- maybe a car, or thousands of dollars. You don't even recall entering a contest, but that doesn't seem to matter. (Seniors are a common target for these scams.) Just pay some fees, taxes, and handling costs, and that prize will be on the way. But there are always additional fees that keep popping up to delay delivery. The prize will never arrive.
Even consumers who don't buy lottery tickets may be conned into thinking they've won the lottery in a foreign country. In one such scam that caught the attention of Snopes, "winners" were informed that $3 million was waiting for them in a bank in the Netherlands. They could claim a lump sum payout and be eligible for a $1.3 billion lottery later but had to keep the award confidential until the money had been remitted. A follow-up letter required a fee of more than $5,500 for processing the payment.
"Mystery shoppers" are asked to visit stores and make purchases to help retailers understand whether their marketing concepts and customer service are effective or need improving. Many are hired by legitimate businesses, according to the FTC, and are paid for writing and submitting reports online. But scammers promote the gig as the first step toward a high-paying career and require payment to guarantee a job or get a certification before applying.
Small-business owners need to watch out for con artists who send checks as payment for products or services in amounts higher than what is owed, according to the Better Business Bureau. The scammers, claiming they overpaid "by accident," ask the company to deposit the check and wire them the excess amount. But it can take several days for the check to clear. By the time it bounces from insufficient funds, the victimized company may have already sent real money that's hard to recover.
Not all schemes involve the transfer of money. Sometimes, scammers send "phishing" emails seeking personal information to claim a prize or as verification for another transaction. The information might include a Social Security number, address, and bank account number, which can be used to steal a consumer's identity or drain a bank account. In another approach, an email attachment might be portrayed as more information or a verification form but actually contain a virus that searches the victim's computer for personal information. The FTC encourages consumers to report scams that come their way.
In Ponzi schemes, excellent returns are promised for small investments -- and that can be true as long as there are new investors, because the money is actually coming from the investors buying in, not from the company's "investments." When the number of investors levels off, participants learn that they have been conned. The Securities and Exchange Commission has more on the warning signs of Ponzi schemes.