It seems like every time you go online, someone tries to sell you on the idea of making fast, easy money. You see ads promising you can “get paid $300 today for your opinion” or “earn $10,000 a month working from your computer.” A friend on Facebook keeps raving about her new home-based business. After a while, you can’t help wondering: Are you missing out on a good thing?
The short answer: probably not. There are ways to make real money working from home, but the operative word is “working.” If there were really a legal way to make big bucks for a trivial amount of effort, everyone would be doing it.
Some so-called money-making schemes aren’t worth your time because you can hardly make any money doing them. Others cost so much for materials you’ll almost certainly end up spending more than you earn. And the few that offer a chance to make real money are either ethically questionable, illegitimate, or just plain illegal.
If you still think you’ve found a money-making scheme that truly can’t miss, check first to make sure it isn’t one of these. All of them sound good at first blush, but they just don’t stand up to scrutiny.
Money Making Schemes You Should Avoid
1. Car Wrap Advertising
If you don’t rigorously filter spam from your inbox, you’ve probably received a message promising to pay you hundreds of dollars per week just for driving your car. If you respond, you get a more detailed message explaining that a popular brand, such as Red Bull or Pepsi, wants to use your vehicle as a moving billboard. You just wrap your car in a giant full-body decal with the name of the brand on it. Then you drive around as you usually do. Sounds easy, right?
If you say yes to this offer, the company sends you a cashier’s check for a large sum — typically a couple thousand dollars. It instructs you to deposit it into your account. You’re to keep a few hundred as your first payment, then wire the rest to another company, which will show up at your house to apply the car wrap. Once it’s in place, you can keep driving around and earning money, week after week.
Why It’s a Bad Idea
If you’re familiar with financial scams, you’ve probably already recognized this as the setup for a cashier’s check scam. The company that’s hiring you doesn’t even exist, and the check it sends you is a fake. You can deposit it, but after several days or weeks, the bank will notify you the check has bounced.
The money you deposited from it will disappear from your account — including the portion you’ve already forwarded to the second company. That company doesn’t really exist either, so there’s no way to recover your money from it. And to add insult to injury, you’ll probably pay a hefty bank fee for the bounced check.
A Better Idea
There are a few legitimate car wrap advertising companies, like Carvertise and Wrapify. They match up companies looking to advertise their products with drivers willing to display ads on their cars. However, these legitimate companies don’t advertise by spamming your inbox, and they never send you a check and ask you to wire the money to another company.
If you’re interested in renting out your car as ad space, contact one of these legitimate companies and apply to be a driver. But bear in mind these companies don’t pay you hundreds of dollars per week. Carvertise lists its standard pay rate as only $100 per month, with opportunities to earn more by parking in specific places at certain times. But at least you aren’t draining your bank account for a business opportunity that isn’t real.
2. Paid Amazon Reviews
Amazon is the biggest marketplace in the world and the easiest way for a company with a new product to get it into the hands of as many consumers as possible. And since Amazon shoppers rely heavily on reviews to decide which products to buy, these companies want to see their products get as many 5-star reviews as possible.
One way to achieve this is to make a product so fantastic everyone who tries it wants to give it 5 stars. But superior products take time to develop, and they’re often costly to make. So some manufacturers get their 5-star reviews the easy way: They pay for them.
In 2018, NPR spoke with people all over the country who write Amazon reviews for money. These paid reviewers congregate in online groups using technology like Facebook, Reddit, and Slack. Sellers who want to buy reviews seek out these reviewers and give them detailed instructions on how to buy and review the product without triggering any of the algorithms Amazon has set up to catch fake reviews.
As soon as a fake review goes live, the seller sends the reviewer a payment that covers the cost of the purchase plus a commission of a few dollars. One interviewee says he makes around $200 a month.
Why It’s a Bad Idea
The most obvious problem with fake reviews is that they’re unethical. Their whole purpose is to dupe shoppers into spending their hard-earned cash on shoddy merchandise. Fake reviews have become so common on Amazon that even savvy shoppers have a hard time telling genuinely stellar products from the ones that have paid for their high ratings. There are even websites and apps whose sole purpose is to sift through online reviews and identify the fakes, such as FakeSpot and ReviewMeta.
If the ethical concerns aren’t enough to sway you, note that posting fake reviews is also a violation of Amazon’s community guidelines. If you get caught, the company can take down your reviews or even suspend your Amazon account. In 2015, The Guardian reports, Amazon went so far as to file a lawsuit against more than 1,000 users it claimed had posted fake reviews.
A Better Idea
There is one legitimate way to get paid (in merchandise, not cash) for Amazon reviews. Amazon’s Vine Program provides free products to a select group of trusted reviewers they call “Vine Voices” in exchange for their honest, unbiased reviews of the products.
However, this program is invitation-only, so you can’t just sign up to participate. The best way to get selected as a Vine reviewer is to write lots of honest, detailed Amazon reviews other users find helpful. Amazon says reviewers who become known as experts on specific types of products are most likely to be invited to join Vine.
3. Clickbait Ads
It’s happened to all of us: You get to the bottom of an article on one of your favorite sites, and you’re confronted by dozens of links to other articles on completely unrelated topics. These links try to lure you in with intriguing headlines saying you “won’t believe” what a particular celebrity looks like now or telling you about some everyday activity, like slicing a cake, that “you’ve been doing wrong your whole life” without knowing it.
Headlines like these are called “clickbait” because they’re designed to do just one thing: get you to click on the link. Unfortunately, if you do, the linked article doesn’t deliver on the headline’s promises. The story has nothing surprising or new about it, and it’s often spread across dozens of ad-laden pages you have to click through, getting just one or two sentences each time. Sometimes, there isn’t any content at all — just a page full of ads.
To attract as many clicks as possible, the producers of clickbait stories want to get their links onto as many sites as they can. They do that through sponsored content services like RevContent. If you own a website or blog, you can agree to put codes from one of these sponsored content services on your site, allowing an array of links to pointless stories (collectively known as “chum”) to appear at the bottom of every story you publish. The clickbait sites advertised through these links pay the sponsored content service a fee, and it passes a cut of the money on to you.
Why It’s a Bad Idea
Clickbait and chum are slowly taking over the Internet, wasting people’s time with pointless stories spread over countless ad-packed pages. If you have a legitimate website that hosts real content, the last thing you want to do is divert traffic from your site toward clickbait sites. People only have a limited amount of time and attention, and the more of it they waste on clickbait, the less they have to spend on legitimate sites like yours. Hosting clickbait links could even hurt your site, as readers realize most of the story links on your site are fake and turn away in disgust.
Ethical considerations aside, you also can’t earn much money hosting chum links. Since the money a sponsored content site earns depends on the number of clicks, a small website like a blog just can’t generate enough traffic to provide much revenue. Hosting clickbait simply dilutes the credibility of your site for minimal benefit. Indeed, many sponsored content services won’t even work with low-traffic sites.
If you have a blog or other small site, there are several legitimate ways you can earn money from it.
- Sell Ads Directly. Services like Google AdSense allow you to host ads directly on your site rather than sending readers to another site that’s full of ads. However, these ads also pay on a per-click rate, so a small site can’t make that much from them. For instance, Google estimates that a gaming-related website in North America with 50,000 monthly page views would make less than $225 per month — and it doesn’t even provide estimates for sites smaller than that.
- Use Affiliate Links. If you ever mention or link to products within a post, you can monetize your blog through programs like Amazon Affiliates, Etsy Affiliate, and ShareaSale. Each time a reader clicks on a product link in one of your posts, you earn money from the seller’s site for directing traffic there. Affiliate links offer a potential for serious earnings. Blogger Melissa Culbertson of BlogClarity says she attended a panel at which other bloggers revealed they earned tens of thousands of dollars a year from affiliate links — even with traffic of only a few thousand unique views per month.
- Create Sponsored Posts. You can also offer to work directly with a company to create posts about its products or services. Companies typically pay a flat rate for each sponsored post. Revenue varies by site and subject matter. A 2017 story in Adweek reports that sponsored posts on Instagram bring their authors an average of $300 each.
- Sell Your Own Products. If you already have a faithful following on your blog, there’s a good chance they’d be willing to pay for other content you’ve created, such as e-books or online courses. For instance, writer Steve Gillman reports making a total of $2,000 in sales from a self-published e-book about backpacking. You can also sell physical products based on your brand, such as buttons and T-shirts.
- Ask for Tips. If readers appreciate your content, ask them if they can chip in a little money to help you keep creating it. Putting a Buy Me a Coffee button on your site makes it easy for your supporters to contribute a small amount to show their appreciation. Each person who clicks on the Buy Me a Coffee link can choose to donate $3, $4, or $5 (minus a 5% platform fee), so one click per day would add up to $1,040 to $1,734 per year. You can also ask for readers’ support by setting up a Patreon account where your fans pay a monthly fee to support your work.
4. Mystery Shopping by Phone
Businesses are always interested in learning how good a job their employees are doing. One way they get this information is by hiring mystery shoppers. A mystery shopper’s job is to go into a store, buy a specific product or service, and then report back to the company on how the transaction went. They get to keep the product they purchased and often get a small payment as well.
However, some companies don’t require mystery shoppers to go into physical stores for their secret missions. Instead, they offer mystery shopping gigs by phone or email. For instance, blogger Rachel Smith tells Student Loan Hero how she once had a mystery shopping job calling car dealerships to set up an appointment for an imaginary car, then canceling the next day. She says she received between $3 to $5 for each five-minute call, for a total of around $50.
Why It’s a Bad Idea
Unfortunately, Smith’s quick and easy mystery shopping gig had some unfortunate long-term consequences. For months afterward, she kept getting follow-up calls from dealerships urging her to schedule an appointment for a car she didn’t even own. That small $50 payout ended up costing her hours of frustration.
Although it turned out to be a big hassle, at least Smith’s gig was legitimate. Many alleged mystery shopping jobs are outright scams. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns users to beware of any site that requires you to register and pay a fee to get access to mystery shopping gigs. Some of these sites offer a meaningless “certification” that won’t actually help you get jobs, while others sell a directory of companies that hire mystery shoppers — information you can find online for free through sites like MSPA Americas.
Other so-called mystery shopping jobs are thinly veiled cashier’s check scams. They tell you your first job is to evaluate a money transfer service like MoneyGram or Western Union. They send you a check and tell you to deposit it into your bank account, withdraw the money in cash, and wire it to a third party. The check, of course, is a fake, and when the bank realizes the it was illegitimate, they take their money back out of your account.
According to Glassdoor, real mystery shoppers typically make between $11 and $21 per hour. If you’re looking for legitimate mystery shopping gigs, take time to research the companies involved. Search for reviews of the company online and check sites like Scam Adviser to see if other people have reported it as a con. And remember that legitimate companies never charge you money to work for them or ask you to wire money anywhere.
If you’d prefer to earn extra money online, consider website auditing. The site UserTesting pays you to visit another website or app, complete a specific set of tasks, and record your thoughts out loud as you work. You can work in 20-minute chunks, earning about $10 each time.
5. Online Surveys
All sorts of companies have a stake in measuring public opinion. Companies developing products and services want to know what consumers will buy. Political organizations want to know how voters feel about a candidate or an issue. Many organizations want to know how the public perceives them and what, if anything, they need to change.
For many of these companies, the easiest and cheapest way to answer these questions is through online surveys. Sites like Survey Junkie, InboxDollars, E-Poll Surveys, MyPoints, and OneOpinion all invite users to submit their opinions in exchange for points, which they can save up and cash in for money or other rewards.
Why It’s a Bad Idea
If you enjoy taking surveys, they can be a good way to pass the time and pick up a little cash while waiting for a bus. But if you’re looking at this hobby as a serious way to make money, keep looking.
In most cases, the points you earn for each survey you complete are worth less than a dollar. Given the time they take, your hourly wage for filling out these surveys works out to far less than the minimum wage. Writer Elyssa Kirkham, who tested out several survey sites for Student Loan Hero, reports that her average earnings came to only $1.18 per hour.
You can earn more money for your opinion by taking part in focus groups, either in person or online. Through these groups, you can get paid to taste different foods, comment on a TV show, or give your opinion of several different product package designs. In January 2019, Find Focus Groups founder Danny DiGiovanni told Part-Time Money that most focus groups take about an hour and pay $75 to $100.
Online panels can be even easier because you don’t have to leave home to participate in them. The pay rate for online panels listed at Find Focus Groups is roughly the same as for in-person focus groups. You can find opportunities to take part in either type of group on DiGiovanni’s site or Craigslist or by doing an Internet search.
6. Envelope Stuffing
From time to time, you probably see ads in your email or online for what sounds like the easiest job ever: sending out mail from your home. They promise to pay as much as a couple of dollars for each circular you mail out and cover all expenses for postage and supplies. In a single week, they say, you can earn hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Why It’s a Bad Idea
If you’re wondering why companies are willing to pay this kind of money for such easy work, they aren’t. Envelope stuffing is a work-from-home scam, not a real job. If you respond to one of these offers, the company explains you must pay a “small fee” upfront to cover the cost of your training materials — as if you need any training to put paper into envelopes.
If you send the fee, the company often follows up with a letter telling you that before you can get started with this “opportunity,” you need to recruit other people to participate. They want you to talk up the envelope-stuffing job to friends and family and persuade them to sign up as well so they can collect even more fees. There’s little chance you’ll ever actually receive the materials you’re supposed to mail out and next to no chance you’ll ever get paid a dime for your efforts.
If you’re looking to make money doing simple clerical tasks, your best bet is to contact a staffing agency such as Kelly Services or Adecco. According to Adecco’s salary calculator, an administrative assistant with no prior experience who lives in the Midwest can earn between $37,500 and $41,750 per year, depending on the company. These jobs also come with benefits such as health insurance and a 401(k) plan.
If you need a job that lets you work from home, you can still find legitimate jobs doing this type of work. For instance, you could transcribe audio recordings, do data entry, or be a virtual assistant. Check out job sites like Indeed and ZipRecruiter for opportunities.
7. Multilevel Marketing
Multilevel marketing schemes, or MLMs, are theoretically in the business of selling products — anything from vitamins to cleaning products to cosmetics. However, instead of opening stores or selling their products online, these companies recruit members of the public to sell their goods by hosting sales “parties” at home or even going door to door. If a friend of yours has ever cornered you at a gathering and tried to persuade you to buy some life-changing nutritional supplement, chances are they were working for one of these companies. Examples of MLMs include Amway (home care), LuLaRoe (clothing), Mary Kay (cosmetics), and Pampered Chef (kitchen tools).
To get as many people as possible to sell their products, these companies give their sellers a bonus for recruiting other sellers. And it’s not just a one-time payment. When you recruit a new salesperson, you earn a percentage of all that person’s sales for life. Better yet, you earn a percentage of all the sales from all the sellers they recruit as well.
Do the math, and it quickly becomes clear that the real money in this gig comes not from selling products, but from recruiting other people to sell products. And if you’re lucky enough to get in early and bring in as many other sellers as possible, it can be incredibly lucrative. For instance, the skin care MLM NuSkin claims people at its top sales tier, “Blue Diamond,” earned an average of $451,152 from commissions in 2018.
Why It’s a Bad Idea
Technically, MLMs are not the same thing as illegal pyramid schemes because these companies do have real products to sell. However, they have the same fundamental problem as pyramid schemes: Only those at or near the top make real money. Many rank-and-file sellers invest lots of money and time and get practically nothing for their efforts. A 2011 FTC report found more than 99% of those who participate in MLMs lose money.
The ugly truth is most MLMs make money not from selling to the public, but from selling their products to their own salespeople. The sellers pay special “member rates,” which are typically higher than the prices they’d pay for similar goods at the store, and store them in their own homes, then sell them at still more overpriced rates to the public. Some companies charge hefty sign-up fees to become a salesperson or require large upfront purchases of products. Others bleed their salespeople slowly but steadily through ongoing subscription fees.
However, the FTC report concludes that even if an MLM doesn’t charge its sellers any money, its business model is still fundamentally flawed. It assumes there’s an unlimited pool of new customers just waiting for the company’s products. That means new salespeople can keep coming on board and recruiting their friends, and all of them will be able to sell just as much as the people who recruited them.
But in the real world, this kind of infinite market doesn’t exist. Say your friend, who has been selling LuLaRoe clothes to all her friends for months, signs you up to do the same. The problem is that many of your friends are also her friends, and all of them have closets full of LuLaRoe clothing already. The market surrounding you is tapped, and there’s no way for you to earn money.
Jon Taylor, the author of the FTC report, talks at length about his personal experience selling for NuSkin as a young man. He bought lots of NuSkin products to give out as samples, talked them up to everyone he met, and aggressively recruited new salespeople. Within a year, he had worked his way up to the top 1% of all sellers in the company — and he was still losing over $1,200 per month.
The FTC report makes a point of distinguishing between MLMs and “legitimate direct selling programs.” In direct sales, companies hire people to sell their products directly to the public — and then the companies pay them for it. Sellers don’t have to recruit other sellers to make money, and they don’t have to maintain a large inventory that they buy with their own money. It takes work to make serious money through direct sales, but it’s possible.
One example of a legitimate direct sales company is the clothing brand Abby+Anna. Anyone in the U.S. or Canada can sign up to be one of the company’s “Style Advisors,” selling their clothes online for a 20% commission. You can also apply to be a reseller, buying Abby+Anna clothes in bulk and selling them at a marked-up price.
Taylor has also written a report called “1,357 Ways to Make More Money than in MLM.” You need a subscription to Scribd to read the full report, but the preview mentions numerous small-business opportunities that are “fairly easy to get into, even from home.” These options include computer services, Internet-based sales, home repair and maintenance, making and selling craft items, and selling insurance. All these jobs require hard work and hustle, but they have a much better chance of paying off than an MLM.
8. Day Trading
The conventional way to invest in stocks is to choose a stock that looks like a good value, buy it, and hold on to it as the price goes up. When you think it’s starting to get too high and the stock is no longer a good value, you sell it and pocket your profit. And in the meantime, you make money by collecting any dividends the stock pays.
Day traders don’t do that. Instead, they try to take advantage of sudden changes in the market to turn a quick profit. They buy a stock that seems to be on an upward trend, then sell it for a higher price later that same day. Or they watch for the moment when a stock’s value dips below the average, quickly buy it, and resell it as soon as the price returns to normal. Or at least, that’s the theory.
Why It’s a Bad Idea
The problem is that predicting accurately which way a given stock is going to move — not just over the long term, but within hours — takes experience and expert knowledge. It also requires nerves of steel since the smallest error in timing can cost you all your profit on a trade and then some. In short, if you’re just an amateur trying to make a quick buck buying stocks online, day trading is an excellent way to lose your shirt.
It is possible to make real money in the stock market without being an expert. You just can’t expect to do it overnight. The easiest way to achieve financial independence this way is to sign up for a broker like Ally Invest and build a “lazy” portfolio of low-cost index funds or exchange-traded funds, then invest a fixed amount in that portfolio each month. With this strategy, you automatically buy more shares of your chosen funds when their price is low and fewer when their price is high.
Then, simply sit tight and hold onto your shares, paying no attention to the short-term ups and downs of the market. The longer you hold them, the better your return is likely to be.
If you need help selecting appropriate funds for your portfolio, a robo-advisor like Betterment or Wealthfront can help. These automated services use computer algorithms to pick out investments that fit your investing goals and risk tolerance. They can rebalance your portfolio as needed to keep it in line with your goals and even help you minimize your tax liability. And they do it all for less than you’d pay a human financial advisor.
9. Retail Arbitrage
The usual way to sell a product is to buy it directly from the manufacturer for a low wholesale price, then sell it for a higher price. The difference between the two is your profit. However, some sellers have hit on what looks like an easier idea: Find a retailer who’s selling the product for a dirt-cheap price, buy it, and sell it on Amazon or eBay for a higher price.
For example, say you hit the thrift shop and pick up a bunch of name-brand clothes at bargain prices. You resell them all on eBay for twice the amount you paid and pocket the difference. Easy money, right?
Why It’s a Bad Idea
Deals like this don’t actually come along very often. If there really were stores all over the country with designer clothes (or shoes or any other product) lying around at a fraction of the price they could fetch online, someone else would have snatched them up for resale already. It takes a lot of effort and a fair amount of luck to find products for significantly less than they’re worth.
Even if you’re lucky enough to find an undervalued product to resell, the profits are often too small to pay a decent wage for all the time you’ve put in. You have to store the products in your home, list them online, and ship them to buyers. So even when you can make money with retail arbitrage, it’s not easy money.
You have a better chance of making money through online sales the old-fashioned way — buying goods from the manufacturer. It works best if you can find a company making products overseas, where labor costs are much lower. You can pick up the products for a low price and sell them here in the U.S., where consumers are willing to pay a lot more.
However, even with this business model, you have to be careful. Those ultra-cheap toys you buy from China can turn out to be shoddy goods that any American consumer would demand an immediate refund for. If half your customers end up returning the product, you’ll most likely lose all your profit and then some.
If you want to make money this way, you have to do your homework. Check out the product you’re planning to sell in person, and make sure it’s something consumers are willing to pay for.
10. Online Gambling
Casinos have always lured people in with the promise of easy money. In theory, you can go in with a quarter in your pocket, put it in a slot machine, win a $50 jackpot, put all that money on 22 at the roulette table, and walk out 15 minutes later with $1,750. Of course, the odds of a win like this are incredibly small, but people still spend a lot each year trying to beat them. Worldwide, casinos raked in an estimated $110 billion in 2017, according to Statista.
Online gambling has all the same allure, but with the added perk of 24/7 availability. At an online casino, you can gamble at any hour of the day or night without even having to leave your bedroom. It’s no wonder Statista estimated the size of the online gambling market worldwide at nearly $46 billion in 2019 — and estimated it would reach more than twice that by 2024.
Why It’s a Bad Idea
Online gambling has the same problem as all other forms of gambling: The odds are stacked heavily against you. A lucky few gamblers come out of a casino with more money than they had going in, but most of them leave poorer. The Cost of Play Chart from the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba estimates that the average cost of playing casino games ranges from $2.52 to $165 per hour, depending on the game and the stakes. And the fact that online casinos are always open makes it even easier to spend a lot of hours playing and lose a lot of money fast.
Gambling can also be addictive. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, an estimated 1% of all American adults are “pathological” gamblers — people who are unable to control their betting behavior. Another 2% to 3% are “problem” gamblers, whose gambling negatively impacts their lives. And because online gaming is constantly available, it’s even easier to get hooked on than games you can only play when you happen to be in Las Vegas or Atlantic City.
There are no easy ways to make the kind of money you could with a single lucky spin of the roulette wheel. However, there are ways to make money at home that don’t require luck. And some of them are available online 24/7, just like online gambling, so you can easily fit them into your schedule outside your regular job.
Ways to make money online include:
- Tutoring. Sites like Education First, VIPKid, and Chegg make it easy to become an online tutor. Also, consider companies that specialize in online English as a second language tutoring. Since many of these companies are in China, their working hours fall outside the U.S. business day.
- Freelance Writing and Editing. Writing and editing are two types of freelance work you can do at any hour of the day or night. Just don’t expect to earn a lot of money right away. You need some experience and skill to get the best-paying jobs.
- Game Testing. If you love video games, consider getting paid to test them through sites like GBTN. Many game developers live overseas, so these sites need testers who are willing to work night hours. Game testing is a lot more work than just playing because you have to spend your time in the game world vigilantly searching for bugs. Still, it’s a chance to make money by gaming rather than losing money, as you most likely will gambling online.
There are very few ways to make a lot of money quickly and easily. If there were, everyone would be doing them already. There are easy ways to earn a little extra money, such as using cash-back apps like Ibotta or collecting the sign-up bonus on a new credit card. However, these low-effort strategies don’t offer a big enough payout to make a real difference in your budget.
If you want to make real money from a side gig or side business, you need to put real effort into it. There are plenty of legitimate online business opportunities, such as freelance gigs or making and selling crafts online. But to make a living — or even a significant side income — at them requires both skill and effort. It’s not quick, and it’s not easy.
The bottom line? Any money-making scheme that sounds too good to be true probably is.
Have you ever tried a get-rich-quick scheme? How did it work out for you?