Get Rich Quick Opportunities Through History and Current

Back on January 24, 1848, James Marshall discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill in California. And so began the California Gold Rush. Hundreds of thousands of people immigrated from all over North America for the chance to get rich quick. You might remember from history class, the people who eventually ended up in California a year later (travel was much slower back then) were called 49’ers.

Even further back in time, the early 1500’s to be exact, men called conquistadors explored the new world in search of wealth and riches for their respective countries. They searched for legendary cities like Cibola (one of the seven cities of gold), El Dorado, and also the fountain of youth. They were looking for riches beyond imagination as well as fame and glory.

And in the early to mid 1900’s, there was the advance payment scam which went something like this:

Hi, I’m a Nigerian Prince from the country of Nigeria. My favorite cousin is dire need of help. He is stuck in South Africa, and he lost his passport, wallet, and identification. Because of this, he can’t access our families’ riches from the country he is in. For some reason, I can’t access them either to help him get back. But I’m sure you could help. Just wire me the $10,000 that he needs, and when he returns you’ll be handsomely rewarded with over $100,000. Thanks for your help.

I’m sure you or someone you know at some point received an email similar to the paragraph above. It might not have even been as well written as the one above *sarcasm*, and it was probably much longer. But they are all basically the same. They want you to give them a smaller, but still significant, amount of money, and in exchange for your help they will give you back a much larger amount of money later.

So what do all these things have in common?

They were all opportunities to get rich quick. Get rich quick schemes date back hundreds of years.

Think about it.

The conquistadors were outfitted and sponsored by kings and queens specifically for the express purpose of bringing back gold and wealth. They didn’t hide the fact that they were searching for life changing riches.

The 49’ers of the California gold rush were also looking to get rich quick. And they thought the best way during their time to do just that was to find gold. And to find a lot of it. So many of them risked everything they had for the chance to stake a profitable claim out in California.

And the Nigerian prince? The folks helping him out were looking for a windfall also. They were just naive.

Get Rich Quick Schemes are Still Appealing Today

Why do people fall for confidence tricks like the nigerian prince scam? And why do they risk so much for such a small chance at riches? Sometimes it may be because they are just naive and kind hearted. Think: your grandma. But other times, they become blinded by the thought of the large reward. Maybe they think they have no other option?

We laugh about the different variations of the Nigerian Prince scam. And we joke about our royal buddy who wants to gift us large amounts of money.

We may talk about the wealth hungry conquistadors, and the atrocities they committed under the guise of exploration.

And the 49’ers who risked it all? We may discuss how we would never travel for a year through the wilderness or on a leaky ship just for a chance to dig up gold and become rich. But the reality is, people today are still as gullible and money-hungry as they were when these things happened.

For instance, today our version of the get rich quick scheme is the lottery. Playing the lottery is the same scheme just in different wrappings. “Even you can strike it rich.” “Cause you never know.” And my favorite, “Someone’s gotta win.”

Just recently, the Powerball reached a record level 1.6 billion dollars. People with normally good sense felt obligated to purchase a single chance at unimaginable wealth. Some purchased multiple tickets. And even though they didn’t win, they didn’t want to be left out of the mania.

And there’s the stock picking game. You could get rich if you pick the next Amazon or Apple. But that’s a mighty big “if”.

Characteristics of a Get Rich Quick Scheme

You can have something for next to nothing.

Get rich quick schemes often appeal to us, as they have over the centuries, because we all want something without all the hard work or waiting. We are all lazy by nature, and blinded by greed, we don’t make rational decisions.

And when it comes down to it, is there anything in life that is truly free? Of course not. Where you can get money or riches for next to nothing? Nowhere. Yet, so many have been deceived into thinking the opposite.

That’s why many of these opportunities or schemes have you risk some money. You need to be invested in the scheme. They play on your confidence.

The nigerian prince usually asks for money upfront. The conquistadors invested and risked their time, money, and often their lives. The 49’ers the same. Many of them lost everything when the gold didn’t pan out.

You can invest in this stock or that company. “They’re doing great things. For sure they’ll be the next big thing!”

Even when you play the lottery you have to pay for a ticket.

It seems too good to be true.

What would go through your head, if I mentioned that was planning to gift you a million dollars? For no discernable reason . . .

“No way! Not me, it’s too good to be true. What’s the catch?”

You wouldn’t believe me if I offered you a million dollars, yet we are quick to accept the premise of winning the lottery. We are normally skeptical creatures. And yet when the warning bells go off in our head, we ignore them and continue on. We will stake our future on a small chance of wealth.

In the case of a get rich quick scheme the reward often outweighs the risk in our minds. We minimize the risk in order to convince ourselves that what is in fact too good to be true is not.

Some people do actually become wealthy.

And this is the hardest one to deal with. Because in every one of the events or schemes I mentioned above, someone became rich.

In the case of the conquistadors, we know the famous ones. Men like Cortez, Pizarro, and Ponce de Leon achieved fame and glory in their discoveries and conquests. While they didn’t always find wealth, they did succeed in their missions. But there were countless others who tried and failed.

How many of the 49’ers struck it rich? Some, but many did not. The prospectors who arrived earliest had a much better chance of wealth. But the ones who became the richest were the entrepreneurs who started up businesses to sell supplies and services to the mass of prospectors. Like Samuel Brannan, who became one of the wealthiest men in California after re-selling all the pickaxes, shovels, and pans he could find at a significant markup.

And the nigerian prince? “He” is the only one getting rich off this decades old scam. He of course never gives any rewards, and since he targets so many people, even if only a few respond, he still makes out.

And then there’s the lottery. Somebody usually does win. And of course it’s widely publicized, so that we all know how a common, ordinary person like you and me is now wealthy.


While you might think that you would never fall for a get rich quick scheme, don’t be too quick to dismiss them. They have evolved over the centuries to our current modern day lottery. If you’ve purchased a lottery ticket, you’ve succumbed at some level to the get rich quick mentality.

Be careful that you don’t lose your rational thought by the flash of gold and riches. Wealth comes from hard work, time, and ingenuity. And don’t let anyone tell you any different.

What’s your opinion on get rich quick schemes? Are they still prevalent today? Have you ever been the victim of one?

Let me know in the comments. Please share this post. Thanks as always.


Chris is the original Cash Dad. He's a father of 3 and a mechanical engineer by trade.

Have Something to Say? Leave a Reply