Watch enough movies or listen to enough hip-hop and you may get the impression that bank robbers and drug dealers have it made until their inevitable downfall at the hands of John Law. Nothing is further from the truth. Few drug dealers make more money than their clients, be they crack dealers in poor neighborhoods or cocaine dealers on Manhattan's upper west side. For all the risk involved, the payoff is relatively negligible. Those that do manage to pull in the legendary fat stacks of Benjamins run the very high risk of losing it all, and their freedom or their lives. And, of course, there are no paid vacations.
Bank robbers, as famously reported by economists Neil Rickman and Robert Witt, don't make that much money per successful heist. Only $4,000 in the US – and they don't get health benefits. And they do, occasionally, get shot.
But don't despair, aspiring criminals, the popular media hasn't lied to you completely. It is possible to make a killing in the world of crime, pun only partially intended. Street level drug dealers may not make all that much, but each rung higher on a drug dealing organization's ladder increases the income and lowers the risk exponentially. Bank robbers might only make off with a few thousand dollars per heist, but high end jewel thieves can rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars in a day. And they're the small fries in the criminal lake! The fact is that crime can indeed pay, unless – or until – you get caught and are forced to let the federal department of corrections make your nutrition and fashion choices for the following several decades.
As in the corporate world, so in the shadowy world of the underground economy: The more nuanced and technical the job, the more people you influence, the more money you make and the less risk you take. Accurate numbers on the pay of high-end criminals is understandably hard to come by, but the amount made by the most famous crimes is available. With that in mind, here are the five best paying criminal jobs. Brush off your resume, and then throw it out the window.
Just remember: Most of the time we have these numbers because the criminals got caught.
5 Hacker For Organized Crime
In 2008, the Russian Mafia stole more than $9 million from ATM machines throughout the world without defacing them at all or threatening a single person. By cloning debit cards and boosting the withdrawal limits, hackers were able to simply withdraw huge amounts of money from the bank. Of the missing $9 million, just under $2 million was found in cash in the hackers' Brooklyn apartment. Using a similar method just five years later, a global conspiracy was able to steal $45 million in several countries.
In that $45 million dollar heist only eight people have been charged. $45 million split eight ways? $5.6 million. Withdrawing whatever you want from any ATM in the world? Priceless. For the essentials there's banking. For everything else, there's CrimeCard.
The downside? In each heist, some guy who took little risk supplied the hacking information from a remote location and collected a cut from each withdrawal, presumably while stroking a Persian cat and chuckling maniacally. Everyone's got a boss.
4 Drug Kingpin
If you want to make the kind of money that is nigh on impossible to spend in ten lifetimes, but were not fortunate enough to discover oil fields or diamond mines on your ranch, the only real way to do it is to manufacture the world's current drug of choice and enforce your market share with an iron fist. How much money can a drug baron make? Let's put it this way: Pablo Escobar, second in command of the Medellin cartel and man in charge of cocaine exports to the United States, reportedly spent $2,500 a month on the rubber bands used to wrap his money. Not impressed? Roberto Suarez Gomez, a Bolivian drug lord, once sincerely offered to pay off the entirety of his homeland's national debt - $3.8 billion – in return for the release from DEA custody for one of his sons.
There is as much money in the illegal drug trade as there is in the legal pharmaceutical industry, but to get it you have to be at the top. And if you make it there you can never relax. The ruthlessness and vigilance that got you there is still needed to keep you there. But if you're going to be a bloodthirsty psychopath, it's kind of nice to have your own personal island paradise
Most well-paid smugglers smuggle – you guessed it! - drugs. The best paid smugglers, who usually refer to themselves as transporters, can make a million dollars a trip for flying a plane full of cocaine or heroin from Cuba to Florida. Lower down the totem pole are the boat drivers who run from South America to Cuba or Jamaica on high powered boats that can easily outrun banana republic government patrols. It's a relatively low risk job in the drug trade, and the pay is obviously great. The only real downside is dealing with vicious drug dealers and potentially going to jail for a long, long time.
The lowest-level smugglers are known as mules. The typical drug mule is a kid from Texas who is paid by a Mexican drug organization to walk, ride or drive a quantity of marijuana across the border. What a drug mule lacks in a cool job title they easily make up for in income. For what can be a one hour job they can make thousands of dollars, and they can do it as many times as they want. So long as they don't lose any. Mexican drug lords aren't known for their tolerance of failure.
A smuggler's life can be quite cushy. When you start making millions of dollars a month (or week) for a drug lord, the perks of a business trip can be downright decadent. If you enjoy lobster for every meal served by your stripper of choice, just go get your pilot's license and try to look tough on your job interview.
2 Ponzi Schemer/Con Artist
You probably know about the Ponzi Scheme already. It's the method Bernie Madoff used to bilk his “investors” out of $65 billion dollars. A Ponzi Scheme – named for its originator, Charles Ponzi – is a sophisticated form of borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. The con artist, posing as an investment broker, offers his mark a deal that's too good to be true. The mark, wooed by the confidence man's charm and the promise of easy money, purchases the phony investment and is repaid with a huge return, and quickly.
How does the con man make his money when he's giving the money back, plus some? Easy – he's paying the first investor with the second and third investor's money. And what does a successful investor do when his latest stock purchase hits big? He tells everyone! Soon the investors multiply exponentially, spurred on by each others' success, and the con man is rolling in dough.
Depending on how much money the con man intends to make, it can be a short or a long time before the investment mysteriously “turns sour” and the conman stops repaying his investors. By the time the newest marks figure out what's happened the happy criminal has made off (get it?) with their cash to a nice, tropical, non-extradition country that is home to talented plastic surgeons.
1 Small Business Embezzler
Let's play a game. Take a minute and think about your coworkers. Which one of them would you imagine would steal from your company? Are you there? The person you're imagining is probably not who you would expect.
The profile of the typical embezzler, according to security and investigation firm Marquet International, is a woman in her mid 40s employed as a bookkeeper in a nondescript office in a boring, high-profit industry. She works methodically and uses the stolen money - $100,000 at a time to an average of $800,000 over 4 years – to buy nice things and pay off her debts. Not as exciting as a Roger Moore lookalike spending his stolen millions on Ferraris and penthouse suites, but of all the illegal jobs on this list this is the best one.
Think about it. Evelyn (as Marquet names their fictitious prototypical embezzler) has a real job. She has steady income and doesn't have to rely on her criminal activity for her income, which likely more than triples her salary. She has health benefits, a 401k, paid vacation and respectable facade. All the while she enjoys the excitement of leading a double life. And, if she is smart and lucky, she can get away with it for a very long time.
I don't mean to make embezzlement sound too tempting but, let's face it, no one really thinks they're paid what they're worth, do they?
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