I don’t consider myself that old, but there was a time in my life when there was no internet. Back when I was way too young to drive and there was no world wide web, the newspaper and magazine classifieds were a gold mine of opportunity. (or so I thought)
My first experience with a grift was the old envelope stuffing scam. I was a young, dumb teen wide eyed with enthusiasm for making extra money. I remember the ad promised up to an astonishing $3 per envelope stuffed. I did the per hour math and thought I was going to be rich. I couldn’t send my money off to this person fast enough.
When I received my packet, I remember how bummed out I felt to find there was no actual job. The information I received explained how to do the very same thing this person was doing. Place classified ads and send direct mail advertisements promising the same thing, and the envelopes you were stuffing were the orders that arrived.
They came up with the $3 per envelope number by randomly selecting order rates. They would often exclaim that even at extremely conservative response rates of 2% you will be making great money.
For example, you sell this envelope stuffing program for $25 each, and then you buy a list of 5,000 opportunity seekers (yeah, that was a thing) and direct mail them (using bulk mail rates of course) with an offer for this program to make up to $3 per envelope stuffed.
Let’s take a stab in the dark and say at the time bulk mail was 15 cents a letter, so assume it cost $750 to mail your offer to 5,000 prospects. At a 2% response rate, you’ve made 100 sales at $25 a pop.
You brought in $2,500 and paid $750 for a total of $1,750 profit. Divide the 5,000 envelopes you stuffed by the $1,750 profit you made, and it works out to a little less than $3 per envelope stuffed.
Pretty sinister little trick, isn’t it? As sad as it was to find out it was a swindle, it didn’t deter me one bit from ordering other things. It may have helped me become more skeptical of other offers, but that didn’t stop me from trying them. My teen years are chock full of taking chances ordering things that more often than not turned out to be rather ridiculous money making schemes.