If you’re looking for a lucrative small business with low risk, may I suggest the prostitution-strong arm robbery category?
It works like this: you and an accomplice lure a john into a secluded place for a paid sex act, and while he is there, you beat him senseless and steal his money, wallet and jewelry. This often amounts to hundreds or thousands of dollars in value…especially if you can make some credit purchases before the cards are cancelled.
So the ROI is excellent.
And here’s the beauty part: the victim probably won’t report the crime to police, because, well, duh. He’ll just go home to his wife and say he accidentally fell down eight flights of stairs.
Only two problems with the business model. 1) It doesn’t scale. 2) You can’t always count on victim silence.
Remember Smilin’ Bob, the grinningly satisfied customer of the penis-enlargement industry? Maybe he couldn’t keep a straight face because he was promising “natural male enhancement.” These marketers long operated with near impunity on the theory that the following letter would never be addressed to law enforcement and regulators: “I purchased Enzyte to increase the length and girth of my itsy-bitsy penis, only to discover I remained peckerally challenged and suffered rapid heartbeat and dizziness, whether from the ginseng root, the niacin or the horny goat weed extract, I don’t know. “
Unfortunately for the proprietors of Enzyte, enough users who had been shortchanged by God did not like the added insult of being shortchanged by Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals. They lodged exactly such complaints to law enforcement, and founder Steven Warshak is currently in federal prison serving -- ahem -- a long stretch.
Which brings us to Ashley Madison, illicit-hookup service that seemed to have discovered all the credit-card-number-gathering benefits of the bespoke robbery model, plus actual impunity, plus scale. So brilliant! You advertise to surfers of porn sites (i.e., lots of hound-dog married men) that you can match them with sizzling hot bored housewives and charge all involved a membership fee. There is nobody --nobody -- who is going to write the Better Business Bureau about the extramarital assignation that was promised but not delivered, much less the one where you think you’re meeting a PTA milf but instead encounter a professional sex worker and the meter is running the whole time.
A genuine adultery-facilitation site might offer some utility in the cheater economy, if there were any balance between supply and demand…but there never will be, any more than horny goat weed extract will ever grow a magic beanstalk. The hack and release of Ashley Madison customer info, of course, revealed exactly the secret that its trademark spokesadultress was whispering “Hush!” about: the adulterously minded men outnumbered the adulterous-minded women by at least 87-13 -- and that’s assuming the women’s profiles on the site were all genuine, which it further emerges they were not.
But once again, that wouldn’t have mattered; it was a perfect business model, so long as -- Hush! -- the imbalance remained as secret as the clientele. Which, naturally, Ashley Madison guaranteed, even for customers who wanted to walk away..
“We’ll go back in time,” founder Noel Biderman told the Calgary Herald a few months back. “We’ll take back every message you ever shared. We’ll make like you’re a ghost — you never were here.”
Oops. This is the Internet we’re talking about. If you dare people to discover your secrets by being infamous (or merely famous), discover them they will. Ask Snapchat, Sony and Jennifer Lawrence. There is no less inevitability to data breaches as to spousal ones. Verily, human frailty giveth and it taketh away. Pretty despicable all around -- and of course, the subject of much finger-wagging, tsk-tsking and vast amounts of cheap moralizing for the past seven days.
But if we are speaking of luring the weak into following their worst impulses, if we are speaking of promising illusory benefits, if we are speaking of failing to disclose potential harm, maybe we should be a bit slower to point fingers. To one degree or another, there’s plenty of Ashley Madison to go around. After all, lust is one of the seven deadly sins. The other six are marketing categories, every one:
Gluttony: e.g., McDonald’s.
Greed: e.g., Goldman Sachs
Sloth: e.g., Dr. Oz’s Raspberry Ketones Weight-loss supplement.
Wrath: e.g., Fox News Channel
Envy: e.g., US Weekly
Pride: e.g., Bentley
You don’t think you could make your living roughing up and fleecing pathetic losers? Maybe you already do.