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Illegal Side Hustles [25+ Shady Side Hustles]

Don't Work Another Day is reader-supported. We may receive compensation from the products and services mentioned in this story, but the opinions are the author's own.
  By Forrest McCall | Last Updated:  October 15, 2021

In today's fast-paced hustle culture people are always looking for new ways to make money on the side. The problem is that there are an awful lot of ‘opportunities' out there that are actually illegal if you look at the fine print.

Some of these illegal side hustles might be pretty obvious, but others are things that can be done completely legally if you know how.

That's part of what makes it so tricky to pick up work on the side. You never know what kinds of jobs might get you in trouble with the law, even if you never meant to cause any harm.

In this post, I'll explore some of the most common types of illegal side hustles out there, and a bit more information so you can make an informed decision.

After all, trying to get financial freedom is understandable, you just don't want to pick up an illegal side hustle on accident.

Illegal Side Hustles

25 Types Of Illegal Side Hustle

These are 25 of the most common illegal side hustles, and a bit about why each side hustle is illegal. Some of these jobs are actually incredibly common, so we'll also talk about the legal versions of each side hustle when appropriate.

Remember, you can almost always make more money from legal jobs than even the most fantastic illegal side hustle. If something looks too good to be true it's probably a good idea to take a closer look.

Under the Table Jobs

Under the table work is one of the most common illegal side hustles partially because working under the table can be legal. The trick is that you need to declare your income from under the table work or you can be charged with tax evasion and other crimes.

So, don't be afraid to take on under the table work, just be aware that you'll also need to take on the responsibility for reporting how much money you make and paying taxes.

Can Under The Table Work Be Legal?

Yes, under the table work can be legal as long as you're not asked to do anything illegal for your job. Unfortunately working under the table can be one of the most common illegal side hustles because many people don't realize they need to track and report that income.

Instead, most people who work under the table pocket the cash and never report, which can get them in trouble if it's discovered.

Worse, the fines for tax evasion and other charges related to not declaring your income usually cost more money than just paying your taxes in the first place.

Side Hustle Resources:

Reselling Certain Items

Reselling can be a great way to make money, but it can also turn into an illegal side hustle pretty quickly. For instance, cribs that were manufactured before 2011 are illegal to sell because of health and safety concerns that were addressed in manufacturing after that date.

So while it's perfectly legal to resell a safe crib once you no longer need it, if your crib was passed down from a family member or friend who bought it before 2011, it's illegal to sell it.

Reselling can also be tricky since many items don't allow reselling as part of the purchase agreement.

You can also run into issues with selling certain items or crafts that are protected by other parts of the law. For instance, dream catchers and hats that use genuine feathers might be illegal for resale if any of those feathers come from protected bird species.

So, if you want to avoid turning your reselling business into an illegal side hustle, it's important to make sure you're only selling items legally.

Looking for a legal side hustle? Check out these 115+ side hustles to make money.

Selling Stolen Goods

This should go without saying, but selling stolen goods is another illegal side hustle. Some people, called fences, know when they're selling stolen goods, and usually charge more money for the service since they need to make enough money to make up for the risk of getting caught.

The problem is that fences aren't the only people who can be charged with selling stolen goods.

Many people don't realize that selling stolen goods, even when you didn't know the item was originally stolen, can get you in trouble.

In general, if you don't want to lose money in legal fees for selling stolen goods it's best to only sell items you're 100% sure of.

Homemade Soaps and Bath Products

Making homemade soaps and bath products is a fantastic hustle idea. Homemade bath products are incredibly popular and lots of people love the unique scents, colors, and designs from homemade soaps.

The problem is that as soon as you start selling your bath products you need to be able to meet FDA guidelines for health and safety, and you have to be able to meet labeling standards.

If you want to get into homemade soaps and bath products, but don't want to be involved in any illegal side hustles, you should look into the specific FDA product requirements for your products. It's also important to look for updates to the requirements.

Dog Treat Bakeries

There are a lot of people looking make some extra cash by opening a dog treat bakery. It seems like a great side hustle since most dogs like a wide variety of treats and plenty of dog owners are willing to spend extra money on a great treat for their animals.

The problem is that once you start selling dog treats you need to meet much stricter standards for them.

Selling treats without meeting FDA standards is one of the more common illegal side hustles partially because many bakers don't know how strict the requirements can be.

It's also important to make sure everything is clearly labeled and there isn't any cross-contamination in your dog bakery.

That's important because your treats may need to be tested to prove you've met the FDA labeling and safety standards for your dog bakery.

Selling Home Cooked Foods

Selling home-cooked goods is one of the most common illegal side hustles, mostly because a lot of people don't know that it's illegal.

You can definitely start a home bakery, home catering service, or even a home chef service. Those professions are all legal, but you have to meet some strict standards to make sure your goods are safe for human consumption.

Basically, as soon as you start selling homemade food you need to meet FDA safety standards for labeling and safe consumption. That means you need to be pretty detailed with what you're using in your ingredient lists, and you need to provide some kind of label with all of your foods.

If you don't want your home-cooked food business to be an illegal side hustle you'll need to make sure you're labeling everything and meeting all FDA standards for human food.

Selling Homemade Garments

Selling clothing you've made yourself can be a great side hustle, but it's also one of the most common illegal side hustles.

How could selling homemade garments be illegal?

Well, there are a few problems with selling homemade garments. For instance, a lot of counterfeiters use homemade garments designed to look like high-end brand goods. This kind of counterfeiting is definitely illegal, but it's not the only way homemade garments could be illegal.

Making garments at home and selling them can also be illegal if you use someone else's clothing pattern, even if you bought that pattern legally.

Most garment patterns are either marked for personal use only or allow retailers to sell a limited number of copies under a license agreement and then they need to buy another copy.

When Are Homemade Garments Legal?

Homemade garments can be legal under a few circumstances. If you create your own unique design for clothing and make that garment you can sell it. You can also make different sizes and different variations on your own original pattern and sell those.

You can also sell clothing based on other people's patterns if you buy a retailer's license with the pattern, or if the pattern allows a certain number of sales. But you can't exceed the number of sales or other provisions included with the pattern when you buy it.

Selling Clothing Accessories

Much like selling homemade garments, selling clothing accessories, jewelry, and other worn-items is an illegal side hustle.

A lot of people fall into this because they don't realize how protected patterns and designs can be under intellectual property, which makes this one of the most common illegal side hustles.

Reselling Individual Items From Multipacks

We've already talked about reselling as one of the most common illegal side hustles in the context of controlled items and protected items. But you can also make money illegally by reselling items from a multipack.

For instance, if you buy a bag of Halloween candy you're not allowed to sell the individual pieces of candy, even at very low prices.

Cigarettes are another good example of illegally selling items from multipacks. Selling individual cigarettes, or loosies is illegal because it helps people avoid paying luxury and tobacco taxes on the cigarettes.

Anytime you buy something in a multipack unless it's marked for resale, it's illegal to sell those items individually.

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Making Money Decisions Based On Friends and Family Updates

In today's world, a lot of people have a lot of information about companies and their jobs. It might make a lot of sense to talk about it if you're worried that your company might have to close, or you're going through layoffs because of financial trouble.

The problem is that this can quickly become an illegal side hustle if you or someone you know takes that insider information and makes investment decisions based on it.

While you can earn a lot of money investing on the stock market, it's illegal to invest based on non-public information.

Specifically, making money on non-public information is called insider trading, and it comes with huge consequences if you're caught.

Freelance Writing

Freelance writing is one of the most common hustle ideas, so it might be surprising to learn that freelance writing can also be one of the most common illegal side hustles.

In most cases, freelance writing is legal.

However, writing anything that advocates for people to commit a crime, publishing private information publicly, or publishing business or property secrets are all illegal, even as a freelance writer.

Getting Paid To Refer Friends To A Business Program

A lot of people get involved with companies that are designed to be a side hustle and work to recruit friends to that same business. The issue is, if your main job is getting paid to refer other people to your business, you may be participating in an illegal pyramid scheme.

Even enough pyramid schemes are relatively well known, they're still common illegal side hustles because a lot of people don't know when they are in a pyramid.

It's important to think about where you get most of your money when it comes to these side hustles. If you get most of your income from selling items, you're probably good.

Are MLM Companies Legal?

MLM companies are legal, but it's important to do your research. Some MLMs do have to deal with legal challenges calling them pyramid schemes.

You should also consider average and median income from these side hustles to see if they are worth the work.

Reselling Tickets

Reselling tickets is one of the best illegal side hustles if you want to make money fast, but that doesn't mean it's a good way to make money.

Reselling tickets helps you make money fast because a lot of people are motivated to buy tickets to special events, even if they have to get them last minute and from resellers, also called scalpers. But, this kind of reselling is still illegal, and more and more event venues are hiring security to catch resellers.

What If I'm Selling A Ticket I Can No Longer Use, Is That Making Money Illegally?

This is one exception to the rule about reselling tickets. If you bought some event tickets and something came up, you are allowed to sell those tickets on. However, you can't sell them for more than you bought them for, and you shouldn't make a habit of buying and reselling tickets you can't use or you might get charged for illegal side hustles you don't have.

Selling Electronic Copies Of Products

If you buy electronic copies of products you're basically buying the right to access someone's intellectual property. But that doesn't give you the right to sell that access to other people, either by making copies of the product or just by selling your license to access that property.

This applies to software, online presentations, and basically any other digital content you paid to access.

However, this is also one of the more common hustle ideas since people often think that pirating is safer than it is.

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Reselling E-Books

Reselling e-books, is another illegal hustle that can help you earn money, but isn't a good idea if you want to make your own money online.

E-books are like any other electronic product, so selling access to those books for extra cash is illegal. It's also illegal to use your e-book copy to print and sell physical copies of the same book.

Just like other kinds of digital content, selling e-books you didn't write violates the publisher and author's intellectual property.

Adult Work

We're not talking about work you need to be an adult to do, though that applies here too. One of the most common illegal hustles is sex work.

While some places do allow sex work legally, most areas still consider sex work illegal partially because of safety concerns, and partially because of moral concerns.

While you can earn a few bucks making explicit content on sites like OnlyFans legally if you do the same kind of work in person it's likely an illegal hustle.

Arranging Adult Work

Arranging adult work is also illegal and comes with some serious consequences. The average pimp may not know how serious the charges can be for being a pimp and arranging sex work, but the consequences can be severe.

The amount of money an average pimp makes isn't enough to make up for legal fees, risks, not to mention the psychological abuse that's often a big part of this illegal hustle.

Selling Drugs

It shouldn't be a surprise that you can't legally sell drugs, but selling drugs is still a really common hustle. Selling drugs can be seen as a good way to make money, but all parts of this industry are illegal unless you're working for a legal dispensary or pharmacy.

You also can't smuggle drugs legally, even if you don't sell them yourself.

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Breeding Puppies or Kittens

A lot of people think that breeding puppies and kittens is a good way to make and save money. The problem is that a lot of puppy and kitten breeding programs are illegal, especially if you're just doing them in your home.

Why is breeding puppies illegal? Well, mostly because a lot of states are looking to ban puppy mills, which means they need to hold all breeders to high standards to prevent over breeding.

So, if you have accidental puppies and kittens, it's best to give them away instead of selling them or to only sell them for the cost of their medical care.

Can You Breed Puppies or Kittens Legally?

It is possible to breed puppies and kittens legally, but the exact requirements for a legal breeder can vary from place to place. If you're really interested in breeding legally, consider contacting a local breeder and as if they'd be willing to teach you about the industry and requirements.

Poker Game

Setting Up A Poker (or other Card Game) Match

Poker nights are another hustle that people think could be a good way to make fast money, either by organizing or playing poker.

The issue is that a lot of poker nights can turn into illegal gambling, which runs into serious problems legally.

Poker isn't the only gambling game that can be illegal either.

Organizing poker nights isn't much different from organizing blackjack nights, running a small roulette table, or organizing sports betting. They're all potentially illegal.

Once you've made a certain amount of money from organizing any kind of gambling it counts as illegal gambling. You can also count as illegal gambling just for having a regular game, even if you aren't making a lot of money.

What About Poker Games With Friends?

It's alright to organize poker with friends, but it's a good idea to avoid always organizing the game or organizing too many in a row. Instead, consider rotating who hosts and organizes the game so you don't have to worry about getting a gambling license.

It's also a good idea to keep winnings small and avoid charging a ‘house fee' for playing.

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Blackhat Hacking

Blackhat hacking is any kind of malicious hacking, and it's often used for income generation. This kind of hacker might use a fake account to get information, steal someone's bank details, or otherwise get bank account information.

Hacking might seem like an easy way of earning money, but it's not as effective as you'd think. Worse, haking comes with serious legal consequences.

Not all blackhat hacking collects bank details, but most do. As a rule though, if you aren't haking for the benefit of the person you're haking, it's a crime.

Bitcoin Fraud

Bitcoin fraud is incredibly common, either through promising services in exchange for bitcoin, hiring money mules to move bitcoin and help launder money, pump and dump schemes, and other kinds of fraud.

One of the reasons this illegal hustle is so common is that a bitcoin trading account isn't always well monitored, and it can be easy to get paid in bitcoin without needing to follow through on your promises.

Paying Investors With Other Investor Money

Paying investors with other investor money, especially if you aren't investing that money and trying to earn more, is a Ponzi scheme. A lot of people have heard about a Ponzi scheme, but fewer know what it is.

One way this works is the Ponzi scheme owner takes money from new investors and uses it to pay earlier investors to create the illusion of profits.

Bernie Madof was famously running a Ponzi scheme that was one of the largest criminal enterprise to happen ever. Lots of people have tried to make money using the same program for their scheme, but it usually doesn't work.

Other Ponzi schemes have involved people taking investor money and using it to pay themselves without any intention of earning money for those investors.

Ponzi schemes are often sold to investors with the hope of helping them reach an early retirement or growing their bank account without any work.

However, Bernie Madof is a good example of ponzi schemes being dangerous for their owners or investors.


Phishing can involve a wide range of activity, and usually includes anything designed to get people's personal information, like their bank account, from them. Many phishing schemes also involve selling that personal information on the dark web.

Why sell on the dark web instead of using the information yourself? Well, for one thing, selling other people's personal information can be more profitable.

But another common motivator is that phishing is seen as safer than credit card skimming or other ways of making money.

Phishing is also seen as safer since it doesn't usually need a money mule or anyone else who knows about the scheme.

Getting Free Stuff As An Influencer

Getting free stuff might not seem like a horrible thing or illegal, but it can be. It's especially illegal if you're also selling things you've been given for free at the same time.

Why is getting free stuff such a big problem, and when does it become illegal, and can you get an actual fine?

This is mostly an issue for influencers, but it can be illegal once you've received enough free stuff.

Specifically, if you've been given things for free that are worth a significant amount of money, you have to report the value of those items for tax purposes.

Gifts usually don't count for this, but anything you get from a brand or manufacturer, or as part of a sponsorship deal, does.

Is Earning Financial Freedom Illegally Worth It?

Not in most cases. The Reddit Bank Robber might be an example of someone who says it is, but even they admit that what made their theft worth it was the time spent in jail and spent working on and improving themselves.

But the Reddit Bank Robber Example is far from the norm.

Most people who have been involved in earning money illegally don't think it's worth it in the end.

For instance, money mules work to help launder and move money for criminal schemes. But not many money mules will tell you that the risk was worth it.

Besides, the total lost income from getting caught, or not learning other valuable skills to help you in the work force, is usually a lot more than what you've made.

Final Thoughts on Illegal Side Hustles

Working illegal side hustles can be extremely risky and is definitely not worth the additional income.

Between creating malicious websites, selling a fabricated coaching program, or profiting off the dark web – there are many illegal side hustles you should avoid.

If you want to avoid illegal side hustles, be sure to do your research before getting started.


Forrest is a personal finance, entrepreneurship, and investing expert dedicated to helping others obtain life long wealth. He has a Bachelor's degree in business and has been featured in many popular publications including Forbes, Business Insider, Bankrate, CNET Money, and many others. To learn more about Forrest, visit the About Us Page for more info.
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