Top 6 Accidental Millionaires


Nearly everyone has dreamed of being filthy rich.  Unlimited cash, luxurious yachts, Manhattan penthouses, and most importantly, never having to work again are just a few perks enjoyed by the super-wealthy. There are thousands of books describing how to get rich quick orbecome a millionaire overnight, but for most people, those books are little more than a waste of twenty dollars. There is no secret to becoming a millionaire, and most people achieve that enviable status through hard work and tireless dedication. There are other people, however, that have caught a lucky break or were involved in a happy accident and gained wealth beyond their wildest dreams.

1. Josh Abramson and Rick Van Veen

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Freshman year of college can be an excellent time to meet new people and make new friends, but some incoming students have a hard time leaving their high school chums when they venture into the world of keg parties, Greek life, and perpetual poverty.  In 1999, Josh Abramson and Rick Van Veen, two high school classmates attending different universities, thought they had found a way to keep in touch.

They launched as a way to share amusing freshman stories, jokes, and funny pictures and videos.  The site was originally meant for just the two of them, but it soon started gaining attention from their friends, and then their friend’s friends, and in just six years, the site had over eight million registered users. Today, it is a leading source for original comedic content on the internet and the duo has made millions of dollars in advertising revenue and income from related projects.

2. Kevin Lewis

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Sometimes all you have to do to become a millionaire is have the right name. That was the case for a Cincinnati man in August 2013. Earlier that summer, Caesar’s Entertainment announced that it was giving away several $1 million prizes in the months of July, August, and September. One of those prizes was to be awarded at the Horseshoe Casino in Cincinnati. On August 10, 2013, they held the drawing and pulled out the name Kevin Lewis.

Kevin Lewis just happened to be in attendance when they announced his name, so he came forward and accepted the large novelty check for $1 million. Everything seemed fine until casino officials started the verification process and soon realized that the actual winner was a different Kevin Lewis from Cincinnati. The man who had accepted the prize was not actually the winner.

Most people would assume that the casino would withdraw the cash prize they awarded to the wrong Kevin Lewis, but shockingly, the casino admitted that they made a mistake and awarded separate $1 million prizes to both men.

3. Thales Panagides

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The dot com boom was a goldmine for a lot of entrepreneurs, but none had a story quite as interesting as beach enthusiast Thales Panagides. Panagides graduated from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana with a business degree in the late 1990s and then flew down to Brazil to help his cousin start a small internet service provider.  The business took off quickly, and as the business grew, they were forced to leave their beachfront office and move to downtown Sao Paulo. Panagides, however, didn’t see much of the profits, and soon was tired of the tech industry.

He began looking for other opportunities closer to the beach with dreams of setting up a seaside export company.  He visited local factories in hopes of finding a product that he could market outside of Brazil. His hopes materialized in the form of a bikini. A fellow Greek expat had been making bikinis in Brazil that were compact, lightweight, and perfect for export. Panagides bought ten of the bikinis and posted them on eBay. Seven of the bikinis were sold by the next morning.His website is now the largest independent distributor of bikinis in the world, and Panagides is a millionaire, lying on the beach, and admiring his bikini models.

4. Joseph Morrah

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Forgetting to buy someone a Father’s Day gift is usually frowned upon, but it’s unlikely that Joseph Morrah is upset with his wife for neglecting to get him a present. Morrah, a 61-year-old truck driver living in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania had worked for the same supermarket for 31 years and was only 220 days from retirement when he became an accidental millionaire.

His wife, Debbie, realized that she had forgotten to buy her husband a gift for Father’s Day, so she sent their daughter to the store to buy a card. At the last minute, she gave her a 20 dollar bill and told her to buy a scratch off lottery ticket to place in the card because she felt guilty about not getting him a gift.  That ticket turned out to be worth $1 million dollars, and it’s safe to say that Mr. Morrah retired 220 days earlier than he intended.

5. Richard and Betty James

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Richard James was a navy tool worker with a family at home and had probably long given up any dreams he had of wealth and fame. One day, he noticed a spring coil fall off a work bench at the shop and bounce off the floor. He thought that the coil could make a good toy for his children, so he brought it home. It was such a hit with his kids that he and his wife decided to market it.

They made 400 Slinkys (a name his wife coined from a Swedish word meaning sleek and sinuous) by Christmas 1945 and put them on display at the local Gimbel’s department store. The new toys sold out almost immediately and before long, the Slinky business was thriving. The couple became millionaires in a relatively short period of time. With great wealth, comes insanely stupid decisions at times, and Richard donated most of his millions to an obscure Bolivian religious cult in the 1950s and died broke. In the 1960s, Betty revived the business and became a millionaire over and over again.

6. Hui 'Leo' Gao

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Sometimes someone else’s error can make you a millionaire. That was the case for Hui “Leo” Gao in April 2009. Gao co-owned a gas station in New Zealand with his mother, and was financially comfortable, but not wealthy. In fact, he had a history of money problems, so he decided to apply for overdraft protection for his business at the Australian Bank Westpac.

The bank approved his application and granted him $100,000 in overdraft protection.  That’s not all they gave him, however, because a bank employee’s simple clerical error actually gave him 100 times the approved amount. Gao didn’t tell anyone about the error other than his girlfriend and quickly withdrew $6.8 million dollars. He transferred the rest to bank accounts in China and Hong Kong. Gao and his girlfriend then fled to Hong Kong to live it up as accidental millionaires, but it was not to be. The bank noticed the error in May of the same year and Gao was extradited to New Zealand and plead guilty to seven charges of theft.

The people on this list all have one thing in common: they were in the right place at the right time. These accidental millionaires were lucky, but it typically takes more than that to become a millionaire.  They didn’t set out to make millions. In most cases they just wanted to make a modest living and their businesses unexpectedly exploded, or they benefitted from improbable strokes of luck. One thing is for sure, the odds were ever in their favor.