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5 Unique Ways to Make Money Online

From creative sales to playing unusual markets, the Internet still offers opportunity for armchair entrepreneurs.

Who says you can't make money online? Prison guards at a Chinese prison camp are reportedly forcing inmates to smash rocks by day and play World of Warcraft at night. The purpose of the all-night WoW sessions is to obtain virtual gold by completing in-game tasks. The prison bosses then turn around and sell the virtual gold in the real world making as much as $930 a day, according to the Guardian. Called "gold farming," the practice is not uncommon and it's believed as many as 100,000 full-time virtual gold farmers operate in China alone.

But you don't need to supervise a prison to make money online. The Internet is filled with interesting ways to earn a few dollars on the side. If you're not careful, you could also end up losing your shirt. Here are a few of the more unique ways to put some extra dough in your pocket.

Bitcoin Mining

Bitcoin is a popular peer-to-peer, open source virtual currency that experts say is super secure and untraceable. The best part is that until about the year 2040 you can earn Bitcoins simply by dedicating your spare CPU cycles to running a Bitcoin desktop client.

Your computer is tasked with crunching numbers to solve an encryption problem. If your computer solves the problem you get 50 Bitcoins, which is a nice achievement considering the current exchange rate for 1 Bitcoin is hovering around US$8.60 at the time of this writing.

The chance of making a quick buck has sparked an international feeding frenzy among the geek set who are investing in Bitcoin server farms. Problem is, it could take you a year or more using an average computer to earn just 50 Bitcoins, security guru Steve Gibson recently said.

Arts & Crafts

Do you know how to macramé, knit, sew, or do anything else that requires a weekly trip to a Michael's location? Why not try selling your wares on Etsy.com? Etsy in 2009 sold $180.6 million worth of homemade goods, according to Inc.

Believe it or not, Americans are going wild for knitted latte sleeves and discarded Altoids tins.

If you're worried that you haven't got enough talent to sell your crafts online, chances are whatever you make will be better than these Etsy disasters.

Guide the Web

Do you have a knack for searching online, transcribing voice calls, and responding to inquiries quickly? If so, you might be suited to being a ChaCha Guide. ChaCha is a question-and-answer service powered by real people who answer user queries via text messaging and the web.

ChaCha Guides can make anywhere from two cents to 20 cents per task depending on their position. That may not sound like much, but if you work fast enough you could make a little spending money in your spare time and sharpen your research skills in the process.

Play The Market

Thrill-seekers might like to try risking some of their money by playing the foreign exchange markets through sites such as Forex.com.

Basically, what you do is trade one international currency for another in the hope the currency you just bought will go up in value. It's a little like playing the stock market, except you always end up with some form of currency in your hands (even if it is Pesos).

But foreign exchange markets are a tricky business and most people who try it end up losing their investment. If you just want to have fun pretending you're a high-flying investor you can always set up a practice account on Forex.com. But be prepared to get a few sales calls and emails from Forex.com staff if you do.

eBay Power Seller

I had a friend in college who used to make a living picking up unique items at garage sales and flea markets, and then turning around and selling them on eBay. Another friend used to buy spare computer parts on eBay and resell them on his own site. Both made a respectable living based on the old axiom that one man's trash is another man's treasure.

But power selling is serious business, and you can count on it being just as time-consuming as a regular office job if you want to make a living.

Looking for more online moneymakers? Check out ITworld's 6 Strange Ways To Make Money Online.

Connect with Ian Paul (@ianpaul) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

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