Before Taking on that Freelance Writing Gig: 12 Warning Signs it’s a Scam
Watch out for these clear 12 warning signs
Freelance writing gigs are popular among scammers. Patrolling online, bringing your hopes up with promising gigs, and posing as legit clients from billion-dollar companies. Seven years ago, I delved into the exciting world of freelance writing were the thought of working in my pajamas, navigating the list of anime to watch on my laptop with my left hand while typing a blog post in the right, drinking a glass of wine with my dog by my side will be a dream career.
One night, my first client contacted me. Proceeded to instruct me into writing three 1,000-word blog posts, paying me $1 per word all due tomorrow. I was excited! Conversing deep into the initial conversation with my first “client” reeked red flags, but I’ve ignored. My student loan was screaming at me to be paid, I needed groceries to fill-up my refrigerator and to keep the lights on. My bills were piling up, and I was in a desperate and despair mode. I didn’t want to end up on the streets or have my story like the freelancers I would read online who have left the profession to get a “real job”. No way. Reading $1 per word was just the ticket to get me out of this rut, so this gig was a potential $3,000. I could pay my bills plus more until I take on more clients.
I took on the task, gave the client my articles, sent an invoice, and never saw a dime after that. I’ve kept emailing and reminding the scammer to pay-up. Silence. I was devastated! I have sacrificed sleep-less hours and missed out on a birthday party just to give this scammer free work, and on top of that, I felt like a total failure.
I was surprised people felt content with scamming and stealing writing works from gifted writers. Here’s the kicker, the scammer who scammed me was also a writer, which added to my disgust. Yes, you’ve read right. The scammer wasn’t a client who didn’t understand about the challenges of freelance writing. It was a writer, who very-well understood the profession. Well, the scammer was a wannabe writer, stealing works to claim it was their own. It’s as if, they forgot how it was to be a beginner writer, but that’s for another article. Watch out for scammers in your neighborhood!
You would have thought I’d learned the first time, but I didn’t. Same scam but a different scammer and this time, I almost went to jail for it! I have lost thousands of dollars for letting desperation blind my judgment, and now I motivate and counsel beginner freelance writers to not make the same mistakes I’ve made. If I could turn back the hands of time, I would have better vetted these clients and build-up my self-worth then I would have been able to identify those red flags and not just give away my prized work.
Scam clients and stay-at-home get rich schemes are on the rise because it’s easy for the scammer to conceal their identities. They are getting smarter, coning the freelancer to giving away free work or working for pennies. Before you decide to sign on a new client, take heed of the 12 warning signs because this whole gig could be a devastating scam!
1. LinkedIn and job boards: a scammer’s breeding ground
I’ve applied for gigs using Job Boards and LinkedIn in the past, flooding my inbox with fake recruiters and scam gigs. LinkedIn does try to ban the counterfeit profiles, but there are a few that may slip through the cracks. Writers are on the hunt for clients and wouldn’t think twice that scammers would lurk around LinkedIn, posing as supervisors and CEOs of a company offering you writing projects. Scammers understand this, knowing you, the new freelance writer is vulnerable and easy to scam. They know what you are thinking, and that is if you can get ONE client to offer you a gig, you will be all set no matter how low the pay maybe. You are short on cash, and your bills are piling up. Anything, even a penny or writing for exposure to attract more clients will do! Please don’t be a victim. This mindset will destroy your freelance writing career and your self-esteem in the long-run.
Given permission from my sister (names and companies are not mentioned), I have attached an email she received inquiring about a telemedicine position. She was contacted by a recruiter from LinkedIn who sent over specific and chilling details. To this day, we believe the scammer disguised him or herself using the identity of a real recruiter from LinkedIn.
The recruiter wanted confidential information BEFORE hiring my sister. A legit recruiter will never request this information, and you will only give confidential information AFTER hiring, and in an encrypted database, you have the password and username to log in to. Another hidden warning sign is that she mentioned “client”. Why would a “client” need my sister’s confidential information? This is telemedicine so we are dealing with patients, not clients. Clients or patients shouldn’t have access to anyone’s confidential information but their own. Something smells fishy here…
2. Fake email job offer
I receive twenty email scam job offers a week to the point they are expedited into my spam folder. It starts with a recruiter or employer claiming they found your resume or getting back to you about the job you applied for on Career Builder, Monster, or some non-existent database. The scam job positions are disguised as
Promising insanely high-rates with no experience required. When freelance writers are starting and blinded by desperation, these jobs appear very tempting to apply and take on until developing a more stable clientele. I have attached an example scam job posting I received below. I didn’t recall applying for the job, and the email looked extremely odd which is another clue of detecting a scam client I will address shortly:
A clear red flag is an oddly high compensation, $94,000 to $115,000 for a possible entry-level purchasing administrator position.
I’ve done some digging on the salary expectations of a purchasing administrator, and its half that amount. The scammer here appears to be an amateur, but more seasoned and highly-skilled scammers write convincingly crafted job descriptions, sending over fake certificates and licenses of the companies they claimed to be supervisors or part of human resources department. Occasionally, emails are flooded with spelling and grammatical errors, and you can bet a million dollars the scammer would be located overseas. In an attempt to process your application and send it over to their “HR Department”, the scammer requires of you to apply ASAP giving out confidential information such as your bank account, social security number, driver’s license, professional licenses, and birth certificate!
3. Requesting newly-written samples
Providing the potential client samples you have previously written for your portfolio, is appropriate for the client to have a clear idea on your writing style. Crafting newly-written samples for the client without compensation is the oldest scam in the book, but new freelance writers fall victim to this trap. Anything newly-written is considered work and should be compensated.
I have applied for freelance writing gigs in the past, typing-up a well-thought-out blog post, sending the completed task and invoice first thing in the morning. Never heard anything from the client and never saw a dime. If your client lives in another country or doesn’t have any information about their identity or business location, there’s nothing you can do but to take it as a lesson learned. Never hand over any new articles until you are compensated for the work. Your portfolio is enough for a client to evaluate your writing style.
4. Time-wasting writing test
Think of writing a test like this: you go to the grocery store and want to buy a cake. You walk to the counter and say to the cashier, “I want this cake, but I don’t want to waste my money on a product I would not like. Let me test out this cake tonight, and if I like it, then I will pay!”. I bet you a million dollars the cashier will look at you like you have ten heads or, they may even call the manager over to escort you out when you start to become combative!
If supermarkets gave out free full-sized products often, they wouldn’t stay in business for long. Same with free writing test. I view my writing pieces as my best work that needs to be paid for, just like supermarkets want to be compensated for their products. Writing is my cake, my product and writers should see the value in their writing. Products have value once you place a dollar sign on it!
If you keep writing for free and the client will only pay you IF they like your work, then you will not stay in business long. When if they do not want your work? There may be nothing wrong with your piece, but the client is stating they did not like the work to only justify not paying. You will never know the truth. As a result, your self-esteem is lowered, and you start to question your writing skills. You could have spent that precious time improving your portfolio or pitching to clients who will pay you for your time and expertise. There aren’t any guarantees that you will land that gig. Since you gave that potential client your work, they now have the rights to your creative piece and can post it on their website without giving you any credit! Free writing tests are usually scams to getting free articles.
5. Writing for exposure never paid my bills
Scammers will convince you that to “increase your audience”, or “build your brand”, you would need to sacrifice your precious time writing free pieces. Oh, an extra perk is promising your picture and a short bio of your writing accomplishments being proudly displayed on the front page of their website with as many as 1k followers per day (more like two followers per day), reading your work and hopefully clicking on your site!
Listen, exposure never paid my bills and the website where my pretty picture and profile were displayed on a supposedly popular website, never lead me to top followers. No one clicked on my site, so writing for exposure has failed me. Being a writer who’s in high-demand, well-paid, and know their worth will gather more respect than writers who are desperate for exposure, website traffic, or a by-line that they’ll give away their expertise for nothing. Previously written writing samples on your portfolio are enough exposure for your client to have an idea of your expertise.
6. Paying to view or apply for a job
If a freelance writing platform mentions fees are required for you to view or apply for a gig, look elsewhere. There are plenty of web pages that provide lists of the most current freelance writing gigs for free (freelancewriting.com and freelancewritinggigs.com for example). When I was a new freelance writer, who didn’t know better, I’ve paid for a payment plan on a freelance writing platform, thinking I was going to be in the forefront of top writers. Boy, was I wrong! I’ve wasted money and time at that! Now, I attract clients through cold-emailing, talking to clients on the phone and attending conferences, all for FREE.
7. Paying for training
In high school, I was a cashier, a secretary, and an entry-level pharmaceutical technician. I haven’t ONCE paid for training but my employers paid for my training. I’ve had a scammer who wanted me to pay $700 for training and promised to refund my money once the training was complete. I wasn’t given a contract to sign or anything, so how would I know if he would take my money and run for the hills? I knew this was shady and declined the gig. Legit clients will never ask for you to pay for training. Clients come to you for a need and expect that you have the expertise already to deliver that need. If a client asks for you to fork over money for training, run!
8. Request batches of articles with high word counts
The scammer at this point has signed on as your client, promising long-term and consistent work but would need batches of articles that are 5,000 words each to be completed ASAP. Once you finished the articles and sent over an invoice, you will not hear from the client again. They request large batches of work to get as much free work from you as they can before you figure out this client was a scammer.
9. Interviews: hidden brain-picking sessions
I’m talking about asking too many questions meant to pick your brain. Scammers are master-minds in pretending not to understand the project, squeezing every shred of advice from you then forwarding your years earned recommendations to their marketing team. Their responses are usually “we’ll keep in touch” or “thanks, but you are just not what we are looking for”, wasting your time on a call that led to nowhere.
Once the scammer uses your advice to improve their business, they will not give you credit. They will drink the most exquisite wine cooled with ice cubes from the Arctic, sitting in a yacht while paying their rented-out penthouse, all of their success which came from your advice that you were never compensated. They are living the life, off of your free expertise that you have paid money and time obtaining. You created the platform for them to succeed as you continue to try to stay afloat. Hang tight! I will write a post on how to answer prospective clients without giving away advice. Sometimes, clients will ask you scenario questions, and I will tell you how to respond in a way that works.
10. The unusual interview
Having been out of the job market, I assumed using platforms like Google Hangouts to conduct interviews was the norm nowadays. My scammer stated they are responding to my application I’ve applied to on Career Builder for the administrative assistant position (I’ve never applied for this job). The process required an interview through Google Hangouts, and he will send me a check to purchase equipment. The whole conversation was unsettling, so I’ve emailed the company the scammer claims to be the hiring manager. I was contacted quickly by the customer service rep stating the job does not exist, that scammer did not work at that company, and instructed for me to stop conversing with the scammer. Legit companies will not use Google Hangouts for an interview.
11. Attitude changes once questioned
Legitimate companies encourage the potential writer to ask questions and to clear up any confusing information before moving forward. Questioning a scammer usually ends with threats of canceling the gig, finding another writer or making you feel sorry for questioning their authenticity in the first place. The scammer is scared and worried that you would figure out their scheme. You are on to them, and they feel cornered. You caught on to their lies and inconsistencies. Don’t be surprised if they hang up, call you names, or threaten to file a lawsuit. Those are their desperate attempts to try to trap you one last time. Asking questions can save a massive headache for you in the long-run. I wish I questioned my scammers!
12. Using spoofed phone number
Phone spoofing is when someone masks the phone number they are texting or calling from by changing their caller ID. They would hijack the phone numbers, either to impersonate a professional or a business department to get information or money. They may appear to be a legitimate number to increase their chances of convincing their victims. At this point, research is your best friend.
I can name ten more warning signs, but I have listed the most common and easily fallen for scams new and seasoned freelance writers should avoid. Now, let’s get to how we can avoid being a victim:
Contact the company
View the company career page if the job listing exists. If you’re not sure, email or call the company and they will be more than happy to tell you it’s a scam.
Don’t cash that check!
Real companies will not send you any money for no apparent reason. If the scammer wants you to wire money over to another country, using Western Union or a Money Gram and for you to keep a percentage for the commission, don’t do it! If you already deposited the check but didn’t send the money, contact your bank to report fraud. The bank will put a hold on the money so when the check bounces, the bank the fake check retrieved money from will take back the money, and you are not left with a negative balance or the risk of having your bank account closed.
Hiring companies will contact you through their company email or phone number. Scammers would usually have more than one email, with an email that resembles a company email but may miss a symbol or letter. Emails filled with grammar, punctuation, and syntax errors are suspicious.
Research similar cases
I didn’t know the client was a scammer until I’ve done my research online. There were others who had an encounter with the same scammer but under a different company, name, and job description. Research is key!
Research compensations and job descriptions
If a gig is too good to be true, it is! Emails promising oddly high-compensation rates for entry-level or no experience required jobs working at the comfort of your home are nonexistent.
Ditch content mills
When I was new in the world of freelancing, I have signed up to content mill bidding sites. Content mills can be a breeding ground for scammers because the vetting-system is lacking. I’ve learned quick I couldn’t represent my best self on those sites because of the race to the bottom mind-set many writers had, desperately bidding for the bottom of the barrel gigs. Yes, you may encounter a high-paying client here and there, but it requires spending a massive amount of your time seeking them out in a sea full of scammers.
Another reason why I’ve ditched the content mills is these companies can ban my account without warning, or the platform can collapse anytime, leaving me without an income. I wouldn’t waste my time searching for pocket change on bidding sites. Research specific and high-paying clients you wish to write for and contact them yourself. The perfect website that offers consistent work, “competitive” pay, an easy task with no experience required, and values your rock star personality is as real as hiring purple squirrels. It doesn’t exist.
Get a deposit before writing
Ask for money up front to provide an immediate incentive to get the ball rolling on the project, also showing you they are a serious client. If you wish to divide payments into milestones, that works for most clients too.
Keep emails or any other methods you used to seal the deal for future reference. Make sure you and the client understand exactly how many articles are to be completed, number amount of revisions, and how payment will be managed. Communication is key!
Don’t write new samples or test
That’s why your portfolio is in existence, to showcase your best work and for the client have an idea on your writing style. Use that time you would use writing free samples to improve your portfolio and to work on a beautifully-crafted website.
Use your freedom to choose
Freelance writing rocks because you get to choose who you wish to pitch. You are not an employee, being forced to attend parties you do not want to participate or converse with coworkers who cannot stand you. I choose most of my clients. I target the company, niche, or organization I wish to write for and approach the appropriate individual directly: the content editor, CEO, marketing manager, or whoever is responsible for hiring writers. If you use the cold-emailing approach to looking for clients, you’re bound to end up with clients quickly!
Don’t pay for training or equipment
Legit companies never have you pay for training or equipment, but the company pays you while you are being trained and will provide the materials.
Trust your gut instincts
If you have that very unsettling feeling in your gut, take heed! If it seems too good to be true, it is!
If you believe you are a victim of a scam, report to the Federal Trade Commission, your bank if you have deposited fake checks or given the scammer your banking information.
Remember, you will be okay!
I wanted to end on a positive note and say, “you will be okay!”. I too was at a point in my life, willing to write for low-ballers or exposure just to get my name out there and win over clients. I was going to end up on the streets or had to work a 9–5 if I didn’t have clients soon.
In the midst of my despair, I had to put my foot down. I’ve researched on what techniques I needed to do to find clients. I’ve contacted 50 companies and received three responses. They were able to give me a chance and assigned writing projects to me immediately. My clients were pleased with my work, and the rest was history. These three companies have been my best clients for years. I was on the point of giving up, but thank God I didn’t. I am happy to have the support and prayers from my family, encouraging me to hang in there and continue to move forward. You may feel in despair now, but your high-paying clients maybe right around the corner. Don’t give up and continue to strive for a successful freelance writing business. If you do not have any support, then, I will cheer you on! 😊
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this story, follow me for more helpful stories here 😊
Originally published at drcrawfordndms.com on November 10, 2018.