Freelancing is a great opportunity for writers and other creative professionals to make some money from their skills, interests, and experiences without leaving the house.
It’s also a playground for scammers. The fact that you won’t ever meet your potential client gives them a lot of scope for being dishonest in their dealings with you.
They can pretend to be anyone they like, including the CEO of a giant corporation or the personal assistant of some fictional personage with deep pockets.
A freelancer who has been conned once will almost certainly be conned again, because most scammers repeat their techniques over and over again on different sites.
Nevertheless, there are ways to identify potential scammers before they have a chance to take your money or steal your identity.
An Easy Job For A High Pay
It may be tempting when you see an ad for easy money, but remember that an honest client is more likely to offer a fair wage. If the person behind the ad is genuine, they’ll e likely to have clear expectations and a clear payment schedule.
A scammer is usually looking for someone to do the work for almost nothing and then disappear with the money. If the client is one of those “make thousands of dollars from home” types, then there’s a good chance that it’s a scam.
It’s not uncommon for scammers to claim that the client is some sort of dignitary or VIP who can’t be bothered to deal with the small stuff like negotiating prices.
Check The Website
Different freelancing websites have different levels of scrutiny in their selection process. It’s worth checking to see if the site you’re using has a page dedicated to spotting scammers. Some of the things that they’ll be on the look-out for are:
- The ads are vague or poorly written.
- The client is using a different name on each site.
- The client has been reported several times.
- The client has no reviews or ratings.
- The client doesn’t use the messaging system on the site.
Look For Red Flags In Communication
The most obvious red flag is an unwillingness to use the messaging system on the site. If your client wants you to send your resume and samples of your work to some random email address, there’s a good chance that it’s not legitimate.
You should be able to use the messaging system for verification, to talk about rates, and to negotiate payment. If the client wants to communicate off-site, then there’s a good chance that they’re not who they say they are.
Other red flags are spelling mistakes, poor grammar, and communication that seems rushed. If your client is legitimate, they’ll want to take their time to make sure they get everything right.
A scammer is more likely to rush you into making a decision. They might want you to send them a full résumé right away, or they might want you to start work before they’ve even agreed to hire you.
Asks For Money First
There are some cases where you might have to send the client some kind of proof of funding before they hire you. A legitimate client, though, should never ask you to send them money before you’ve even done the work.
The most that you should have to send before you start work is your retainer or deposit. If your client is asking for money before anything has been agreed on, then it’s almost certainly a scam.
You should also be careful when a client suggests a payment method that you’re not used to. If someone wants to send you $50,000 and they want to wire you the money, likely, they don’t have $50,000 to send. If they had $50,000 to send, they’d use a traceable payment method.
Unusual Forms Of Payment
Freelancers are often asked to accept payment by wire transfer or by some other unusual method. This isn’t a sign of a scam necessarily, but it’s a warning sign.
A legitimate client is more likely to want to pay by credit card or PayPal. If they’re pushing for some other form of payment, then it’s worth taking a second look at them.
Be careful, though. A client who wants to pay you by check or some other form of payment that is easy for them to get is probably legitimate.
But if they have to drive to the bank, pay a $25 wire transfer fee, or jump through some other hoop to get you their payment, then they’re probably not legitimate.
Be Careful Of Upfront Payments
A client who asks for payment upfront is probably not a scammer, but you should be careful about accepting an upfront payment.
There are legitimate reasons for a client to ask for an upfront payment, but there are also many ways that a scammer can ask for an upfront payment without getting caught.
For example, they could say that they need you to buy your own equipment, or they might promise to pay you extra if you get a specific job done quickly.
While these scenarios aren’t necessarily scams, they’re also not great signs. A legitimate client will usually be willing to negotiate a fair payment schedule with you.
There’s a difference between upfront payments and a retainer. A retainer is a fee that you pay upfront to your client before you start work. It’s designed to protect you in case the client slips off the face of the Earth and never comes back.
Responses To Initial Contact
Some scammers are so confident in their abilities that they’ll contact you before you’ve even posted your project. If you receive a message from someone who wants to hire you before you’ve even posted a project, then you should be very careful.
They might think that they’re being sly, but they’re incredibly easy to spot. If they offer you a ridiculously large amount of money to do something easy, then you should be able to recognize the scam. A more subtle form of initial contact is the “spoiler offer”.
A spoiler offer happens when a potential client contacts you before you’ve posted your project and gives you a ridiculously low amount of money to do something that you’ve advertised at a high price. If you receive an offer for $5 for a project that you’re planning to charge $400 for, there’s a good chance that it’s a scam.
Sending Malicious Software
If your client sends you malicious software, such as a virus or a keylogger, then they’re almost certainly a scammer. Even if they don’t steal your data, they can do plenty of damage just by sending you a virus.
If someone offers to pay you and wants you to take the funds off a wallet or an exchange, then they’re probably sending you malware. If someone offers to pay you in crypto, then you should be careful.
They may pay you, but they also don’t have to send you the crypto. They can also send you a virus that will destabilize your computer while they sit back and laugh at you from their hacker bunker.
Some scammers will create fake testimonials for themselves, usually on freelancing websites. You should be skeptical of any client who has a lot of glowing reviews with links that go to the scammer’s website.
If a client has a legitimate website and has done a lot of work for other clients, then they’ll have legitimate testimonials. If you find a client with fake testimonials, then you should report them immediately. You can usually find a “Report a scammer” button on the freelancing website.
If you’re lucky enough to have a client who’s willing to work with you, then you’ll have one of the most rewarding and important roles in your life. But don’t forget that scammers will keep trying until they get your money or steal your identity.
Make sure that you take the time to establish that your client is who they say they are, and always perform due diligence when making an online payment. That’s all for now, but this list will be updated as new scams emerge.