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Back in 2015, I launched my freelance business. Shortly afterwards, I fell for a scam. Learn what red flags for freelance writing gigs I ignored, and what I learned from being scammed.
I was naive when I first launched my freelance writing business. I assumed that every client who posted gigs was honest and ready to pay.
And big shocker…
I was wrong.
Scams are everywhere. Especially when you’re trying to find ways to make money online as a freelance writer.
The good news? There are definitely legitimate opportunities. You really can make great money from home, even as a busy mom.
But, in order to make the money, you have to sift through the scams. You must learn to identify red flags for freelance writing gigs, and trust your gut.
Today, I want to share some details about the scams I’ve encountered over the years, and help you pinpoint red flags to avoid. I’ll also share some action steps to take if you have fallen for a scam (like I have a couple of times…)
If you’re ready to avoid getting scammed, keep reading!
And, if you need to start a freelance writing business of your own, I highly recommend Gina Horkey’s 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success. It teaches you everything you need to know to get started pronto!
Red Flag for Freelance Writing Gigs #1: The Ad Sounds too Good to Be True
When you’re looking on job boards or Craigslist for writing gigs, always be wary of ones that sound too good to be true.
You are not going to find a unicorn cushy dream gig there. Well…maybe a rare person will. But, the odds are not in your favor.
If a gig sounds too good to be true, remember that it probably is. If a gig promises you the moon – wants to pay you an outrageously generous wage for doing not so much work, you’ve just found a scam.
Red Flag for Freelance Writing Gigs #2: The Ad Lists No Company Name or Contact Info
As a freelance writer, you want to know who you’re going to be working with. When companies don’t share their name (or even their website) I get nervous.
While there are a few legitimate reasons for staying anonymous, most reputable companies will tell you who they are. They want you to research them and make sure you’d be a good fit. Keeping that information in the dark is definitely a red flag that you’ve uncovered a freelance writing scam.
Red Flag for Freelance Writing Gigs #3: The Client Asks You to Work for Free
Not all scammers want to steal your identity. Many are definitely after your time and talent.
There are tons of unscrupulous content companies that just want to take as many free articles from applicants as they can. And…more than likely you will never see a cent for this work.
If a company asks to see a sample, that’s normal. If they ask you to create an article around a specific keyword or topic, AND are not going to pay you for it, you’re likely going to find your work published somewhere. Without compensation.
You see, if twenty applicants all apply and send in samples, that company just got twenty custom pieces of content to use. Without ever actually hiring anyone.
Then in a few months, they can post another ad – worded slightly differently – and get another batch of free work.
You deserve to get paid for your content. Do not do free work. Unless you are choosing to do free work to get started. But then, you should ALWAYS get a byline.
Red Flag for Freelance Writing Gigs #4: The Client Requests Unconventional Methods of Contact
Beware when potential clients want to interview you with outdated and unconventional forms of contact like Google Hangouts. Skype and Zoom are common. Google Hangouts is not.
You also shouldn’t have to download foreign apps to take calls and send invoices.
If this potential client pushes back when you ask to use a traditional method, things are definitely not going to end well if you accept.
Always listen to what your gut is telling you. And do research about any unfamiliar apps or software before you agree to use it.
A quick Google search should turn up plenty of reviews. You can get a sense of whether anything shady is going on…
Red Flag for Freelance Writing Gigs #5: The Ad Lists Weird Email Addresses
The first time I fell for a scam, this was where I messed up. The email address looked legit to me. It had a company name (a big company!) and a person. It looked like something a company would use.
But, when the gig went south and I started to suspect I’d just done a ton without payment, I did some more sleuthing. I learned that the format used by the legit company was slightly different.
Always take a moment to do some detective work if you’re communicating with a well known company. It could be someone else pretending to be them, hoping that you’ll be blinded by their fame and overlook a few…flaws.
Other email addresses to be wary of are ones that are strings of letters and numbers. Most legit companies that are hiring aren’t going to be using something like hotman543@hotmail as their hiring email.
Gmail addresses are very common. But, they should be professional sounding. If the email looks funny, just walk away.
Red Flag for Freelance Writing Gigs #6: The Client Requires Access to Your Checking Account
While wire transfers can be a legitimate method of payment, it’s often a way to gain access to your checking account to clean you out.
Never give a company you don’t know anything about unfettered access to all your cash.
Use Wave or PayPal or some other third party system for payments. And if the company refuses, it’s another red flag.
Note: I have accepted direct deposit payments before, because of company protocols. But, that was for a curriculum writing gig where the company was very well-known and I verified the legitimacy of it before sharing my account info. So…I’m not saying never do direct deposit. I’m saying be cautious with this method of payment…
And, make sure you have a separate bank account set up. That way you aren’t risking your personal accounts with scams.
Red Flag for Freelance Writing Gigs #7: You Need to Make a Purchase
If a company is promising you tons of work, but first requiring you to make a purchase, you might have found a scam.
Many companies sound great. But, then they want you to make a purchase. From a specific company.
They reassure you that you’ll be reimbursed.
But you won’t be. You will just be giving them money, because chances are they own that company they want you to buy the thing from.
This also looks like people asking you to pay for access to a job board after you found them initially on a free site. While there are legitimate job boards that you have to pay for, there are also a slew of ones that are just accepting your cash.
Do your research before you let anyone else tell you how to spend your money, okay?
Red Flag for Freelance Writing Gigs #8: The Client Expects Masterpieces But Has a Crayon Budget
When you’re searching for freelance writing gigs, you’ll often see big names used in the ad. Companies want people to write like Big Blogger X or Amazing Blogger Y. And they freely name drop in their ads.
But, they sure don’t want to pay for that quality.
You should not be expected to write a masterpiece on a crayon budget. Companies who don’t understand this often feel that:
- “Anyone” can write
- It’s not that hard
But, it is. It takes time and effort to produce valuable content. And if the company doesn’t value you now, they never will.
Walk away before these low-paying rates with high-demands make you burnout.
Red Flag for Freelance Writing Gigs #9: The Client Doesn’t Know What They Want
Unspecific calls for writers are never good. Because chances are if the client doesn’t know what they want, they will just know that what you submitted isn’t what they were looking for.
If there aren’t clear expectations up front for both of you, the gig will likely end badly. Don’t risk it.
You can decide if you want to work with the client to try to get specific expectations, or if you just walk away.
If you think there’s potential, using language like, “It sounds like you aren’t quite sure what you’re looking for just yet. Why don’t you take some time to contemplate what a successful post would look like for you and get back to me when you’re ready to proceed” can help.
Along these lines, never blindly give a quote without some basic details. There’s a huge difference between writing that needs researched and writing about a topic you know inside and out.
One of those will take considerable more effort than the other, and should be compensated as such.
Red Flag for Freelance Writing Gigs #10: Your Gut Is Acting Up
Sometimes, you just have a bad feeling about a gig. You can’t really put your finger on it. But, each time you look at the email or read the description, you just feel strange.
Your belly feels a bit like butterflies are chasing each other. Or your lip curls involuntarily.
Whatever method your gut uses to communicate with you, listen to it. You have this intuition for a reason. And it’s to help keep you safe.
If you have a weird feeling, you don’t have to explain yourself to the potential scammer. You can politely withdraw your application and move on.
Why It’s So Easy to Fall for Freelance Writing Scams
When you’re a beginner freelance writer, you are at high-risk for falling for a scam. You may be feeling a bit desperate to prove that you can earn money from home.
And that sense of really wanting to succeed can put blinders on. They make it harder for you to pick out the legitimate opportunities and fall victim to scams.
Let me encourage you – if you feel any red flags or uneasiness during the application process, it’s better to walk away. Having to fight a scam can eat up your time and energy. So can creating content for a client who has no intention of paying.
It’s much better to proactively spend that time and energy looking for better work. You will come out ahead in the end.
So find bloggers who pay for guest posts (like me!) and start getting your name out there.
Or apply for some gigs from the ProWriting job board. Just search them for red flags first.
And by the way….listening to your gut goes for more than just avoiding scams. It can help you identify which clients are going to be a pain and cause you grief. This post can help you find freelance writing gigs that won’t be for crazy people who want you to work for peanuts.
What to Do If You Get Scammed as a Freelance Writer
Did you fall for a scam? You are not alone. I’ve been scammed twice as a freelancer.
Thankfully for me, both of the scams I fell for just lost me time and earned income. I submitted work I didn’t get paid for.
But, there are scammers out there looking for your identity who can cause a lot more damage.
So if you think you’re being scammed, spend some time thinking about what potential risks are involved.
Did you inadvertently give scammers access to your bank account?
Or use your social security number instead of your EIN before you realized the company was a fake?
Seek Legal Advice
If you’re dealing with potential identity theft and fraud, you need to get some legal advice Talk to the police or an attorney. They can help point you in the right direction for what to do next.
ID Protection Insurance
. My family has Identity Theft protection in place, and knowing gives me some peace.
Thankfully I’ve never had to use it. But, if it happens, I am already prepared.
You may consider signing up for coverage now – just in case. The $13 a month I pay for this coverage is well worth the peace of mind it brings.
Consider Filing a Complaint
You can file an official complaint with the FTC. I don’t know if this will do any good or not, but often filing a complaint can at least make you feel better about the situation.
Decide What Action You Can Take
How much effort are you willing to put into righting this wrong? After sending some emails, I opted to just walk away from the situation both times I was scammed.
I realized that I’d already spent the time and effort. I could keep pouring myself into this toxic situation, hoping to find a resolution.
Or, I could choose to learn from it and put it behind me.
I went with the latter option. I learned what I could from the situation, identified the red flags for freelance writing gigs I’d ignored, and educated myself.
And, I also made changes in my work protocol. I stopped looking for gigs on Craigslist. And I started spending more time in the research phase before agreeing to work with clients.
If I have any sort of bad feeling about the situation, I walk away. No amount of money is worth the stress that a scam brings.
Even if you are broke and really want to earn some money…a scam is not going to improve your situation one iota.
Other Key Takeaways from Getting Scammed
Getting scammed helped me become a better freelance writer. I learned to be pickier when it came to selecting clients. And to:
- Use a contract – always get money things in writing
- Only agree to use technology/payment gateways I’m comfortable with
- Ask for payment upfront if I’m getting a bad vibe
- Not just take a clients word for it – but instead to do my own research
If you’ve been scammed, you can let this situation crumble you. You can give up and cry about how there are no legitimate ways to make cash from your computer.
Or you can opt to learn from the experience. To bounce back and do better than ever.
You don’t have to let a scam stop you.
And…if you’re wondering how to find freelance writing jobs for beginners that aren’t scams, you can check out this post:
Of course no matter where you find the listing, you always want to do your due diligence when applying for gigs. Scams are out there – so do your best to avoid them!
Have you ever been scammed as a freelancer? You can share your story in the comments below.