Online predators aren’t just looking for children to victimize or the elderly to steal from: inexperienced freelancers are a prime target. Avoid scams like a pro with this simple advice.
Being a freelancer is hard. There’s a lot to think about: from what software to use to keep track of your clients and invoices to how to manage your time. Despite those clerical things, though, there’s one thing all freelancers should be aware of straight out of the gate: their safety. There are several ploys to scam freelancers and I’m here to help you avoid them successfully.
Rule: Follow The Rules
Whether it’s a content mill or a site like elance, learn the rules. Sure, it’s nice to have someone offer to pay you via PayPal or wire transfer to avoid fees, but, in the long run, those fees serve a purpose. Freelancing sites have systems in place to protect you but if you violate their rules, a big one being: no off-site payment, they don’t have to, and often cannot, help you.
Real Life Example:
When I first started freelancing I was on the content mills. I was asked to write an article about nail polish trends for 2015 (yeah, welcome to Beginning Freelancing). I researched, wrote, edited, and proofread the article before submitting it. I received a one star review from the client and written comments that my article was plagiarized, poorly written, and didn’t meet the requirements. I immediately contacted the site, cut and pasted the article and sent a link where I found my article a few hours later. Because I had done everything by the book I had the site on my side. They took the money from the client’s balance to pay me and deleted the feedback. Had I agreed to something like being paid off site, I wouldn’t have had the protections of the site. Read and learn the rules of each site you’re on — make yourself a cheat sheet if you need to — and follow them all of the time.
Rule: Know The Red Flags
New freelancers don’t get an orientation or manual. They get the internet and all of the information on it. I hope this post boils some of the most important info down for you. And one of the most important things you can know is the red flags that signal a client to steer clear of. Run like the wind if:
- A client asks you to pay for an assignment. While sites may require you to purchase or earn credits/bids, no client should require a separate fee for “administrative” purposes. Clients who ask for this type of payment up front are not going to pay you.
- You Are Required To Take an Online Background Check. After bidding on a job you might get an email. That email may have a request for writing samples, which is legit. But a request for you to pay for and submit to an online background check (that requires your social security number and debit card/bank account info) is, 99.999% of the time, a classic phishing scam. An employer worth their salt will use a police service and pay for it themselves without you giving them information that could make you vulnerable… not ask you to do it and tell you they’ll reimburse you.
- A Client asks you for an unpublished writing sample very similar to the requested project.Your writing is yours until you sell or allow someone else to have the rights to it and while stealing it could be obvious, it’s easy to happen and if someone is using it on their own site, you’ll have very little recourse. And especially an unpublished piece because you’ve now got no way to prove, using plagiarism checking software, that belongs to you. Chances are they want your unpublished work so that they can tell you, “thanks, but no thanks,” and publish it anyway without paying anyone for it.
- Never Give Access To Your Online Sites.A client who wants to see your html skills or look at your blog states? No, no, no! Never set up a temporary password or give a client your password. While I could expound on all the many password rules it wouldn’t be fair: I don’t follow
allmany of them. Most of us don’t. Screenshots are a wonderful thing – you can screenshot and use a tool like photoshop or gimp to blur any personal information. Giving someone the keys to your digital kingdom is a surefire way to lead to all kinds of bad things. Way beyond getting scammed out of that low price of $9.99.
Real Life Example:
Recently I applied for a position via a good freelancing site. Shortly after I was asked to submit to an online background check, for the low price of $9.99, via a website called CheckHireThrive. But wait, there’s more! I would get reimbursed after. It didn’t feel right… the site has NO information about who runs it, simply an introduction asking for things like my name, address, birthdate, and the employer id. No way was I putting that in to get to find out who, exactly, ran the site. Some digging online showed me that there was no clear record of who runs the site (kind of like someone who writes an anonymous letter), it was relatively new, and while it looked like it was based in the US there was lots of other location invitations – a sign that it could be routed through different IP addresses to avoid being found. Not only did I immediately write to the client to let them know I wasn’t an idiot, but I also posted in the site’s forums and flagged the posting. Which leads me to the final rule to avoid getting scammed…
Rule: Share, Ask, Connect, Network
Being self-employed and is not the same as being alone. There are so many of us out there, whether in the same field or different, dealing with the same struggles, learning the same tricks, and sometimes running across the same rotten clients and scammers. While there are more good clients than bad and more obvious scams that really good ones we have a powerful network. A network we should use for things other than getting Facebook likes and retweets. Use online forums, join the Freelancers Union, and reach out to others to help and for help. The support and advice we can give each other is the most valuable way to learn and grow as a freelancer who hasn’t fallen for a trick or two.
Real World Example:
This blog, all those forums, some of my other posts. Reach out, read, share, blog, tweet, and connect with others and make sure we build a community where we look out for each other. Don’t be embarrassed if you get taken advantage of: it happens. But don’t keep it a secret – help someone else avoid it… talk about good karma.
Have you been scammed? What happened? What do you wish you had known? And what’s your best advice to other freelancers for staying scam free? Share in the comments!