Everyone looking for freelance writing jobs online is susceptible to freelancer scams. Even the most experienced freelancers occasionally fall for job scams! Say you’re clicking through the internet one morning with a cup of coffee in hand. Your freelancing career is just beginning, but you’ve had some early success.
Today might be the day you land that big client!
So then on Craigslist, you stumble across a recent posting proclaiming that a random opening has left an immediate need for freelance writers! You click the link that prompts you to enter some information into a website. They’re asking for personal details and bank account information…They say they want to be able to set up payment immediately to fill the position.
Does this sound like a scam?
History of Work at Home Schemes
The work at home scheme is a large phenomenon that freelancer scams fall under. The scheme has been around for the last hundred years. During the Great Depression in the 1920s, the “envelope stuffing” scam emerged to prey on desperate people. “Workers” earned $2 for every envelope they filled, but their employer asked them to pay a small $2 fee to start their position as “envelope stuffer.” Upon paying, the victims received flyers for the scam to post in their local area,. This helped the scam find new victims.
If the work at home scheme was a profitable option in the 1920s, then the work at home scheme boom came during the rise of the internet in the 90s and 00s. At that time, communication was faster than ever. Con artists found naive audiences who didn’t understand how the internet worked. If envelopes were confusing in the earlier 1900s, think about how lost people were in the early days of email! Con artists obtained bank account and personal information, promising they needed it to pay for online jobs.
The work at home scam preys on our desire to make money from home and our conviction that this is possible. That said, making money from home by freelance writing is possible, but how do you separate the legitimate gigs from the scams?
5 Freelancer Writing Job Scams
Watch out for these warning signs and scams when looking for jobs online!
1. Overenthusiastic Clients
If there was an algorithm for job scams, then “overenthusiastic client meets naive writer” would be it. The list has to start here because every scam job for freelance writing includes some kind of overenthusiastic client who offers a minimal amount of praise or recognition to a freelance writer. The writer feels recognized and excited and then quickly clicks a couple of links before the jaws of the freelance trap snap shut.
Be wary of any situation where (1) a client has randomly found you and doesn’t explain how they stumbled across your information, and (2) they are overly eager for you to do some work for them. A good amount of humility is essential in the freelance game. There are thousands of freelance writers. If a client finds and seeks out you, there should be a reason why it’s you they want. We’re not encouraging self-deprecation, just a little bit of realism! It can be difficult to find freelance writing jobs online, and the best ones rarely land in your lap.
2. Free or low-pay test work
Sometimes clients will request to see work you’ve done, but they should never request an original free test article. You should be sending published or completed work in portfolios and never sitting down to write unique content. Obviously, if you dish out original content to an unpaying client, they may take the work and run without ever paying you a dime.
In another variation of this freelance scam, the client will request extremely low paid work to test speed, quality, and accuracy. They will usually float the bill with the promise of a lucrative long-term writing relationship. Don’t let someone else use your work on the cheap! Get paid for the work you do, not for the work you might do.
3. Upfront Fees and Co-publishing
This section is for those of you sifting through spaghetti plates of links to find literary agencies, editors, and publishers for that beautiful manuscript you’ve been working on. Authors notoriously want promises of discovery and recognition, and it can feel great when it seems like someone is finally noticing and praising your work (other than the professors who were paid to do that).
However, if a literary agent or publisher asks you to pay “reading fees” or “marketing fees,” or they ask that their authors “co-invest with them” in the publishing process, beware. Legitimate agents and publishers will believe in your work and will jump all over it if it is profitable.
If you’re being asked to hand over money in addition to your work, you might be the victim of a literary scam.
4. Sign-up scam
If clients find you on a website, like a freelance marketplace, and want to work with you, they won’t ask you to create an account on a different website. If you’ve already been found, they won’t try to communicate through a different place. Watch out for clients who seem excited to work with you but want quick want to direct you to sign up for a different site or freelance marketplace where they are more comfortable doing business.
They could be getting bonuses when you create an account. Additionally, they could be paid to market that site and are looking for leads. This is quite common on websites that allow you to post jobs for free.
5. Direct payment scam
You should not be handing out bank account information directly to clients. Ever. You can avoid this by working through legitimate marketplaces that have their own payment methods, like Upwork, or simply by invoicing through PayPal. PayPal is a great way to get paid and transfer money to your bank account without ever handing out critical information. If a client gets frustrated and says that it is more complicated for their accountants, they aren’t respecting the risks of freelancing. Move on to avoid losing your shirt!
How to find real freelance writing jobs online
We should say, any of the five things above “might” be legitimate. A client could, in theory, request a free article and take your bank account information and really pay you lots of money for work you do over a long and profitable relationship. However, with all the real freelance writing jobs out there, you shouldn’t have to chance it on ones that carry red flags and warning signs. Finding legitimate freelance writing jobs online is possible when you know what to look for and where.
When vetting clients, do some research on the company. Google them and see if they show up in places other than the craigslist ad or random email you received.
Know how much your work is worth and be wary of people trying to underpay and overpay you. Promises of unrealistic amounts of money per word or per article should be a huge red flag.
Maintain your privacy by not oversharing too much at first. Clients need work samples, not your driver’s license. They need good work, not your personal information.
The best advice is to pay attention to the way an ad is written. Ask yourself, “If I were trying to sort through a hundred eager freelance writers to find the best ones, how would I write the ad?” You wouldn’t say “no experience necessary,” and you wouldn’t make the job sound like a vacation.
Ads that are built to gather freelancers instead of weed them out might not be legitimate. Real freelance ads assume that many people will want the job, and so the requirements will be clear and realistic. The job posting will sound like they need a professional. Some no experience necessary jobs are real, and they are a great way to start your freelance writing career.
Check Company Reviews
Finding and verifying freelance writing jobs online can be done through employers and freelance marketplaces. The freelance site UpWork is built on a model of mutual trust, vetting both employers and freelance writers for contact information and payment information. Both the freelance writer and employer can gain verified reviews over time, increasing mutual confidence. Textbroker is another freelance site that confirms payment and provides writer reviews, reducing freelancer scams.
Remember, employers are often as wary of you as you are of them! Trusted marketplaces and sites with reviews help employers trust you (increasing payout and reducing job scams), and helps you trust them. Take steps to protect your writing and make sure you get paid for your time.
I have been a freelance digital marketer since 2014. When I am not helping clients generate more leads or market their services, I explore the world, listen to podcasts, and dream big.