Tips for Avoiding Freelancer Scams

A few weeks ago, a potential client approached me about a proofreading project. After I requested a writing sample, he quickly forwarded me the document that looked a lot like a paper on policy research. At first, everything seemed normal. He accepted my quote, and we agreed upon a tentative deadline.

Then red flags began showing up. His email was a combination of letters and numbers—which in itself looked suspicious. His name search yielded no online results about his professional identity. His email language quickly changed from overtly polite to very informal. What’s more, he insisted on paying with a certified bank check and asked for my name, phone number, and address. This made me feel a bit uneasy, but I did not want to refuse the project just yet. I googled “client wants to pay using check only” and found a link to a forum discussion about a situation very similar to mine. This search led me to discover that the document had been plagiarized from the web and was being actively used by scammers to create fake jobs for editors and translators.

Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon scenario, and it will happen to many freelancers down the road. However, with a little vigilance, it’s not too difficult to weed out the scam offers. Here are some questions you should ask yourself before accepting a client offer.

Can you trace your client-in-question via online search databases? If not, can you establish their identity by other means? 

Firstly, I want to mention that there is nothing wrong about a person who does not own social media accounts. Some people like to avoid popular social media networks to maintain their privacy, while others might even feel intimidated by modern technology. So if you cannot find your contact’s Facebook profile, don’t fret just yet. Provided that the contact is valid, most likely you’ll be able to find some clues about their identity. If you cannot find any information about the contact online, consider asking them for a phone number. Most aspiring writers and business professionals will get excited about the idea of speaking to their editor on the phone. Once you have the contact’s phone and be able to reach the client, you’ll know it’s a real person.

Does the client-in-question ask a lot of questions about your services?

Most clients will ask a lot of questions about your professional background, your fees, and the types of services you offer. Those who are new to the editing world will likely want to know about the difference between substantive editing and copy editing. Most clients will provide some form of instructions on how deeply you should edit the document. Some will insist on structural editing, while others will make it clear they want light proofreading only. Naturally, this depends on a client, and some will want to skip the interview process altogether and plunge into the project. In this case, you’ll be the one to ask questions about the type of services they need. The client-in-question accepted my offer right away, without discussing the fee or the editing level he needed. This looked too good to be true.

Do they insist on paying via check only?

Just like with the social media, everyone is at a different level of Internet use. Some are more comfortable paying in an old-fashioned way, and this is perfectly fine. As long as you manage to establish your client’s identity, you shouldn’t have a problem with the check. Most likely, the client will provide you with a valid reason for choosing this mode of payment. For instance, their company issues certified checks to independent contractors, or they are simply uncomfortable with Interac transfer (This is very rare in modern days but nonetheless possible).

My client-in-question flat out refused to discuss all other modes of payment, insisting on a check only. I later discovered that some scammers use a special advanced fee scheme to send a fake check on the amount greater than the initial amount billed and then ask to to pay the difference. I was horrified by the discovery but also relieved that I hadn’t gone along with the project.

Are they honest about the prospect of hiring someone else?

This is probably the least pleasant part of the negotiations process. You seem to tick all the boxes, but the client tells you there are other candidates for the job. Maybe you’ll hear again from the client in a few days or maybe not. As frustrating as it can be, this form of honesty is actually a good sign. The client is serious enough about the project to share the hiring process with you. If you’re fortunate to get the job, it will happen after the client has thought hard, interviewed multiple freelancers, and the chosen you as the best fit.

A final note…

The good news is that most freelance offers you’ll receive will be legit. If your contact keeps open lines of communication, asks a lot of questions, and is willing to negotiate the fees or methods of payment, most likely, this person can be trusted. Throughout your freelance career, you will meet many talented individuals who will be eager to collaborate with you and will fully appreciate your part in their creative process. However, there’ll also be a few times when you’ll be contacted by someone you should probably ignore.

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