How to Spare Yourself the Stress and Not Get Caught in a Freelance Scam

12/03/2017 20 comments

It seems everywhere you go these days, someone will try to scam you. Freelancing isn’t any different and here too, you have to be very careful who you should work with. Otherwise, your next gig might turn out to be a scam. With so many clients trying actively to deceive freelancers, you must learn how to identify and avoid these freelance scam jobs.

Before I introduce the most common scams you can encounter as a freelancer, I’d like to point out one thing. A freelance scam is not the same as having a bad client. The difference is – while very difficult to work with, a bad client does generally intend to pay you for your service. A freelance scam client almost never does. However, keep in mind that, in some cases, these two can be one and the same.

And with that, let’s take a look at the 8 most common freelance scam offers you might get and how to avoid them:

The “Revenue Share” Freelance Scam

While there are many legit revenue sharing websites such as HubPages, there are many more looking to scam you. You can recognize these by taking a look at their pagerank at CheckPageRank or a similar website. Simply put in the domain name in the field and if its Google PageRank and Domain Authority aren’t very high, don’t work with that client.

Some new sites will also offer a revenue share. If you think they might be onto something and that you could actually earn some decent money by agreeing to a revenue share, first test them for a few months by asking to be paid a fixed rate. That way, you can see how the site grows and if there is any merit in the owner’s promises.

However, in general, unless it’s a very high authority website, it’s better to avoid working with a client like this as it will probably turn out to be a freelance scam gig.

No Contract

Having a contract, especially for larger freelance projects is very important, as I already mentioned in this post: Why Having a Freelance Writing Contract is a Great Idea? Unfortunately, some clients will try to convince you that a you don’t “really need” a contract when working with them.

Do not believe them!

If you find a potentially long-term, big client asking you to work without a contract, or not offering one once you have agreed about all job terms, turn away. You don’t want to work with this client. No honest employer will ever refuse a contract. Without it, there is a good chance that they will disappear the moment you send them your work.

Phishing for Your Personal Information

So far, we talked about freelance clients who will try to scam you into getting your work without paying. But this type of client is much more dangerous as it will try to lure you into giving them your personal information. Your freelance client does not need to know any of your personal information aside from your name, how to contact you (never on phone) and maybe what country you are from. Any other personal information of yours should be off limits to clients.

Always read the job offer and if it looks like it is phishing for your personal info, avoid it. There is no need to give clients your sensitive, personal information.

Asking for Free, Unique Samples of Your Work

This one isn’t all that clear-cut and it could actually turn out to be a legitimate job offer and a not a freelance scam. However, you still need to be very careful with clients asking you to write an original sample for them. They can easily say that, after long consideration, you are not a good fit for them, leave without paying you for your effort and still use your work.

Never agree to give out free samples of your work. Instead, your first question to a client asking for you to write an original sample for them is “will I be paid for this?” If they say they are not paying for test articles, you just say that you are not a charity and leave.

Keep in mind that almost every freelance client will want to see some sample of your work. Usually, it is enough to send them a piece of your old content that you’ve written for a previous client. However, in some cases, they might ask you to write something specifically for them. As long as they promise to pay you for it, it’s okay to work with them. You might even, if you see the potential in this client, offer a discount on your sample to get into their good graces.

Newbie Freelancers Wanted!

Working on Upwork, I often see clients who are offering “exciting opportunities” for newbie freelancers or anyone in need of some extra cash. Usually, these clients promise anything but actual money. This can include a 5-star feedback, chance to work on a fun project and with great people of any number of other things.

What lies underneath however, is that they just want to get quality work for cheap and they reckon that new, less experienced freelancers are easier to get duped into something.

These freelance scam gigs can be very tempting (they are certainly created with this in mind) for someone who is just starting out. But, even if you are new to the freelancing industry, there is still no reason to get paid pennies. Always bid at your usual rate, even if the job says something like “lowest bid wins”. Learn to value your work from day one.

Low Starting Budget, but Better Pay Later

Sometimes, you’ll find a freelance job offer like this one:

“We are looking for a writer to help us with our content. To start, we need ten 400 to 500-word  long articles to determine your quality and speed. Budget for this batch is $25. However, the job could lead to a better pay and more work for you in the future.”

If you accept an offer like this, you will only give someone ten cheap articles and get nothing for them. Okay, maybe the $25 they promised you. There won’t be any more work in the future from this client. Don’t be lured into lowering your rate with the promise of a better paying job or more work later on. Always bid at your normal rate and if the client doesn’t like it, there is someone who will.

Pay to Work With Us

If you’re in Europe, United States or Canada or Australia, you probably won’t see this type of freelance scam. But in some third-world countries, they can be quite common. Basically, what they boil up to is that a client will ask you to pay them a certain membership fee (usually around $5-10) and will promise to send their clients your way.

Avoid offers like these. Even if you do get some work from them, it will be just for show. With enough freelancers falling for this trick and paying the membership (or whatever they call it), they can afford to pay a little. This is not the way freelancing goes. They should pay you, not the other way around.

Keep in mind that there are some legitimate job boards and websites that do offer tools for freelancers looking for work. One such is LinkedIn Premium. However, other than these, never agree to pay someone for your work.

A Fake Job Description

This is very low, even for a freelance scam. Some unscrupulous clients will tell you they need one thing, but when you agree to work with them, they suddenly change the scope of the project and its requirements. This is yet another reason why you should never work without a contract (at least for large projects). Always make sure the scope of the project is clearly defined, as well as the specific circumstances how it can change.

If you don’t define the scope of the project from the start, you’ll run the risk of working with a client who constantly adds new requirements, changes the original ones and thus avoiding to pay you for your work indefinitely.

Do you know of any other scams you would recommend to other freelancers to avoid? What would your advice to fellow freelancers be on how to avoid these freelance scam clients? Let us know in the comments below  and share this post with others to help them avoid getting caught in  a freelance scam.