Freelancers – please don’t fall for this scam like I did

I’ve been picking up freelance writing work for a wide range of clients via freelancing websites for the past three years or so. Some were one-off jobs, and others became long term clients I’m still working for three years later.

However, this isn’t a success story.

Right at the beginning of my time on these sites, I was scammed by one of the fake clients who still flood these boards. People Per Hour, Freelancer.com, UpWork and others all take measures to warn people away from fakers, and to take fake postings down whenever they’re reported, but the fakers keep coming back.

Why? Because sometimes it works. And that’s why I wanted to write a warning – not from the perspective of a freelance website that takes a cut of each sale, but as a freelancer with zero financial interest.

I ignored these websites’ policies sometimes – ‘always keep your conversations and transactions on our website’ – because I knew the sites made money when I did. I stupidly assumed the risk of being ripped off was minor, and that I’d spot it a mile away. I was wrong.

At a particularly skint point, I landed what appeared to be a standard writing job via one of these websites, writing web articles for a client who I was perfectly aware would then be sending them on to their own clients and taking a cut. The pay wasn’t great, but I was promised ongoing work, and a two-weekly pay cycle. So far, so good.

The client wanted to chat on Skype – not video or call, just text – and was full of perfectly reasonable explanations about what the work was, what was needed, what the company set-up was, and how I’d be paid.

The rest I’m sure you can guess. After working my arse off for two weeks churning out articles, the client disappeared. They’d been taking my work, getting paid for it, and never had any intention of passing any of that cash to me.

Yes, in hindsight it seems so very obvious that this was a scam, but as someone completely new to this online freelancing world it looked like a thing that might be a legit business model.

The thing is, I can’t be the only freelance writer falling for it. In order for these scammers to dispose of writers every two weeks (it’s almost always two weeks), and in order for them to continue taking the time to post on legitimate freelance sites and respond to queries, it MUST pay off on the regular.

Sadly, the more desperate someone is for work and cash, the more likely they are to jump at something like this, and the more devastating it will be to realise there’s no money coming at the end of it. This hits hardest those who are already in a tough financial situation to begin with.

Just to point out here, there are plenty of clients I now deal with directly and trust completely to pay once the work is done. But we only arrived here after extensive communication on the phone, and only after completing jobs for them via the site on which we first established contact.

So don’t be like me, don’t let anyone tell you they can only pay you via PayPal / bank transfer / whatever. Always be wary if someone immediately asks you to chat on Skype or away from the freelance website right from the off. There may be, and are, good reasons someone might want to do this at the beginning of a project (and that’s fine), but it’s also worth noting that this is – in my experience – something scammers always do, and it’s usually the first sign there’s a problem.

TLDR: Freelancers, don’t trust anyone on a freelance website who wants to give you work but won’t chat via the site at all and won’t assign work and pay via the site, otherwise you could be working for nothing for a couple of weeks like I was. If you’re smarter than me and would never fall for this then there’s nothing to see here.