We all would like the world to be filled with honest, wonderful people who always have the best intentions. Unfortunately, that isn’t reality. There are people out there who want to take advantage of others in various ways and that doesn’t end with freelancing.
There are people out there who want to take advantage of YOU as a freelancer.
In my 13+ years I have had my share of scammers who have come across my path. And yes, I am sad to say that in the beginning, when I didn’t know any better, I fell for one or two. I am a very trusting person, and even now, I sometimes think maybe I should trust them even when the signs are there.
However, I did wise up over the years and I don’t fall for that shit anymore. And I can tell you there are certain red flags you should watch for as a freelancer when clients are trying to scam you:
1. They Don’t Have a History on the Platform
If you are on a freelance platform you can see the history of everyone else on that platform. Upwork is particularly good for this. You can see their feedback and ratings, how long they have been a member of Upwork, how much they have paid out for projects and how many projects they have posted and hired for, and even whether or not their payment method is verified.
If a client is new and doesn’t have any of this, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a scammer. They might truly be a new client. They might not have a history on the platform and they might be in the process of having their payment method verified. But you have to be wary. Particularly if any of these other red flags come up in conjunction with this one.
If you are working off platform, then you need to verify this client exists. Ask for their web address and references. Find out if they are on reputable sites, such as LinkedIn. Check out their internet presence and if you can’t find one or don’t feel good about it, don’t work with them.
2. They Want to Communicate Off the Platform
All freelance platforms have their own method of communication. There will be a message board with live chat. There will be a way to upload files. There will be a way to make and accept payments.
Now, I have had plenty of clients who really do just prefer to use Skype because it’s more convenient for them. But the scammers out there will want that too. They will not want a history of your conversation on a platform they don’t plan to use. It’s safest if you communicate via the platform, but if you don’t, then at least be sure the client is reputable and has a history on the platform.
3. They Aren’t Willing to Pay a Deposit
If you are working on a platform, and it’s a good platform, they should have an escrow system. This will do when it comes to a deposit. Your client funds the escrow and you can rest assured the money is there. However, that might not work when it comes to all platforms or when you work on an hourly basis.
However, a good platform will guarantee your pay. So, if your client stiffs you, you’ll be paid all the same. The platform has safeguards in place, such as a method to live-track hours worked, to ensure your work and time are protected.
If you are working off a platform, then you must request a deposit. This is one of the primary reasons to do so. If you are dealing with a scammer, they won’t pay it. If they aren’t willing to pay the deposit, they won’t be paying you later. And since it’s common practice to request a deposit, if they aren’t a scammer and they don’t want to pay it, then too bad for them. They will lose a great service provider and they’ll have trouble finding another one.
4. They Offer a Rate of Pay that Is Too Good To Be True
When a client wants to do business with you and they have a big budget, but haven’t offered a specific rate of pay per word or article, this might not be a good thing. Particularly if you have to ask what the pay is. When you ask and they answer with what’s your rate and they automatically accept that rate without any question — red flag!
This is especially true when your rate is substantial. Essentially, they are willing to accept any rate because they’re never going to pay it. They just want to get you on board and they’ll tell you anything you want to hear. Yet, at the same time, these clients are very much sticklers for wanting work to be done right away and don’t seem flexible on that.
5. They Send Project Details in a Zipped Folder or File
If anyone ever tries to send you project details in a zipped folder, often times a .rar folder, run away! And definitely do NOT open the folder. If you do, you are just asking for malware to end up on your computer.
6. They Want You to Do a Test Job
No free samples. Period. Maybe at a discount, but not free. Most reputable clients will be perfectly willing to pay for the samples they order. Clients that don’t may just be looking for free work. You might think you’re only writing a single article, so how much can they benefit from that. But if they have 10 potential service providers writing samples on 10 different topics, next thing you know, they are making off with 10 articles and they never paid a cent. Yes, this happens.
7. They Won’t Sign a Contract
Honestly, enough said. No signing, no work.
Most often, you will see more than one of these red flags with a single scammer. But even when you see them on their own, be on your guard. It could be a newbie client who is just learning the ropes. Although, to be honest, clients that don’t know the ropes should be dwindling in number as the freelance game continues to grow and dominate the working world.
Have you had experience with scammers or do you have questions? Feel free to use the comments section below to let us know!