Stay Safe Working Online – How Freelance Writers Can Avoid Scams

Writing is a rewarding job that you can do from almost anywhere, but if you’re working online, you’ll have to navigate through low pay jobs, scams, and non-paying clients to find real work. Supporting yourself in the gig economy is possible, and a popular choice, but you have to learn to watch for and avoid freelance writing scams. Use the following tips to protect yourself while writing.

Don’t Pay to Work

One of the most common scams is the pay to work scam, which offers you access to easy jobs or training, refuses to hire you unless complete a training program. Don’t do these. They are most often, if not always, scams.

Don’t Take Uncertified Courses

There are hundreds of uncertified and unethical freelance writing courses that promise to tell you how to find clients, how to work with magazines, or how to develop specific skills like technical writing, but unless they are certified by an education quality body they could be a waste of your time. You don’t want to pay for something that doesn’t guarantee quality.

Avoid Content Mills and Low-Pay Agencies

One of the easiest ways to get work as a freelancer is to work through an agency or a content mill website. However, you’ll likely get as little as one cent per word, while the agency or mill gets up to $50 per page. If you want to make sure you’re not being scammed, go through the client side of their site first to see how much they charge for writing, or consider options where you can bid for writing assignments directly with the client. Similarly, avoid ‘low starting rate’ jobs where you work for virtually free, before being bumped up to a higher rate.

Watch Out for Red Flags

One of the most common scams online is that some clients simply do not intent to pay. This can be disappointing or even debilitating if you were relying on money to pay your rent, especially with big projects. Keeping an eye for warning flags, checking your clients before you work with them, and making sure that you’re paid in milestones for big projects is important for keeping yourself safe online. If you’re nervous, you can ask for a 20% fee upfront, but clients will (rightfully) be nervous about paying you upfront as well. Putting money in escrow is a good compromise.

  • No Communication
  • Asking for a free sample is okay, but tell them you’ll do a page, or half of the work upfront for approval. Do not do any work for a new client after submitting the first work until they’ve paid you for it. Don’t submit a complete unique sample. Do send an e-portfolio of your written works, with links, or a cloud storage account.
  • Indecisiveness or vague descriptions are also okay. Many people, especially small business owners, have no idea how writing works, and no idea what they want. But be wary if they are vague when answering or avoid answering direct questions
  • Be wary if they refuse to settle payment methods or amounts upfront or don’t want to talk about it. Refusing or avoiding questions is always a bad sign.
  • Don’t work on credit terms unless you know and trust the client. Accepting pay every 60 days is fine if you trust them, but not for a new client.
  • Stop working if you’re asked to do ‘just one more thing’ before paying, or keep asking for more tasks before they pay.
  • Stop or refuse to work if you find bad feedback, discussion about the client not paying in forums, or similar.
  • Avoid the client if they ask for bank information or want to do a direct transfer
  • Membership fees on trusted sites are okay, but don’t pay a membership fee to get work.
  • If you’re on a freelancing site, avoid clients who ask you to work offline, even if it will reduce fees.
  • Avoid clients who don’t want a contract for a large project. If it will take more than 20 hours of your time, you need a contract.

Vetting Clients and Companies Online

You can do a quick online search on almost anyone to vet them to make sure that they are worth your time before you do the work. Check online freelancing sites and check freelancing forums to see if they have a reputation for not paying. For new clients, you likely won’t find anything, so use your best judgment.

Avoiding scams means paying attention, being strict about being paid shortly after completing work, and discussing payment methods upfront with clients. If something seems fishy, or seems like the client is going to get a lot out of you for very little, don’t do it.