Don’t Fall for These! 6 Common Freelance Writing Scams to Avoid

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Watch Out for Red Flags! | Graphic by SandpaperDaisy

Getting caught in the web of a fraudulent client is every freelance writer’s worst nightmare.

If you’re a newbie, you’re the easiest prey. There’re a good number of scammers out there looking to milk free content out of you by using your naivety and desperation for work to their advantage. That said, well-seasoned writers aren’t immune to these insufferable predators either.

Follow along as I shine a light on the telltale signs that reveal common freelance writing scams.

1. The Client with Several Negative Reviews

Isn’t this an obvious sign of trouble? Yet, you’d be surprised by the number of writers who still fall for these kinds of clients on job boards.

Do your due diligence as a writer when scanning for prospective clients.

If you’re looking for writing gigs, get as much information as you can on the client(s) before sending a proposal. There’s a reason some job boards have a ranking system for clients. They’re meant to guide you to a company that’s a good, safe, fit for you.

Here are 2 scenarios you may encounter:

1. Several former writers complaining about payments.

You don’t need further explanation. When you see this, it clearly means the client can’t be trusted to pay you — either on time or the amount you’re worth. Step away.

2. Very low rating from numerous writers.

Don’t waste your time on this client trying to find out why they’re so poorly rated. Move on to a 4 or 5-star client.

It’s entirely up to you to thoroughly vet prospective clients before taking on a writing job. That’s the first step to avoiding freelance writing scams.

2. The Promise of Exposure

As a freelance writer, you obviously know the value of being on a platform with a huge audience. You understand the benefits of building your readership. You crave the opportunity to get more eyes on your brand.

Unfortunately, scamming clients know this too.

Most of them aren’t even legitimately “big” companies or websites. They’ll try to convince you they’re the “next big thing” and “soon” they’ll have a massive following. You only need to provide them content and accept very little or no cash payment because the exposure you’ll get “soon” will be all worth it.

Spoiler: It’s NEVER worth it! It’s all a lie!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for writing for “exposure” when it’s for a company/publication that actually has a proven track record of delivering on that promise. Real exposure can quickly lead to paying jobs. That’s why I sometimes write guest posts (like the one you’re reading now!). But, even when writing guest posts, take the time to research whether the website making you these promises is credible and already has an audience.

Empty promises don’t pay the bills.

3. Job Ads Asking for Free Samples

While there’s no problem with writing for free by choice, no one should scam you into doing so.

Let me paint you a picture of a non-legit writing job:

You’re on a job board scrolling through dozens of ads. The huge budget and long-term project quoted on one of them immediately grabs your attention. You read through. Your excitement escalates as you realize you meet the requirements of their ideal writer. This is going to be a great long-term gig guaranteeing you a steady income for the next several months. You’ve struck gold!

But wait! Just when you’re coming to the end of the detailed post – and are mentally preparing to write your proposal, pitch the client, or make your bid – you read this: “Prospective writers are required to send a unique 500-word sample on this (very specific/keyword-intensive) topic which will be used to prove they’re the right fit for this job.”

My friend, this is where your contact with this “client” should end.

If you do send that free sample, you can be 99.9% sure you’ll never hear from those guys again. Most of them are bogus clients looking for free content from unsuspecting writers.

Think about it: if 50 writers view the ad and they ALL send in a free “sample” based on the topic/keywords required — then the so-called “client” now has 50 FREE articles for their niche blog. Why would they need to actually hire anyone? They already have enough blog content to last them for months!

Don’t fall for their scam!

4. Clients Adamant on Paying You Only After Completion of a Project

Long-term projects are a gold mine for freelance writers. They offer the security of steady income for a given period of time. And, if you’re a newbie, you’ll get to develop your skills and build confidence in the process.

But long-term projects should be approached with caution. Have clear terms and conditions from the start — especially regarding the payment plan.

If the person insists on only paying you at the very end of the project, think twice. That’s a sign of a freelance writing scam. You’ll likely put in hours/days/weeks into the work and end up with no pay.

Legitimate companies understand the need for a deposit or a milestone reimbursement at the least. Make this crystal clear before you begin any huge project for a new client.

The best solution is to have a writing contract spelling out the DOs and DON’Ts for you and the client. Have them sign it before starting any project.

5. A Requirement to Purchase Equipment Before Starting a Project

Your work as a freelance writer is to write. If a prospective employer requires you to have a specific resource in order to start a job, they should make it available to you without YOU having to pay for it.

Beware of clients who demand you purchase specific equipment or software.

Some may appear quite reasonable by promising you a reimbursement check after you make the purchase from a specific vendor. This is an even bigger red flag. Writers have been swindled out of their hard-earned money by impostors offering checks that later bounce, leaving the poor writers with a huge bill for something they may never use.

Any strange requests like this are a clear sign of a scam.

Speaking of strange, don’t even bother responding to a prospective “client” who asks to confirm your identity by sending money to your bank account. Those are outright cons.

6. The Promise of Profit Sharing

There’s a breed of devious clients who expect you to dish out remarkable content, pay you peanuts (or nothing at all), and appease you with the promise of shared future profits.

Don’t accept the deal. These clients will disappear the minute they get what they came for: your carefully-crafted content.

A legitimate company should pay you what you’re worth, especially if they’re so sure of becoming such a “big success” in the future.

Final Thoughts…

Repeat after me: no one should scam you into writing for free.

As freelance writers, we’re bound to willingly write for free on various occasions. Having your own blog, for example, is one instance you can happily write for free. Guest posting — for fun or for publicity — is potentially another. You can guest post for free or, luckily, you can also download “The Writernomicon” by Lauren (and discover over 50 publications that’ll pay you as a guest writer!).

That said, the biggest red flag of a freelance writing con is when someone expects you to take on a blogging or writing job for extremely little or no pay at all. Every writer deserves to be paid for their writing. So, if you want to be safe, be alert when dealing with prospective clients and don’t fall for these all-too-common freelance writing scams.

Have YOU ever been scammed by a client? Please leave a comment below telling us how it happened. Let’s help each other avoid the landmines in the field of freelance writing!

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7 thoughts on “Don’t Fall for These! 6 Common Freelance Writing Scams to Avoid

  1. Great advice. I used to get scammed a lot. Nowadays, I think I can spot a scam a mile away.

    One question Catherine. Even if I get a client to sign a contract, how can I enforce it or find redress? Especially with the anonymous nature of online interactions and being in different countries/jurisdictions?

    1. Hi, Felix! I’m sure Catherine will have her own response to this, but she asked me to “help” since you asked such a difficult question. The thing is… I can’t really help. >_< I'm sorry. One of the FIRST things I was told (by a lawyer!) was to "NEVER give legal advice." lol. I was also advised to preface any answers I gave pertaining to "legal" questions with "I am NOT a lawyer and this is NOT legal advice." I'll sometimes offer personal stories/experiences on how I dealt with situations (prefaced with the "I'm not a lawyer" disclaimer!), but even those stories/experiences might not be truly helpful in your case. Honestly, the best/only thing you can really do is to research/get to know the legalities for your area the best you can. It can be rough at times. As a general "rule," having a contract in place (dated and signed by both parties involved) will help your case if a problem arises, even if your contract isn't "perfect." It's "proof" of what was SUPPOSED to happen between you and your client, and can (usually) help show where things went awry. If you need to file a dispute (through PayPal, for example), having the signed contract in addition to client emails (where they refuse to pay) can certainly help. But, again, the laws may be different where you're based and I am NOT a lawyer. 😉 Personally, if a client tries to skip out on paying me for completed work, I just annoy them endlessly until they finally decide it's cheaper/less trouble to pay me than to have me showing up in their inbox every day. lol. Fortunately, I haven't had to do that in a LONG time now (I'm much more careful when vetting potential clients, and have gotten far better at spotting scams!). I'm sorry I couldn't answer your question as well as you'd probably hoped, but hopefully I helped send you in the right direction? 🙂 Thanks for being a reader!

    2. Hi Felix, sorry about your past experiences with scammers. Glad you are now wiser 😀

      Thanks for your question as well. I’m happy Lauren has been kind enough to help me answer it. Thanks, Lauren 🙂

      I agree that the advantage of having a signed contract before beginning work with a client is that it provides evidence which you can use in your defense if things don’t go as agreed.
      (Haven’t really addressed your question…lol! I think we should both do more research on this)

      Let me hope any of our other readers may have some more insight and share it here in the comments.

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