Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Warning: Avoid Scams

One of the biggest problems plaguing freelance writers is the sheer amount of scams masquerading as legitimate writing jobs on the 'Net. Is there anything more frustrating than seeing a job you're absolutely perfect for, and putting in the time and energy to craft the perfect cover letter—only to find out that you've just been taken in by a convoluted sales tool?

Well, yeah—I guess if you actually fall for it, that's worse. So don't.

Let me share my most recent experience:

I recently applied for a proofreader job. The gig sounded interesting and relatively straightforward—perfect for my part-time freelance lifestyle. I sent an e-mail to the address provided, expressing my interest in the job.

Today, I got the following response (names removed to protect the guilty):

Hi Angela,

Thank you for your interest in the proofreading job. My name is **** and I am here to assist with the application process.

This job is for a start-up educational development company proofreading their website and marketing material. This is a freelance job that can be done anywhere. To be considered for this job you must apply here (*link removed*).

Feel free to email me with any questions you may have.

Okay, fine. Some companies like to do things their own way, and I'm fine with that.

Here's the thing. The link she gave me ended up redirecting to


GoFreelance (and most other pay-for-membership or bidding sites) prey on struggling and wannabe writers. They either make you pay to see job listings or force you to bid on jobs, essentially enabling most clients to select the lowest bidder—who offer bids as low as pennies per gig. It's wrong and awful, and it undermines all working freelance writers trying to make an honest living. I never use them.

Luckily, I knew about GoFreelance from other writer friends. GoFreelance lures you in with a "low" $2.95 per-month charge to see their job postings, and then jacks it up to $29.95 a month. That's absolutely ridiculous. There are way too many places to find writing jobs for free; you should never have to sign up with GoFreelance to find gigs.

So if a potential client responds to you, how can you tell if it's a legitimate opportunity or a scam? Every situation is different, but here are some red flags to look out for:
  • You should never, ever have to pay in order to apply for a job. EVER. A legitimate client may want to see samples of your work, or maybe an article on spec, but that's very different (although it has its debates, too). Beware of any client who asks you to apply through a site that requires a membership fee.
  • See if other people have experienced the same problem with this client. Writer message boards, like, have forums specifically devoted to deadbeat clients, scams, fraud, etc. If the job posting was on a blog, check the blog comments to see if there are any warnings for other writers. (If not, consider posting one yourself to alert other writers who may be interested in the job.)
  • Trust your instincts. If something in the client's communication feels off to you, don't click on any links in their e-mail messages. Write it off and move on.

I did respond to my own personal Scammy McScam-a-Lot, explaining that I don't use sites like GoFreelance but that I'd be happy to apply through e-mail or some other means:

Hi ****,

Thank you for your assistance. I'm still interested in the job; however, I was wondering if there was a way to apply without registering with Go Freelance. Like many other freelance writers and editors, I make it a point not to use bidding sites or job boards that require a membership fee.

I'd still love to apply for the job outside of Go Freelance, and I'm happy to send you anything you need—résumé, proofreading samples, etc. Please let me know.


We'll see if I get a response from them. I'm not banking on it.


Donna said...

Hi Angela! I just got this email this morning also. It looked really fishy, so I googled a couple phrases from the email and came upon your blog. Thanks for writing a post about it. As a fellow freelancer, I agree how frustrating it is to get this kind of junk in your inbox! Anyway, I love the blog. Keep up the good writing. I'll be sure to bookmark you and drop by in the future!

Angela said...

Hi Donna! Thanks for the kind words. I'm so glad I could help. I looked up the job again this afternoon and found that it had been flagged for removal (I found it on craigslist), so clearly we weren't the only two to apply for it and get the spammy response.

It happens. We just keep writing and submitting anyway. (But it still makes me angry!)

Elizabeth Obsesses said...

Hi Angela,

I came across that website a few weeks ago and wondered about it and whether it was a good idea to join. Thanks for the heads up.

Angela said...

Hi Elizabeth! Yeah, I'd definitely stay away. There are enough free places to search for jobs that paying for job listings is just a waste of money.

Check the link in my blog entry---that's from Deb Ng, a wonderful freelancer who runs a whole site dedicated to finding job leads for writers.