Beginner’s Guide: Freelancing Scams & Frauds PART I

Let’s face it – being an online freelancer involves risks far greater than what a regular office job entails. Everything – deliverables, fees, projects – all depends on mutual trust.

You and your client trust that both of you will be online for video meetings, and that both of you will maintain correspondence about the project. The client trusts that you will accomplish deliverables on time and you trust that the client will pay you on time.

I’ve handled quite a number of projects since I started freelance writing in 2015. I’ve been blessed to have met a lot of trust-worthy clients (some of whom I still work with until now), but I’ve also had my share of clients who do not comply with what has been agreed upon.

In this blog series, I’m listing the scams, schemes, frauds and other forms of swindles I’ve encountered in the online freelancing industry so far. I hope you can learn from my experience and be more cautious in choosing your online projects.

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PART I. Cunning Kumar: Middlemen Preying On Newbies.

First on my list are middlemen preying on newbies because it was also the first “fraud” I’ve ever encountered as a freelance writer.

Some postings in online job platforms aren’t very clear whether you’d be working directly with a client or if you’d be working for an agency or a middleman. An agency or a middleman accepts projects from direct clients who need online content or articles. But instead of writing deliverables themselves, they look for writers who could do the task for them. If, for example, the direct client offers $10 for every article, the middleman pays the writer $2 (yes, they can be that cheap) and s/he keeps the rest.

During my first week in Freelancer.com, I was ready to get my hands on any project just to get started with an online career. I didn’t have a benchmark for fair online writing rates. And since I came from a TV news writing background, I wasn’t that confident about my content writing skills and thus felt uncomfortable charging high rates for it.

So when one client invited me to work for him, I immediately grabbed the opportunity despite the meager rates, if only for experience and to build up my portfolio. Let’s call this client Kumar. I checked Kumar’s Freelancer account and he seemed legit. He’s from South Asia and had a rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars, with more than 2,000 reviews. Not bad.

The thing that confused me about Kumar’s profile was that he described himself as a writer and an owner of a writing agency, not as an employer. So what was he doing hiring me? Aren’t we on the same side as freelance writers?

I read the reviews about him and saw that people were commending him for his work as a writer. I presumed that he wanted to hire me as part of his team, so I went ahead and decided to try it out.

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Kumar gave me huge work load – 8 SEO* articles (500 words each) for every batch, with a turnaround time of 2 days. It was far from an ideal online job. I had to spew out 8 articles all bearing the same keywords like “Six Sigma Black Belt Certification” or “Cisco CCNA Certification Training School.” If you’re clueless about what those phrases are, so was I. But I had no choice but to research and weave words into articles to earn a little money.

After a couple of weeks of fatigue from beating deadlines, the work arrangement with Kumar started to get exhausting. Kumar would assign me articles with more words but only minimal additional pay. When I tried to cut myself a better deal, he said he can’t change the existing rates though he might consider raising my pay if I were to be consistent with the quality of my work and deadline compliance.

Aside from this job with Kumar, I was also working on other online projects at that time to make more cash. The stress didn’t seem to be worth it. Yes, I was working within the comforts of home, but I was working 14-16 hours a day for not even a third of what I was making in my previous job at a TV network.

Apart from that, something didn’t feel right about Kumar. And so, I started investigating. I revisited his Freelancer account. Nothing much has changed, he still had a rating of 4.8 out of 5. He had the same reviews from Freelancer.com members from various regions including USA, Canada and Europe.

When I clicked on on the account of his reviewers, the truth unfolded before my eyes – his reviewers had empty profiles. In short, they were dummy accounts! I’m not sure if all 2,000 reviews were sham because I stopped checking after the first 40 or 50.

Right after getting payment for my invoice, I told Kumar that I can no longer work for him.

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Lessons Learned From Kumar

I committed a few mistakes with my dealings with Kumar, the first of which was that I accepted his offer even though his background as a client, an agency owner, a middleman or whatever he was wasn’t clear to me.

As a newbie, I was too focused on the challenge of accomplishing the task given by the client that I didn’t do much nosing around about whether that client is trust-worthy or not.

For those who are still gauging the online freelance writing industry, please bear these tips in mind before accepting your next project:

  • Research about the client thoroughly. If something doesn’t sit well with you, there’s probably something amiss.
  • Never underestimate your worth as a freelancer. I know of many newbie freelance writers who accept projects with minimal rates just to have something in their portfolio. I also had the same thing in mind when I accepted Kumar’s offer (if I was going to write sample articles anyway, why not make a few bucks while at it?) If that’s the case, get out of the project as soon as you accomplish your goal.
  • If the client is asking for more than what was agreed upon (like Kumar asking me to write 800-word articles instead of 500), be sure that the additional compensation is worth the additional effort.
  • However cunning your client is, try to end your working relationship in a civil manner. I stayed polite and classy when I told Kumar that I can’t work for him anymore. Despite deceiving with his fake reviews and taking advantage of newbies with his stingy rates, one good thing I got from Kumar was my first 5-star review in Freelancer and a comment that says “nice experience.”
*SEO (Search Engine Optimization) – Search engine optimization is a methodology of strategies, techniques and tactics used to increase the amount of visitors to a website by obtaining a high-ranking placement in the search results page of a search engine — including Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines. Definition from Webopedia.

Have you also encountered clients like Kumar? Tell us about the lessons you’ve learned on the comment section.

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