Freelancing is more common today than ever before. Nearly one-third of US workers work as freelancers. There's a lot to love about freelancing — you get to work from home, enjoy flexible hours, and decide which projects to take on.
But, there's one major drawback — there are plenty of scammers out there looking to steal your information, your time, and even your money.
Luckily, most of these scammers use the same playbook and are pretty easy to spot. Here is how to avoid the most common freelancer scams.
#1 Unusual Payment Method Scam
One of the most common types of client scams is offering payment through a weird or unusual payment method. Most clients pay through well-known platforms like PayPal, Stripe, or WePay.
If you've never heard of the platform a new client wants to use, it might be a scam. The client may have no intention of paying for your hard work, or it may be a phishing scam.
How to Avoid Payment Scams
Only accept payments from well-known payment systems you trust. If you are working through a platform like Upwork, you should never agree to payment outside the platform.
#2 Over Paying Scams
Overpayment scams usually go like this: the client sends a check — often for more than the agreed-on fee. They claim it was a mistake and ask you to send the extra money back.
Here's the thing: standard checks don't actually clear for up to a month — even if the money is in your account. You'll send back the 'extra' payment, only to find out the check bounced a few weeks later. You are out real money — and whatever time you've spent working on their fake project.
How to Avoid Overpaying Scams
Pay attention to your gut, and never return funds until a check has officially cleared with your bank. (Call your bank if you aren't sure!)
#3 Apraxia Scam
This is a new twist on the same old overpayment scam, but it's popped up in a few freelancer groups, so I wanted to share it.
It starts with a new client email, which goes something like this:
"My name is XXX, an academic consultant. I have a speech distorting condition called Apraxia. I got your contact details online, and I need your service. Can you write an article on a specific topic for an upcoming workshop? The article will be provided as a handbook to the attendees of the workshop. I have a title for the article and have drafted an outline to guide you. Please get back to me for more information."
The rate is usually high ($1 per word for writers) for very broad content, such as exercise's cardiovascular benefits. The client often provides a phone number and moves the conversation over to text messaging. They are responsive and seem legit — but refuse to talk by phone due to their apraxia.
Next, the client sends a check for the full amount of the project, often over $5,000, and begins pressuring the freelancer to cash the check and get to work.
After you cash the check, the project is canceled, and the client requests the freelancer to return a portion of the money — for a check that hasn't actually cleared yet.
How to Avoid the Apraxia Scam
If a client contacts you and states they have apraxia, it is likely a scam. Avoid at all costs; do not accept the check or agree to the project. While apraxia is a genuine condition, there are dozens of scammers using this same approach.
#4 Test Project Scams
You come across a job listing that sounds great, but it requires a free test project. No biggie, right? The job is right in your wheelhouse, and you don't mind showing your skills for the chance at a choice gig.
What you might not know is the client has no intention of hiring anyone. Instead, they put up a job ad, gather up the free test projects, and then end up "going with another freelancer" — except they never hire anyone.
How to Avoid Test Project Scams
Avoid free test projects as a general rule. If you are just getting started as a freelancer and feel like you need to prove yourself, make sure the test project is for a made-up client or program and will not be used by the client. Also, limit the project size to something you can complete in an hour or two at most.
#5 Fake Job Listings
There are dozens of job boards, job lists, and platforms for freelancers to find work. Unfortunately, some of these job listings are fake. Luckily, they are usually pretty easy to spot.
Signs of a fake listing:
- Awkward wording, misspellings, simple grammar mistakes.
- No mention of the company name (which prevents you from looking them up.)
- A large amount of work or a higher than average rate.
- Stating they are always looking for workers.
- Asking for a phone number or to talk via Skype right off the bat.
In many cases, the scammers are just trying to gather contact information to target you with a phishing scam or sell to other businesses.
How to Avoid Fake Job Listings
Be careful about what information you share with prospective clients. Consider setting up a Google Voice phone number and a separate email address to communicate with prospects. And remember, if the job sounds too good to be true, it likely is.
#6 Asking You To Purchase Software
If the client requires you to use a specific tool or software, such as a keyword research tool or plagiarism checker, they should provide a login for that platform.
You will likely need a computer and internet access, of course. But be wary if they ask you to buy tools or other software — especially if they send you a direct link, which could be a phishing scam.
How to Avoid Pay to Work Scams:
You should have never pay to work. Avoid 'clients' who require you to pay to access a platform, tool, or other resources they require to complete the job.
#7 Requiring You to Log in to a Site Using Sensitive Data or Download Tracking Software
Another common freelancer scam requires freelancers to login to a platform or provide sensitive data, such as a bank account, credit card number, or social security information. In other cases, they may require you to install tracking software to make sure you are working.
At best, these clients are micromanagers, and at worst, scammers looking to take over your accounts or spy on your computer.
How to Avoid Sensitive Data Scam
Never login to sites you don't recognize or provide your account login information for your email account, freelancer platform, or any other site. If they ask you to download a file or install tracking software on your computer, turn down the job.
Your best line of defense against freelancer scams is your gut. If something feels off, don't take the project and end the conversation. Ask all prospective clients to sign a freelance contract and consider asking for a 50% deposit from a trustworthy payment platform such as PayPal, Stripe, or WePay.
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