The idea of working independent of a boss, coworkers, and apparently without office politics is one of the many reasons why people turn to freelancing. Visit any freelance website, and you can hire a skilled developer for a few dollars an hour to an expert copywriter.
Though the quality does vary, freelancing websites have become excellent at weeding out scam freelancers. Many also run a thorough background check if you happen to be in America, the UK or Australia where it is possible. Unfortunately, the same level of scrutiny does not apply to employers. As a matter of fact, a simple Google search will reveal dozens of complaints from freelancers about scam employers. The employers continue to exploit lax policies that freelancing websites are reluctant to patch for fear of scaring away paying customers.
Freelancing websites are not scams
It is important to state the obvious, i.e., freelancing websites like classifieds are not scams. As a matter of fact, after quitting my day job as a copywriter in Manhattan, I started working as a freelancer on one of these websites. Though ten years ago, there weren’t as many scam employers in my experience. During the seven years, I used these websites I was scammed maybe just twice. Also, the number of low quality, cheap writers I was competing against were few. Employers were willing to pay top dollar for great work, and many continue to be my clients to this day.
How are freelancing websites gamed by scam employers?
Honestly, there are so many holes in the system that I’d have to write a book to cover all of them. However, the most common way and one that I’ve been a victim of too, is employers will use a fake profile, coupled with a pre-paid credit card to verify their account. They will then gladly hire any number of freelancers, set up a milestone or escrow payment for each. Then wait for the work to be completed, and later refuse to release the milestone. They will then report the freelancers as perhaps sending low-quality content, copied articles and the freelancing website will without any problem, issue a refund and issue an infraction to the freelancers.
Interestingly freelancers are never asked for their input. Freelancers can contact support, but all they give are canned responses one of which is “Our tier 2 customer support has looked into it, and we see it’s your fault.” In actuality what these websites are saying is that we don’t care about how long you’ve been with us, how good your ratings are or how hard you work but an unknown perhaps brand new profile created yesterday is much more trustworthy.
Then there are fake employers who use stolen credit cards. Continue to pay freelancers via the website, and when the card gets canceled or perhaps the original owner initiates a chargeback, the freelancers lose their money. The same even applies to scammers who use their own, genuine credit cards, all they have to do after getting thousands of dollars’ worth of work done is to order a chargeback.
Freelancing websites or at least the vast majority of them don’t protect freelancers. Your payment isn’t guaranteed, the identity of the employer is not verified, and almost about anyone can give a perfectly honest freelancer a bad review if there is a disagreement. Many blackmail freelancers by holding negative feedback over their heads.
How can freelancers avoid scammers?
Well, there are a couple of commonsense steps you can take to protect yourself from being conned on these websites:
• Don’t bid on projects by employers who don’t have a completed profile.
• Don’t work with employers who have bad reviews or no reviews.
• Don’t start a job until an escrow payment has been set up.
• Always insist on providing a short sample before working on a bigger project.
• Google the employer’s ID to see if there is anything negative posted about them before bidding.
• Don’t work on projects where the employer promises 4x the market rate but insists on paying you after the work is done.
Focus on local clients
As a professional copywriter, I have for at least the past five years focused on working with clients locally. I insist on signing a formal agreement before starting the work. My website, portfolio and even my phone number are now known to many in the industry, and I get calls almost every day from prospective clients.
Market yourself on social media, set up a Facebook page, a Twitter profile and be active on LinkedIn. The more you write and the more open you are about yourself, the more people will trust you. If anything freelancing websites should be a last resort for any half-decent copywriter, designer or developer.