How To Make Money Online Safely: 6 Red Flags That SCREAM Freelancer Scam


There’s nothing that boils my blood more than douchey scam artists who try to take advantage of fresh freelancers hungry to begin their entrepreneurial journey. In this article, I’m exposing 6 common freelancing red flags to watch out for so you can get PAID, not played.

Hey guys, it’s Alex. This week I’m addressing a growing concern in the freelancing community when it comes to landing jobs on common marketplaces like Fiverr and Upwork.

Yes, I’m talking about freelancing scams.

They are not exclusive to copywriters, but it has affected some copywriters I know, including one of my students in the Copy Posse Launch Pad. And you mess with one of my students, ya mess with me.

So to help keep you guys safe while running your businesses online, I’m publishing this article to share 6 major red flags to watch out for while navigating freelancing gigs.

Now, we’re all aware that the culture of working from home has fast become the norm over the years. And especially in recent months since the pandemic put most of us on lockdown…

And I’m sure I don’t need to convince you of the perks and benefits of running a freelance copywriting business from home. It is the best job in the world, after all…

That’s why I’m committed to sharing all the techniques, tools, and tutorials you need to start and scale your business with crazy good copywriting, branding and marketing.

So, if you’re brand new to the crew, subscribe to my newsletter to be the first to know when my next tutorial goes out. I keep ’em coming every single week…

Now, back to today’s topic, when it comes to sourcing gigs and landing new clients, notable platforms such as Fiverr and Upwork are great for finding work, especially at the beginning of your freelance career, before you start getting jobs by referral.

However, these giant platforms are also notorious feeding grounds for online scam artists looking to take advantage of new and naive freelancers.

Many freelancers who have fallen victim to these scams have been defrauded of thousands of dollars. Often not in one-shot transactions, but comprehensive schemes that drag on for weeks or months at a time!

To make matters worse, since the Covid-19 pandemic, these scammers have been on the rise. According to a report by NBC News, in the US alone, the AARP fraud tip hotline has been receiving over a hundred more calls a day than before the pandemic.

So it’s extremely important that while you work on building your freelancing business you supercharge your intuition, remain vigilant and practice due diligence to make sure that the job you land is legit and more importantly — that you get paid, and not played.

Here are six red flags to watch out for when looking for a job as a freelancer.

Red Flag #1: It Sounds Too Good To Be True

Ah, the thrill and excitement that comes from a job opportunity so charming, you forget reality for a hot second.

Now, I’m not poking fun at anybody who’s been through this. I myself have fallen for clients that totally over-promised and underdelivered, even though – fortunately – none of them turned out to be actual scammers.

But when you see a high-paid ad for simple work — go ahead and be on guard.

Granted, there are nuances to this scenario. For example, it could mean that the client simply wants quality work. It could mean that the job involves time-consuming research or the kind of wisdom that only someone with years of experience can do.

But if they’re offering a suspiciously generous rate from the get-go without clearly defining the scope or illustrating the kind of experience they require in detail, as the old maxim goes – it’s probably too good to be true.

This actually recently happened to one of my Launch Pad students. Fortunately, she didn’t end up losing money, but she did waste a lot of time doing the work and jumping through hoops. That is time she could have spent working on a legit project and getting paid.

The “client” boasted that they’d pay $1 per word for content – putting the project at over $2,500. Her intuition told her it might be too good to be true but she was excited about getting her first client after graduating from my copywriter coaching program…

Enter red flag #2…

Red Flag #2: Unusual Payments

After doing the work, the “client” then sent my student a check for double the amount of the project quote, claiming that they were paying in advance for a potential second phase of the project. Hmmmmm. What? That never happens. Especially without first talking about the potential of more work…

She assumed the check had cleared and all was good. Money in the bank, cha-ching. But then, the “client” suddenly decided that they were going to cancel the imaginary second phase of the project and asked my student to wire the extra cash back to them.

That’s when the alarm rang. She spent hours on the phone with her bank only to find out that the check the client had sent was fraudulent.

Thankfully she didn’t end up wiring any money back to them because she was smart enough to investigate first. But take this as a cautionary tale.

In other cases, the scammer might send you a larger payment – and it actually clears – then request for you to send the extra balance to a third person under the pretense of wanting to simplify paperwork or documentation. Chances are, that money came from a stolen card or a hacked account…

And then you’re the one who has fraudulent money in your bank account and you have to deal with the report, the lawyers, the paperwork and the headache.

So it’s simple guys – if a client doesn’t send you the exact amount on your invoice – investigate. Ask questions, make sure the check, transfer or wire clears before any further work is promised or any money is sent back. Although in my decade of writing copy, I have never ever had a client accidentally overpay me. It just doesn’t happen.

Red Flag #3: Large “Test” Projects

It’s common practice for a client to ask for a portfolio sample before they decide whether to hire you, and in some cases they may ask you to complete a brief test for free to gauge whether you’d be a fit for their brand.

While online marketplaces like Fiverr and Upwork don’t allow this as it is technically asking for “free work”, it’s something many businesses do when referred to freelancers and writers outside these channels.

To avoid ever devaluing a freelancer’s work, I ALWAYS offer a discounted fee for copy tests so that – even if I don’t end up hiring a particular writer – they are still paid for their time and work.

With that being said, doing free test projects can lead to paid work and a long-term mutually beneficial client relationship…

As long as the test is reasonable – like a single ad, email, graphic, clip, etc.

If the test project is something heavy — like a huge chunk of the project that they are considering you for, be wary.

You might end up doing a ton of work for free only to have the client come back to you to say “sorry, we’ve decided to go with someone else”. Next thing you know, you see a slightly refined version of your work published online.

So be smart about how much work you’re willing to do for free. I will say, it is an entirely different situation if you are the one approaching a dream client and offering to do free work. In that scenario, you’re the one with the offer and can decide how much or how little you’re willing to do in exchange for the experience and a possible invitation for a paid project.

Red Flag #4: Cutting Out The MiddleMan

Platforms like Upwork and Fiverr are huge for a reason — they’ve invested a ton of money and resources into creating a sophisticated and secure communication and payment system.

They’ve made it painfully simple for you to liaise with your client from start to finish on a project, completely removing the need for you to exchange email addresses, personal contact details or bank info.

And let’s be honest, if it is the first time you’ve ever met this client, it’s the best way to do business. It protects both you and them from potentially fishy behavior.

I highly recommend you keep comms and payment on the native platform you’re using until you have established an ongoing and trusted relationship with your client. It makes it easier to file complaints and report abuse if things go south.

When you take things outside the platform, you run the risk of a potential scammer getting access to your private details through the guise of sending you payment or verifying your identity…

And you lose the official paper trail for the platform’s customer support team to assist you in resolving your case.

So stay in the system until you develop a strong working relationship with a client and, if you do decide to “take it outside” use a separate email address for your business instead of the one you use for your banking and other personal, private and financial matters.

Red Flag #5: No Online Presence or Reviews

You’d be surprised by how many of us tend to totally trust strangers and skip even the simplest act of investigation, like a Google Search. Are they who they say they are?

I’m an inherently trusting person and I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but when it comes to online strangers who can easily hide behind the veil of anonymity – I do my due diligence.

It can be easy to trust a stranger when they communicate eloquently, are friendly and polite or have a story to tell that really yanks on the heart strings…

Hey, I guess scammers can be good copywriters too! They have probably run this racket so many times that they know exactly what to do and say to make you ignore your gut for a brief second…

But one of the best ways to tell whether a client is legit is to see if they have an online presence. Is their profile complete? Do they have any reviews?

Granted, they could be new to the freelancing platform you’re using, so in that case — do they have an official website and a social media account that has some activity and engagement?

If the client’s profile only has a name, but no website or address, that’s a huge red flag.

It’s always super helpful to do some basic Googling, guys. In this day and age, NOBODY is a complete ghost online, unless they don’t exist by the name they’re giving you.

Red Flag #6: Refusing To Sign A Contract

It may sound petty to draft up a contract for a $500 job, but if you’re dealing with a client for the first time — it shouldn’t be a big deal for them to agree to signing a freelancer contract or Statement of Work.

Unless you know of the client well, have worked with them before and TRUST they will pay you, always get the project signed, sealed and delivered.

All aspects of the job – from payment, to scope, to timeline – should be laid out before the work starts so that you can not only prevent getting scammed, but also prevent scope creep.

If you want my free Statement of Work template that you can customize and use for your own projects, you can download it next!

And if a potential client doesn’t agree to sign it, say sayonara and move on. Got it?

Alright, leave me a comment below if you found this article helpful!

As always, I would love to hear from you, so drop your suggestions and questions below.

Remember I’m here for you guys! It’s been a doozy of a year but our industry has not faltered or slowed down, so long as you lead with value and integrity, and stay smart, you got this!

There are so many incredible businesses out there looking for brilliant writers like you.

Thank you so much for reading and following my blog.

Until next week, I’m Alex. Ciao for now!

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