Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
One of many reasons I enjoy Twitter is that it's relatively free of the spam that clogs other modes of online discourse. Oh, there's the occasional author Twitspam (writers: Twitspamming is not, I repeat, NOT, the way to promote your new book), and the random pr0n Twitspam, but by and large--at least for me--Twitter is a fairly spam-free environment.
Which is why the Twitspams I've been receiving for the past couple of weeks really stand out like a sore whatever (here's an example). They're all the same: an obviously fake sender name, the words "Writers Needed," a link, and a list of recipients. I've been reporting and blocking them, but when I checked my Twitterfeed today and found six of them, all sent within a few minutes of one another, I got curious, and clicked the link.
I found myself at RealWritingJobs.com--which, I was unsurprised to discover, promises that writers can earn lots of cash by writing articles, stories, blog posts, etc.. "Thousands of people online are discovering how doing simple writing jobs from home can be so profitable! See how they're doing it by signing up now!" No experience necessary! Work at home! Make fat money (never mind that pesky earnings disclaimer)! All this for a mere monthly membership fee of $47 (although if you don't read the Terms and Conditions, you won't know that). Don't want to opt in without seeing what's on offer? Good news--you can try before you buy. In fact, you have to try before you buy. Would-be members must agree to a 10-day "risk-free trial," for the oh-so-negligible cost of $2.95 (credit cards only). Naturally, this is a "limited time offering." If you aren't happy, just cancel within the trial period and you owe nothing further.
If this sounds tempting, it shouldn't. For one thing, there are many freelance writing job-listing websites that charge absolutely nothing--zip, nada, zilch (here's just one example). With such resources easily available, why pay? For another, reputable jobs sites don't spam random writers on Twitter (or anywhere else). For yet another, you have no way of knowing whether the promise of lucrative writing gigs is anything more than a marketing ploy. What if most or all of the writing jobs turn out to be the financial and professional equivalent of pay-per-click content mills?
Ah, you may be thinking, but isn't that what the trial period is for? If the jobs suck, you can cancel before the trial period is up, and only be out $2.95.
Maybe not. It's more than probable that RealWritingJobs is running a recurring billing scheme. In this common online ploy, a company uses a trial period to induce consumers to provide their credit card numbers. Once the trial period ends, cards are automatically billed for membership and other fees on a recurring basis (like RealWritingJobs, companies typically bury this info in their Terms and Conditions, where eager or careless consumers can easily miss it). Although consumers are promised they can cancel during the trial period, they discover that they can't get through to the toll-free number provided--or, if they do get through, they can't speak to a live person, but can only leave voicemail messages that are never responded to. (Here's a sample complaint.) Once the recurring billings commence (which, if the consumer didn't read the Terms and Conditions, may be a complete surprise), it is extremely difficult to stop them. Many people wind up canceling their credit cards.
Writers: always be cautious of a business that spams you (and always suspect spam if you receive a solicitation out of the blue). Never trust an offer that sounds too good to be true. Always research any offer you're thinking of accepting (and be aware that dodgy companies are anticipating this; RealWritingJobs has seeded the Internet with fake reviews that cleverly incorporate the word "scam"), and never fail to read the fine print (all of it. Even the boring parts). And don't pay for a service you can get somewhere else for free!