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November 14, 2014

Scam Warnings For Freelancers

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Identity Theft

This week, freelance writer Heather Boerner (who has published with such well-known venues as The Atlantic and The Washington Post) alerted me to her experience with a scammer.

Heather discovered the scam when she was contacted, out of the blue, by an individual who claimed to have hired her through a freelance jobs bidding website called oDesk. From an article about the scam by one of Heather's colleagues, Paul Raeburn:
[Heather] quickly realized that she had been the victim of identity theft. Somebody--a fake Heather--had gone to Boerner's website, copied her resume, downloaded her photo, linked to her website, and created an oDesk account offering services as a writer....

"It's an elaborate scheme. It's really bizarre," said Boerner, who has alerted some of her colleagues..."The guy who notified me of this said he had hired Fake Heather to do some writing. Fake Heather then hired people to do the writing for her [or him]." The person who notified Boerner said he gave Fake Heather $1,000.
Heather isn't the only one who has been victimized in this way. Freelancer Carol Tice encountered the same scam (and possibly, the same scammer). From Raeburn's article:
[Tice] received an email from someone wanting to know if Tice wanted to continue the writing project they were working on. "I assured her that I had never started article writing for her, and certainly wasn’t going to continue," Tice wrote in a blog post. "I didn’t even have any idea what topics she was having articles written about!"

As was the case with Fake Heather, Fake Carol set up a Skype account outside the U.S. (in London), and used Tice's name, photo, and website to connect with clients on a freelancers' website (in this case, Elance).
It's not clear whether this is a new trend in scams, or one person's ripoff scheme. But if you post your resume on bidding sites, it's something to be aware of.

How can you protect yourself? Some suggestions from freelancer Barbara A. Tyler:
♦ I strongly recommend that writers Google themselves on a regular basis. That can provide the first tip-off that someone is pretending to be you.

♦ Pay attention to any emails you get that seem off-kilter for whatever reason and investigate them like Carol did.

♦ From the flip side… if you get work through bidding sites (any bidding site, not just Elance) always, always, always do as much research as you can into the person hiring you.
Free Samples

This is not a new scam--in fact, it's a very old one. But I was reminded of it this week when a freelancer forwarded me this email she received when she responded to an ad:
Thank you for your interest in the Freelance Creative Copywriter role we recently posted. We reviewed lots of responses and based on your background/experience we have decided to move you to the next step in the process.

The next step in the process involves completing the attached assignment. Please read the background information and then put together your copy. We ask that you return your completed assignment to me by Monday, November 10th.

This will help us gauge your writing skills and abilities as it relates to meeting our needs and expectations.
Now, this "next step" may simply have the company's cheap-ass way of auditioning writers naive enough not to know that pro freelancers don't provide free samples (they may agree to write test pieces to see if they're a good fit, but not without compensation). Not precisely a scam, though certainly a scumbag move.

But it may also have been a sleazy outfit's attempt to obtain free content--in which case the writer, having completed the "assignment," would get the brushoff and later on discover that her copy had been used on the company's website or elsewhere online, without attribution. (In fact, this is something that can happen even if you do get paid.)

Wisely, the freelancer decided to blow the company off. It can't be said too often: always carefully research any job you're offered or are solicited for. Google is your friend. And listen to your gut. If something seems off, don't ignore it.


akalinus said...

Thanks for writing this article. We have to be ever vigilant for scammers and parasites.

Matt Forster said...

Better than just Googling yourself, set up a Google alert that notifies you whenever a new page with your name appears. I discovered Russian hackers pirating my travel guides that way. :(

Anonymous said...

Great idea. Thanks for this tip and thanks for the article, Norman.

Anonymous said...

Great idea about Google Alert...I have been noticing LOTS of scams on LinkedIn and Twitter if people would only take the time to read the profile when they request to be connected, that would be helpful. I have discovered at least ten this week alone and blocked them...their experience is fishing...degrees are from bogus Universities and so on. Please beware!

Judy @ said...

I'm intrigued and somewhat alarmed by the email example that appears in this article because I have received a similar email message for last 5 ads I have responded to. These emails were sent to me from verifiable and well-known companies; many companies use this technique for winnowing writing candidates. I confess I never found the email or this practice objectionable and was surprised to learn that others do. But what choice do we freelance writers have but to respond to such emails when work may truly be on the other end of the message? Unlike the apparently wiser freelancer in the blog entry, I have responded and provided the "sample" to each company that asked for it.

Anonymous said...

These daylight robberies are as old as - maybe not the hills (how would I know?) - but certainly my life as a writer, which predates the internet by quite a while.

Free samples are virtually transparent, if one has one's wits and one's dignity.

The con that your report led with, however, might seem new, but it's not a million miles from a person who once approached me with a project, for which he was offering an ok price per thousand words. I fell for it, only to find that the work came out under his name.

Next time, I insisted on cover credit (it matters, not only for reputation, but for stuff like Public Lending Right and photocopying fees). As editor, this scumbag introduced a couple of factual errors that made me look just bad enough to get the odd snide review.

You can find this man's name stuck to a large number of children's natural history titles published by the people who invented cut-outs on white pages. If he had written even half of them himself, he would have gone without sleep for months at a time.

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

Susan Sommer said...

Thanks for the timely reminder to be vigilant. I just got a vague email the other day from "mailtotoddwilliams[at]gmail[dot]com" that said this: "Hello, I got your email from the website as a competent writer.I want to write a small piece on the topic WORLD VIOLENCE.I would appreciate if you could get back to me on your terms and availability for the job.

Best Regards
Mr Williams"

I was suspicious because it was so vague, and also because of the email address and the last name with and without an "s." I didn't respond.

Unknown said...

Authors should log on to Google Alerts, which will then message them whenever their name comes up on the Internet. They can respond appropriately. You can also use it in promotion. For example, I have a new book out called Beyond Terrorism: Survival. I have entered 'terrorism' in Google alerts, and whenever an article comes up I can choose to comment on it or not.

Unknown said...

I posted on Facebook about ROGER MORGAN who sent me a 3,000 check for a 1,000 job. I checked with the bank and it was bogus since then I've had two freelancers email that they've had the same experience with the same "person"

Victoria Strauss said...

I second (or third) the suggestion about Google alerts--they're really useful.

Terry--did Roger Morgan want you to send him the $2,000 difference? That's a well-known Craigslist scam.

Ambrose said...

In fact, oDesk and Elance are the same company. They used to be separate but have merged quite a number of months ago.

Frances Grimble said...

How do the scammers manage to be contacted with some of their own data to get the money, then once they have it, the person who gave them the money for services not provided has your contact data?

Anonymous said...

This happened to me, as well, within the past year. The scammer took my information from, and his angry customer tracked me down and contacted me. He wanted the copy he paid for - in excess of $1,800 - or a refund. He kept harassing me. I'm a 20-year industry veteran, and this was a first. It was pretty frightening.

Unknown said...

Hello Victoria,
> >
I just finished reading your blog about writing scams. I must say I
never realized that there were so many 'scams' out there. There are a
lot of people who want something written and you must beware and do
your homework be fore putting anything in writing.

But let's look at the flip side of that 'unknown' coin for a moment.

There are some very legitimate people and small businesses who want to
paying for a services -- simply to outsource the volume of work.
> >
My company, *Royal Knight Incorporated* ( is
trying to do that right now.
After reading your blog, I would like to make you (and your readers)
aware of the pit-falls of being '/too overly cautious/', so much so
that you go out of your way to *_offend _*the individual/company at
the other end of the phone and really kill your $20K - $24K job offer.

Here is what just happened this week (11/9/14):
************************************** 1). I contacted a company to obtain information about a product, and
hopefully arrange to work with the developer for my document:
The supervisor was *_incredibly _*rude to me -- not because the
employee was not allowed to accept the project, but as I was told in
the end, he was being '_cautious_' because the company was scammed
> >
Excuse me! I am not responsible for '/_before_/'.
I am a new person at the other end of the phone to you!
I discontinued the discussion and told him, in no uncertain terms, a
business man he was not. This killed the deal. There are more fish in
the sea.
> >
> >
2) Same story as above with an individual calling herself a 'writer'.
Person made an false assumption that EVERYONE must be a scammer.
If you can't be bothered to go to the company website, or to take a
few notes as we speak, what the hell do I want to deal with you for?
And I let her know this. Deal was killed with her.

I get the impression people are far too worried about scamming to be
bothered to be professional when you are communicating with someone --
phone or Email.
> *************************************** Many companies do not have Pfizer or Merck size web presences. A
smaller web presence does not mean they aren't legitimate.

If you want to get work, you must take the risks associated with being
contacted by the unknown individual.
I can't stress this enough. So what if nothing comes of it, there are
more 'fish' out there --- the real problem is if the 'fish' you
snark-off is a legitimate entity, you can forget ever getting a
reference or work for that company or those they associate with.

Paula said...

Thank you for this article. The identity scraping scam has been around in translation circles for a number of years, but I wasn't aware that the same was happening with writers and editors. Here's a page that explains how it works with translation resume stealing:
(site is pretty dense, but full of useful information!).

Victoria Strauss said...

Thank you, Paula, that's a very interesting link.

Nick said...

Wow, this is an eye-opening post. I think I may have become a victim of identity spoofing as well. I have posted about what happened to me here:

১ নং বাংগড্ডা সব খবর। said...

This happened to me, as well, within the past year. The scammer took my information from, and his angry customer tracked me down and contacted me. He wanted the copy he paid for - in excess of $1,800 - or a refund. He kept harassing me. I'm a 20-year industry veteran, and this was a first. It was pretty frightening.

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