By Olga Sushinsky
Anyone who freelances must’ve encountered at least one fraudulent client/employer in their lifetime—and not necessarily through those “Make $100/hour from home” banners that pop up on legit websites every once in a while. Editors and non-editors alike can easily fall prey to less-obvious scams, ones that are so sophisticated that they might appear to be true. Before I give you some tips on how to spot this latter type of scam, let me share my story.
As a stay-at-home parent and freelancer, I always look for opportunities to work with different clients/employers. So, when I received an invitation on Upwork to submit a proposal for a non-editorial job, I decided to give it a try. After all, every experience counts. To make a long story short, I had an interview via Skype, received a job offer on the very same day, and had a training session the day after. Everything was going well. I was to work for a company located in the United Kingdom performing virtual assistant duties and receiving a yearly salary of US$56,400, which would roughly equal C$75,000, paid bi-weekly.
The situation couldn’t be any better!
My husband and I would finally be able to afford a house, a new car, and a good daycare centre for our daughter. I even started looking up art and dance lessons for toddlers in our area to pass time before the official start of my new job. It was not until I received the direct deposit form that I began suspecting something was very wrong.
According to the letter I’d received from the company’s accounting department, I was required to submit my bank account number, my PIN, and my three security questions—all supposedly done for the “overseas employee verification process.” I was reassured that the process would happen only once and I would be able to change all the information on my account as soon as the process was completed. When I insisted on providing a void check or my PayPal information, my future manager acted very rudely, insisting that this was the company policy and saying things like, “What part of the policy do you not understand?” I eventually told him that I wasn’t interested in working for a company that was obviously after my money.
Naturally, I felt upset over the whole situation. Nobody wants to fall victim to a scam, yet it happens to the best of us. The good part was that I didn’t lose any money in the end and learned a few things in the process. Below are some tips on how you can avoid fraudulent clients/employers.
1. Always listen to your gut
I felt something wasn’t right from the beginning. For starters, the pay was too good to be true. I don’t know any company that pays $70,000 for a clerical role. Then there were other warning signs, which I’m going to discuss later.
2. Stick to reputable companies/platforms
It’s best to work through platforms, such as Upwork and EditFast. That way, you’re almost guaranteed to get paid. One of the many things that raised suspicion about that client was the fact that he didn’t end up using Upwork as the hiring platform. Instead, I received the employment offer and the paperwork directly from the company. This way, I wasn’t protected from possible fraud. The well-known problem with these platforms, however, is the low pay offered for most projects; for this reason, many editors chose to work directly with clients.
But if you do choose the direct route, do your homework. Check the company profile online and see if it has any reviews. Try to locate it on Google Maps. If you have trouble finding any information, consider turning down the project. Better to be safe than sorry.
While there is nothing wrong with working for a single person, be extremely careful. Consider signing a freelance contract that outlines the scope of the project, the client’s expectations, and the pay. (Have no idea where to start? See Editors Canada’s Standard Freelance Editorial Agreement.) This way, both parties will be legally protected.
3. Watch out for the telltale signs
Like I’ve said, the signs are always there; you just need to look. Whether you’re dealing with a freelance contract or a work-from-home opportunity, seek consistency. There was zero consistency with the company that had offered me employment.
The name of the person who approached me on Upwork was Rowland; however, his Skype name was James. When I searched for full his name on Google, I couldn’t find any trace of that person—no LinkedIn profile, no Facebook account, nothing. Nor could I find the names of other people with whom I had communicated about the job role. While some people do prefer to stay away from social media, it’s extremely rare to be unable to find any information about someone who claims to hold an important position in a certain company.
The company website showed a Danish domain, but according to my correspondence with the employees, it was located in the UK. The contract and direct deposit form had two different addresses, neither of which could be located on Google Maps. When I keyed in one of the street numbers and the city, I was shown a place in Los Angeles! So do make sure the people, along with the company, are real.
Finally, if this client/company asks for your financial information, run! No reputable company will ask you for your PIN or security questions. So don’t take any chances, even if the opportunity is tempting.
4. If you do get scammed, seek help
Not one of us became a freelancer with the thought of getting scammed. Nevertheless, it can happen to even the most careful/grounded person on the planet. If it happens to you, don’t be too hard on yourself. Change your banking information and seek legal help immediately. Because of the Internet, it’s much easier for fraudulent companies to prey on their victims without getting caught; however, there are still laws and systems that govern internet fraud. Getting the justice system to work in your favour will definitely be hard, but chances are you’ll become wiser and stronger in the process.
After reading this article, you might be wondering if freelancing is a worthwhile career at all. This path entails little-to-no financial security, no benefits, and unpredictable work traffic. In addition, there is the risk of encountering fraudulent clients. Well, I’m in no position to tell you what to do. However, keep in mind that fraud happens at regular office jobs too. During university, I saw many advertisements about work for students with real addresses that actually belonged to shady businesses that aimed to sell valueless goods to young people. No matter what path you take in life, learn how to protect yourself and those around you.
Olga Sushinsky is a freelance editor and blogger based in Toronto, Canada, specializing in academic editing and book indexing.
This article was copy edited by Ellen Fleischer.