No one likes to be scammed, especially when it comes to making a living. Unfortunately, one of the most significant risks of freelancing, is that someone will likely attempt to scam you at some point. It's hard to avoid in a career of this nature, because most work is done online and remotely, which means you will often never even come face to face with your clients and they will have an easier time of scamming you if there is no personal connection. It works in the same way online bullying does. A bully will say whatever he wants if it means never having to actually see his victims.
Some clients operate under an innocent guise, promising payment at a certain date, and once that date passes, they will either continue to make empty promises, or more likely, disappear. Sometimes, they won't make any promises at all, and when you complain, they'll claim that you should have known better. Of course, these scenarios are frustrating and unfair. If you complete work, you deserve payment, it's simple, yet many clients will do their best to avoid paying you.
Fortunately, in my experience, I've only been scammed once. For over a year of freelancing, I consider myself lucky. I've heard countless horror stories of freelancers completing giant projects, worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars, and never seeing a cent of it. For people that depend on freelancing as their main source of income, being scammed is perhaps the most devastating thing that can happen. I only lost $25, which in the long run, will not hurt me. It was maddening, but it wasn't the end of the world, and honestly, I should have seen it coming.
The signs of a scam are often obvious. If a client says they cannot pay you until a certain date, that is a warning sign. They shouldn't be asking for your work if they aren't ready to pay you. If a client has no verified payment method, which is often a feature of freelance websites, that is another warning sign; it shows that the client may not even have a legitimate way to pay you. Yet another bad sign, is if a client asks to pay you outside of the website they hired you on. Yes, some freelance websites have steep fees, but they also have ways to protect you from scamming, whereas if you're hired privately, there won't be any protection. The final biggest red flag, is if the client stops responding to messages. That's a huge sign that they're done with you. All of these things happened to me when I was scammed and yet, I still gave my client the benefit of the doubt. Don't do that. At the first sign of trouble, get out of there. Like any business, freelancing can be cutthroat. Don't trust a client if you have any reason to believe they might be scamming you.
Another thing to keep in mind, is that you should never give out private information like your credit card or social security number. Obviously, these things can be used against you and end up causing you a lot more trouble than losing out on a payment. Keeping your personal information private should be a priority that you never compromise, no matter how convincing a client might sound.
If you do end up being scammed, often, it's simply tough luck. Sometimes, even the most promising, well-reviewed clients, end up being untrustworthy. Sometimes, no matter what you do, you'll end up being scammed. If it's through a website, such as Freelancer.com, or Upwork.com, they will be able to help you, and there might not be anything to worry about. If you completed work through routes such as email, there may be no way to recover your lost money. It's sad, but it's a part of the reality of freelancing, and ultimately, it's up to you what jobs you want to accept or reject.
Kendra, great information and so important. I'm glad you shared all of this so that others might avoid being scammed. I too have been very fortunate as a freelancer to only be scammed once. That too was for $25. But it still frustrated me. I had another client try not to pay but I followed up even by looking up his father's phone number and calling him! I got yelled at but I also received a check. Freelancing can be a tough way to work, albeit rewarding as well. It is so important to go in with eyes wide open. Thanks for sharing all of this!
Indeed, a lot of great tips in this article. It's safe to choose which projects you bid for/accept wisely. Be wary of projects that seem too good to be true, especially if they come from employers new to the freelancing platform. And remember that if you accept to work outside the cover provided by websites like the ones mentioned in this article you take a risk that can end up costing you more money than you hope to save.
These are great tips. I have worked as a freelancer multiple times and got scammed badly once. Another thing I noticed when I got scammed was that they required me to create a separate email to communicate which did not make any sense looking back on it. I would say if they are asking you to complete strange tasks that do not have any rational basis (besides making it easier for them to steal your personal information) then that is also a red flag. The ones who scammed me also ended up with my SSN. Even if they ask for a W2 you need to be careful, because you never know exactly who the person is on the other end of the email chain.