Freelance Writing Questions: Avoiding Scams

Give me my money! That’s what most freelancers want to say when they have done a piece of work but have not been paid. When you freelance, there’s always the chance that you might fall victim to a seasoned scammer – there are lots of them about.

Three Freelance Writing Scams

Here are some of the potential scams:

  • The ‘sample’ scam
  • The ‘this is urgent, so work with me’ scam
  • The ‘I’ve got plenty of work and you’ll get a better rate later scam’.

1. The Free Samples Scam

Many freelancers get burned by scams.

The free sample scam is one of the most common. If you apply for work through a bidding site or Craigslist, then this is the one that might affect you most. I often see job postings that say that applications without a sample won’t be considered. If someone asks you to provide a sample, you might feel like you have no choice, especially if you’re new to the game.

Some ‘clients’ ask several writers for one free sample each. This is a way for them to get all the articles they want free of charge. Frankly, it stinks! If you want quality writing, then you should be prepared to pay for it.

2. The Urgent Work Scam

I’ve fallen victim to the second scam before. My bad. The client approached me via my website, gave a payscale that wasn’t great but was acceptable, and gave a time within which I would be paid. So I wrote the article. (Note to self: you KNOW better. ALWAYS ask for a deposit.) I don’t know why I broke my own rule, but I didn’t get paid for that one.

3. The Wait For Rates Scam

The third one is where clients try to persuade you to write 100 articles for $100 (or less!) with the promise that there will be more, better paid work later. Don’t hold your breath. They will move on to find someone equally gullible for the next batch of articles.

Avoiding Freelance Writing Scams

So what do you do to avoid falling victim to a scam and ending up out of pocket?First of all, beware of the client who wants you to write a large batch of articles without payment. If you are going to do a lot of work, you should get paid.

My policy is to ask for a 50 per cent deposit up front. Clients who are not willing to pay this usually melt away. I might lose out on a job, but it separates the clients who value my work from those who don’t. Once a client becomes a regular, then I can afford to be a bit more flexible.

However, clients are within their rights to ask for proof that you can do the job. I approach this in one of two ways. Either I use something that I have already written and mention that it has already been sold, or I write a fresh sample and post it on my blog. That way I can use it to promote myself, even if I don’t get paid. (Incidentally, that’s what I plan to do with the last article I didn’t get paid for.

Sending In The Heavies

No matter what you do, there’s always the odd client who manages to escape your ‘con artist antenna’. If you fall prey to one of these people, then you have a couple of options. You can chalk it up to experience, you can report the client to Preditors and Editors, or you can ask Angela Hoy, who publishes Whispers and Warnings, to help you. This is the writing equivalent of calling in the muscle. Angela wrote to a client who owed me last year and he paid up straight away, so I’m a big fan.

Last Word: It’s Not All Bad

One final note. If you’re a newbie, you may be worried that there’s a scammer around every corner. I don’t think so. In the last three years, I have only lost out on payment for two articles, and only one of those payments is still outstanding. With a bit of care, you can avoid most of the scammers. And remember, if a job posting raises your BS antenna, then listen to your intuition and avoid it. Anyone care to chip in with their tips on avoiding freelance writing scams?

Note: This may look familiar to Writing Lab News subscribers, who got a sneak preview of a much shorter version in the January issue.

Technorati Tags: freelance writing,scam,writing business,writing career,get paid to write

About Sharon Hurley Hall

Sharon Hurley Hall has been mentoring writers here at Get Paid To Write Online since 2005 to help them improve and build sustainable and successful writing careers. Check me out on Feel free to connect with me online on Google+.


  1. Excellent post, Sharon. I completely agree that if a client isn’t willing to show good will by putting a 50% deposit your way they either cannot afford your services and will struggle paying you on time or don’t have the best of intentions. I think some scammers look at freelance writers as homeworkers who won’t do anything about getting scammed so I’m sure sending the muscle surprised that con artist. I think as more time goes on my anti-scam radar gets stronger as well.

  2. It certainly did, Dana. I was surprised by how quickly he paid up, given that he’d been ignoring me for weeks. If we don’t stand up for ourselves, who will?

  3. The only work I’ll do up front without taking a deposit is for a print magazine. I may not get paid for awhile, but the money will come.

    The 50% rule is a good one too as it ensures that you’ll land only the legitimate client.

  4. Yes, magazines don’t usually pay up front, but if it’s a new mag, then you have to be careful, as it may never get published.

  5. I have fallen victim to the third scam. I was told that they would need me to write a bunch of articles and I had one week to do it all. They lowered the price and told me that I would get paid better later on for work that I would perform for them. Before it was over with, I spent an entire week and little sleep writing the articles and average out about $.50 per article and each article was about 400 words each. Watch out for this one and thanks for bringing up the other scams.

  6. Hi,

    Excellent article!

    Yes, I think the up-front deposit is generally
    the best way to go.

    Also, while it is perfectly okay for a client to
    ask for a writing sample, I like the suggestion
    of sending them a previously published article,
    or of directing them to a blog post.

    All the best,

  7. Great tips! A few more of my own tips follow:

    – If you apply for the writing job and the client contacts you, Google his/her name and/or company name to see what all you can find out about him/her before taking the job.

    – Ask other writers on forums and in your e-mail contact list if they’ve ever worked for that person before. Also ask them to share their experience.

    – Always get everything in writing. Create your own contract or agreement and offer to fax it to the client. Tell him or her you’ll begin the project once they sign and return the contract or agreement. If they refuse to sign an agreement or contract, it’s a sure sign that they’re up to no good.

  8. Great article Sharon! And some of it all too familiar unfortunately. Sometimes you have to be bitten to understand – I know I did.

  9. WFU, it happens to us all, especially when we’re at the start of our careers and desperate for a few writing credits. File it under things you learned the hard way – I did. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Laurie, that’s worked well for me. I also rewrite examples of the work I do to send out as samples.

    Misti, thanks for adding those tips. I do Google my clients, though it doesn’t always help. Using the “client name + scam” search is helpful. I must admit that I don’t use forums as much as I should, but I do have some trusted writing friends. I call on them if something doesn’t smell right.

    Once bitten, twice shy, right, Colin?

  10. In my case (and many others) this can relate to other things such as graphic designers too!

    I hear so many stories like people making thousands, if not, millions off of “sample” logos.

    But great article, I hope I don’t get scammed…


  11. Excellent post, Sharon. One more I might add – the “We don’t normally work with contracts as we’re more relaxed around here” scam. That only means you have no written recourse when they suddenly change the rules.

  12. I guess it can happen to any freelancer, Jay. It’s amazing how much design work people get for free that way.

    @ Lori: Yes, it’s always wise to get something in writing.

  13. Yeah, now I have to look out for my writing and design scams! Soo…. you want to write something for me? I swear I’ll pay you AFTER. ๐Ÿ˜‰


  14. Great post Sharon, and one we all fall prey to at some point.
    I have certainly been scammed by the sample article one – now I direct them to articles I have published elsewhere.

  15. Lol, Jay ๐Ÿ™‚

    I think most freelancers get burned by this, Sue. I am also working on ways of making it hard for people to copy the work. It won’t solve all the problems, but it might deter those looking for an easy scam.

  16. Just came across this post which has a short list of ways to pick out a potential scam.

  17. Jules says:

    Thanks for the article! I had one employer ask me to write over 50 articles but on the condition that I would invoice the payment after the project was completed. The amount I was asking wasn’t much as I am just starting out, and it didn’t feel right to me. After all, it was a lot of work to do and then get stiffed on, especially when a deposit would cost them so very little. So I politely wrote back saying I had no objection to the short time frame but I would require either a deposit or an escrow. Never heard from them again.

    I’ve also just had someone ask me to do a sample, but there are 7 people bidding for the project and only 10 articles to be written, so if all the bidders do it that’s pretty much their work done.

    As I say, I’ve only been freelancing for a week now so I was glad to read your post and confirm that I’m not just being paranoid ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. Glad you enjoyed it, Jules. Looks like you’ve already done the math and avoided a possible scam.

  19. Hi Sharon,
    My policy now is that if someone asks for samples, I respond that I don’t have the time available to invest in unpaid work. Then I say I’m willing to negotiate on a price or, if they want to see samples of my work, I can point them to my online articles or include ppps. This has worked well and I,ve received payment. It can be a good way to determine whether someone simply wants free articles or whether he/she is seriously interested in forming a working relationship with you.

    Write and Earn a Living’s last blog post..Triond Writing How-to’s

  20. That’s a good policy which reduces the possibility of getting scammed. Once you have a good range of work online, then using those samples is a good starting point.

  21. HI

    I have just joined for a fee of $2.95, I am a newbie, does anyone out there have knowledge of them, would you kindly rate them, and advise, i really do not want to waste my time, and get burnt as their fee goes up after seven days from today, to $47 a month.

  22. Naomi Igwe says:

    Sharon, i really like this piece. I was recently scammed and i think i now know what to do about it.

    Thank you so much

  23. Sarah Lam says:

    I have been scammed in my early days. Ended up with a client who didn’t pay for what I have done for them. Really sad about it, but a lesson well learnt.