Protect Yourself from Freelance Marketplace Scams

There are a million and one great things about being a freelancer. In fact, it’s one of the most empowering ways to earn a living – but you don’t need us to tell you that, right?

Being able to pursue what you enjoy, what you’re good at, or hopefully both, can be very rewarding. Offering your specialist skills to clients of choice whilst being in charge of where and when you work are just some of the most appealing aspects of the ‘gig economy’.

That said, working as a freelancer isn’t all sunshine. Having to chase late payments and not having the safety net of a monthly salary are just two examples of the trickier side of life as a freelance professional. Sadly, another obstacle is slowly growing in the industry, in the form of freelance marketplace scams.


What are freelancing platform scams?

No matter what industry you’re in, there are always going to be scammers lurking in the shadows waiting to take advantage. The rapid growth of freelance talent platforms, such as PeoplePerHour and Upwork, might make it easier for freelancers and clients to connect, but can also make us more vulnerable.

With the freelancing landscape constantly evolving (and scammers adapting with it), it’s not always easy to keep up with potential threats. We call out some of the most prolific scams happening now, so you know what to look out for. We also share our tips and tricks on how best to avoid them, and protect your reputation and hard-earned money.


Multi-level marketing (MLM) and pyramid schemes

MLMs and pyramid schemes are a tale as old as time, and these days the freelance world isn’t immune. These schemes usually see companies (or their representatives who are somewhere on the pyramid above you) ask you to sell their products on their behalf, and recruit other sellers into the operation.

For freelancers these schemes might not always involve tangible products, with some pyramids trying to create schemes which rely on the sale of your services. They almost always require some sort of buy-in, leaving you with stock or ideas that are impossible to shift.


Trial work or test tasks

It’s an industry classic. Clients will sometimes ask you to complete a piece of trial work or a test project before they agree to work with you officially.

These requests might sometimes be perfectly innocent, such as a short writing test of a hundred words or so, but be wary of anything that looks like the production of the finished article. More often than not it’s a deceptive and manipulative way to get work done for free.

This one is more difficult to identify as a scam because, like we said, some clients do just want to see how you get on a with a particular brief. For instance, if your portfolio doesn’t include examples relevant to their particular industry. Just keep your eyes peeled for any warning signs.


Earn-from-home opportunities

‘Earn while you work from home’ is another classic scam strategy. Of course, in today’s remote world, working from home is a perfectly viable way to earn a living. However, if you come across an advert that promises high earnings for minimal hours working from home, with no additional information other than to ask you to click a link or call a number, avoid at all costs.


Alternative payment methods

It’s not unheard of for clients to sometimes ask if you’ll accept a payment via a different platform. For instance, rather than using the bank details on your invoice, they’ll ask if it’s ok to send money to your PayPal account.

Like anything, it could be perfectly innocent, but be wary, and don’t agree to anything you feel uncomfortable with. Alarm bells should ring if clients try to offer you goods or services, or even gift cards, in exchange for your work. Proceed with caution if you find yourself in this scenario.


Pre-work fees

Some freelancers have reported instances of clients asking them to pay fees before working with them. The request is often framed under the guise of giving you access to their tools, equipment, or information so that you can carry out your tasks.

Treat this as a red flag that you should never overlook! A reputable customer would never ask you for money – it should always be them paying you.


Fraudulent job listings

A large part of the freelance profession involves searching and pitching for work. Our industry’s growing use of talent sites means there are increasing occurrences of fraudulent job listings designed to get you clicking unsafe links or sharing personal information.


Account or profile consultancy

If you have a professional freelance profile such as LinkedIn, PeoplePerHour or Fiverr – just to name a few – you might find people contacting you offering to improve your profile. They’ll suggest that their service will increase your chances of winning work and beating the competition.

However, in return, they’ll ask for access to your account(s), and this is where it all goes wrong. They then have access to your personal details, contacts and even your financial information.


How to avoid falling victim to a freelance marketplace scam

Victims of freelance marketplace scams should never feel foolish. These scams are often extremely convincing because they’re quite literally designed to be. When you’re strapped for cash, new to the industry, or looking to expand your portfolio, opportunities can be twice as tempting.

It is essential that you do everything in your power to protect yourself against scams and below, we share our advice on how to go about doing so.

  • Never ever give your login details or confidential financial information to anybody.
  • Only ever search for work or make connections on trusted platforms.
  • Only ever signup to reputable freelance platforms and networks.
  • Avoid clicking on any links that you don’t trust or that have come from a suspicious source or via a strange method of communication.
  • Google search any phone numbers or business names you’re unsure about – the likelihood is that if it’s a scam, someone will have flagged it already.
  • Never work with any ‘client’ who asks you to pay money before working with them.
  • If somebody is offering you the chance to “get rich quick” – ignore them, it’s a scam. Seems too good to be true? It probably is.
  • Only ever accept standard (and safe) forms of payment.
  • Only ever use conventional forms of communication.
  • Ensure there’s a paper trail of as much of your communications as possible. Just in case.

Stay vigilant! Say what you like about scammers, but one thing you can’t deny is that they’re expert innovators to catch you out. Keep your wits about you and stay safe out there, freelancer!

Check out our for more support and guidance!

How Do I Write a Freelance Email Pitch?

As a freelancer, carrying out the actual work is only half the battle – you’ve got to be able to win the work first. That’s why honing your pitching skills and adapting them to different situations is so important. Sending an email to introduce yourself needs a completely different approach to how you pitch for work on a freelance talent site.

Ensuring that your pitch is strong means you stand a better chance of beating your competition to the work. It’s also helps you kickstart better client relationships. In this article, we share our top tips for building the perfect freelance email pitch. You can find our list of things to avoid when pitching for work in a separate article!


1. Make your message concise and succinct

The chances are the person(s) you’re emailing is super busy with their own day. The last thing they want to see landing in their inbox is a lengthy email full of links and attachments. And that’s if all those links even make it past their spam filter.

To capture your recipient’s attention and engage them with your pitch, keep your email concise and succinct. The information you share should be easy to digest in a way which helps keep their focus all the way through.

That way, you’re more likely to get a response from them, and hopefully the opportunity for a conversation where you can then go into more detail. Even if their answer is no, that’s a step above being ignored!


2. Stay away from blanket messages but avoid overfamiliarity

Sending generalised blanket messages won’t get you anywhere when it comes to pitching for work.

An obvious and simple way to personalise your message is to address the person(s) directly with their name, rather than using general greetings such as ‘Hi there’. Other ways you can make a freelance email pitch more bespoke include:

  • Referencing something the business has done that you’ve enjoyed or admired recently.
  • Referring to the business’s brand identity, mission and/or values.
  • Creating an executive summary at the beginning of your portfolio summarising why you’re pitching for the project and why you believe you’re a good fit for the company.

Just be careful to avoid any over-familiarity! It can come across as being rather aggressive.


3. Demonstrate how you share the company’s values

As well as looking for somebody with the right skillset, any client you work with will naturally gravitate to the freelancer who shares their values and ethos. If you get on and have some common ground, it will help foster a successful working relationship.

Do plenty of research about the business and its brand identity so that you can refer to it in your pitch (as well as any subsequent exchanges). Rather than simply acknowledging it, earn bonus points by going on to explain how and why you believe you’re a great match for the business or specific project.


4. Don’t let your subject line take second place

In the same way you wouldn’t go into a business meeting or a networking event with an unkempt appearance, it’s important that your subject line isn’t just an afterthought.

When you meet new or prospective clients in real life, you want to make a strong first impression and your physical appearance plays a huge part. A well-thought-out email subject line is the digital equivalent of this.

Compose a subject line that doesn’t scream ‘spam’, whilst still standing out in an email inbox with high traffic so that your message turns the right heads. The best ones in this scenario get right to the point by summarizing what the email is actually about. For instance: ‘Conscientious freelance copywriter for financial services content’.

Avoid truncating the subject line by keeping it short, sweet and to the point, as well as ensuring that it’s clear what your email is regarding.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that some email platforms preview a few lines of the email message itself, as well as the subject line.


5. Ask a peer to proofread and sense check your pitch

Ensure that your spelling and grammar are tip-top when sending emails to prospective clients. Typos and poor grammar send out negative signals, and will most likely result in your email being sent straight to the bin, rather than inspiring a response.

Get someone to sense check your email pitch from the perspective of your desired recipient. Not only will it help flag up any spelling or grammatical errors, but it will also help make sure that the way you’ve formatted and delivered your information makes sense. Test a few different subject lines on them too!


6. Make sure your portfolio and online profiles are up to date

When you pitch to a potential client, they’re very like to hunt you down on social media to get a feel for what you’re all about. Make sure your social media profiles are up-to-date and work-friendly so that you can start making a great impression even prior to meeting.

Similarly, if you share links or attachments to your portfolio along with your email pitch, make sure you’ve given them a refresh so that you’re circulating the most current (and impressive) version.


7. Be confident but not arrogant

It goes without saying that confidence is key, and that confidence is an appealing attribute in anybody you’re going to work with. However, there is a thin line between confidence and arrogance.

Stay on the right side of it by communicating your experience and achievements in a matter of fact and authentic way. You don’t need to overdo the humility either (which can seem just as false).

Another important thing to remember here is honesty. Exaggerating or embellishing your experience might win you the work to begin with, but doing so is more likely to start your working relationship off on the wrong foot. Particularly if you badly underdeliver on your claims!


8. Don’t forget to follow up – but be patient

Last but certainly not least, make sure to send a follow-up email to demonstrate your eagerness and help push your pitch to the top of the pile.

Choosing when to send this follow-up message can be tricky and it largely depends on the individual circumstances. For example, if you’re responding to a call-out for pitches, the client might have stipulated a date by which they intend to respond. However, if you’re reaching out with a pitch of your own, you can approach your follow-up tactics differently.

Whatever the scenario you’re in, just be sure not to send your chaser too early or this might come across as impatient and annoying.


Check out our freelancer resources and guides for more support and guidance.

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