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 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.
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!
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