When you’re starting as a freelancer, it can be tough to know who to trust. You don’t want to get scammed by someone who’s taking advantage of your inexperience or naivety.
The sad thing is, many of us fall for scams during the initial stage of freelancing (and even after that) if we’re not vigilant enough. Scammers are everywhere, and with the rise of remote work opportunities, they’re on a mission to trap new freelancers and make the most out of them.
But if you know which red flags to look out for and always play smart, avoiding these fraudulent activities is possible. Whether you’re working on a freelance platform (Upwork, Fiverr, PPH, etc.), contact prospective clients via email, or roam around on social media to find new opportunities, the takeaway remains the same – be proactive and gauge others smartly.
Feeling overwhelmed about the freelancing scams? No sweat because we’ve compiled this detailed guide to help you spot scams and protect yourself.
Our guide includes tips on how to gauge whether a client is trustable or not, what questions to ask before signing a contract, and how to report fraud if it happens to you. Read on for all the details!
8 Red Flags to Spot and Avoid as a New Freelancer
Are you fresh to hitting the road armed with a shiny new degree and freelancing dreams? Freelancing can help get your feet wet in the working world, but it’s important to know what to watch for so you don’t get taken advantage of.
Avoid dishonest clients, scope creep, and late payments by keeping an eye out for these red flags. Before you dive in headfirst, take a moment to read through these scams and be prepared to dodge them:
1. Upfront Money Transfer Scams
As a freelancer, it’s always exciting to get a new client. However, before you start work, be aware of the possibility of upfront money transfer scams. These scams are common in freelancing, and they typically involve a client asking for a registration fee or payment before they provide you with new work.
In many cases, the client will disappear after receiving the payment, leaving the freelancer out of pocket and without any work to show for it. If you get approached by such a money-hungry client, steer clear. Plus, here are a few things you can do to avoid these pitfalls:
- Research the client before agreeing to work with them. If possible, try to find online reviews or testimonials from other freelancers who have worked with them.
- Be cautious of any client who asks for payment upfront without providing clear details about the work that will be provided.
- If you agree to an upfront payment (if their business model is like that, which is, again, not something you should do), use a secure method such as PayPal, which offers some protection in case of fraud.
New freelancers often get trapped by these pay-to-get-work schemes where the outcome is zilch. But thanks to social media forums, there’s enough awareness to stay away from such people. If someone with such an offer enters your inbox, make use of that golden block button!
2. The Fake Job Listing Scam
One of the most common dangers faced by freelancers is the fake job listing scam. These scams typically involve someone posting a job on a freelancing platform, promising to pay a high rate for easy work or promising regular work for good pay. Now that’s something every new freelancer would love to enjoy, but here’s a catch:
Once the freelancer has completed the job, they find that the client has no intention of paying them. Or, after you share your personal information and work samples, the client vanishes even before assigning any work. Sometimes, the client may even demand additional work for free and hold your payment as a threat.
While these scams can be frustrating, here’s what new freelancers can do to overcome them:
- Be aware of the most common red flags associated with fake job listings. For example, if job descriptions are overly vague or promise unrealistic rates, treat them with suspicion and be realistic about it.
- It’s also a good idea to research potential clients before agreeing to work for them. A simple Google search can often reveal a client’s history of not paying their freelancers.
Or, if you do find yourself in a situation where you’re not being paid, don’t be afraid to reach out to the freelancing platform and spread the word on social media.
Social media and forums are best for naming and shaming these creatures who lure new freelancers with good job posts and ditch them midway. With awareness and caution, you can avoid becoming the victim of a fake job listing and invest your energy in the right place.
3. Off-Site Communication
As beginner freelancers, most of us are always looking for new clients and opportunities to keep our heads above water. However, you must be careful when dealing with potential clients, especially off-site communication and payments.
One of the most common scams is when a client tries to get you to conduct communication and payments off of the freelancing platform you’re using. This is often a red flag that the client is trying to avoid paying fees or taxes or that they’re trying to scam you out of your hard-earned money.
If the client tries to push for off-site communication or payments, this is a big warning sign. They may also be vague about the project details or try to rush you into signing a contract. Here are some quick tips to dodge this bullet:
- Only work with clients willing to communicate and pay through the freelancing platform. If a client insists on going off-platform, it’s best to avoid them because they trap beginners this way.
- You can also ask around in forums or on social media to see if anyone has had experience with this particular client.
- Trust your gut; if something feels off about a client, it’s probably best to steer clear. When faced with such a situation, better ask a senior or expert and follow their advice.
If you’re ever in doubt about a potential client, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and walk away. There are plenty of other clients, so there’s no need to take unnecessary risks.
4. Free Samples
Here comes the most annoying scam/hurdle new freelancers face: the client asks you to provide a free test sample that requires a whole lot of instructions and requirements. As a freelancer, it’s important to be strategic about the work you take on.
While it’s always nice to land a new client, you shouldn’t be too quick to say yes to every opportunity that comes your way.
One red flag to watch out for is when a potential client asks you to do a full-fledged task for free as a “sample” of your work. In most cases, this is simply a way for them to get free labor. They can very well judge your work from the samples you’re already providing instead of making you create new ones.
So if you’re approached with this type of request, it’s best to politely decline and move on. Think about it – if they can gauge your work from the samples you’re already providing, why would they need you to create new ones? It’s a waste of both your time and talent.
This is just one of many scams and frauds that unfortunately exist in the freelancing world. But by being aware of them and being cautious with your work, you can avoid getting taken advantage of.
5. Signing Up for a Particular Site
Entering the freelancing world can make you excited about any opportunity that comes your way. However, as you gain more experience, you’ll also become more aware of the prevalence of scams in freelancing.
Another huge red flag that should always send a warning signal is when a potential client asks you to sign up for a site or provide personal information before you’ve even started working for them.
In most cases, this is simply a ploy to steal your information and use it for identity theft or other malicious purposes.
So, how can you protect yourself from these types of scams? The best way is to research before you agree to work with any new client. A quick Google search can often reveal red flags that you might have otherwise missed.
Once you’ve identified a potential scammer, the best action is to walk away and find another freelancing opportunity.
New freelancers should be aware of many other scams, such as being asked to pay for training or materials upfront, being promised a high pay rate for very little work, or being told that you need to make an investment in order to start working.
By being diligent and doing your homework, you can avoid getting taken advantage of and instead focus on finding clients who will value your work.
6. Never Risk Working for Someone Who Has a Negative History
It’s your right to be choosy about the clients you work with as a freelancer. After all, your reputation is on the line every time you take on a new project. So, what do you do if you’re just starting and don’t have much of a reputation to protect?
The best way is to steer clear of clients with a negative history – this could mean working with someone who has a history of not paying their freelancers on time or who has received numerous complaints from previous contractors. In either case, it’s not worth risking your reputation by taking on such a client.
Not only that but working with a difficult client will likely result in a lower quality product, as you’ll be constantly stressed and rushed. So, if you’re starting as a freelancer, stick to working with clients who have positive reviews on freelancing forums or social media.
This tip will help you build your reputation and ensure you can produce your best work.
7. There’s No “Course” that Can Get You Work
This is becoming increasingly common: purchase XYZ course and get guaranteed freelance work. Sure, there’s no shortage of articles, books, and blog posts offering advice on how to become a freelancer. Even worse, some scams take advantage of this lack of information by promising would-be freelancers a work opportunity in return for buying a course.
What’s more, there’s no legitimate freelancing course that’s mandatory for you to find work. While there are plenty of courses available on topics like marketing, accounting, and project management, there’s nothing specifically designed to help new freelancers get work.
And if someone promises that, stay 6 feet away from these fake mentors. They’re basically playing with the naivety of newbie freelancers and banking on their interest in this field.
Facing these fake offers and deals can be especially problematic for those just starting out. Without any guidance on how to find and land clients, many new freelancers end up feeling lost and frustrated. But as any experienced freelancer will tell you, if a client or anyone else promises you a job in exchange for purchasing a course, it’s almost certainly a scam.
So if you’re thinking about becoming a freelancer, beware of these frauds, and don’t waste your money on courses that won’t help you get work.
8. You Don’t Have to Share your Tax Details
When you’re a freelancer, you’re used to being your boss. But sometimes, that can lead to complacency when it comes to clients. After all, if a client asks you to do something, it must be legitimate…right? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
Scammers often pose as clients to get sensitive information from freelancers, such as tax documents or social security numbers. In some cases, they may even ask for payment upfront without ever sending any work.
That’s why you must be vigilant when dealing with clients and never give out any information unless you’re absolutely sure they’re legitimate. If you’re ever in doubt, take the time to research the client before moving forward. A little extra effort now can save you a lot of headaches down the road.
As a freelancer, you’re the boss, which comes with a lot of responsibility. By being careful and taking the time to safeguard yourself, you can enjoy a successful and scam-free freelancing career.
Here are the final takeaways from our guide:
- Be vigilant when you’re just starting as a freelancer. There are a lot of scammers out there who will try to take advantage of your inexperience.
- Never pay upfront for work, regardless of how small the project may be. A legitimate client will understand that you must be compensated for your time and effort.
- Do your research before taking on any project. Ensure that the client is reputable and that the project is something you’re comfortable with.
- Don’t share your important details with someone you don’t know. If it’s a job requirement, ensure it’s legit and be cautious moving forward.
- Never work for free; always discuss the payment terms before proceeding with the job.
By following these simple guidelines, you can avoid getting scammed as a freelancer. We hope you’ll now be proactive and never fall into the trap of freelancing scammers. Good luck!