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All of a sudden the blog post that I wrote over a month ago on the downfalls of freelance job site Freelancer.com has received more hits than any other post on my blog. For an aspiring science writer, that’s a bit annoying (please read the other stuff!!) but it’s also very interesting. Most people seem to be arriving here after googling the phrase “Freelancer.com scam” or similar (try it! My blog comes up as the first link!). In addition, I received a comment on my post “The Trouble With Freelancer.com” from a chap called Alaister who actually works for the site.
I’d just like to say, right here, right now, that I think the idea of Freelancer.com is brilliant and I’m a big fan. It’s a place where individuals, small and large businesses can outsource their projects to qualified and experienced freelancers who will invariably save them time and money. What I’m not a fan of is the abuse that the site gets. Every day my inbox is filled with job alerts from shady men and women looking to cheat the system, cheat the taxman, cheat the law and, worst of all, cheat the freelancer.
Examples of such projects include the guy in India who has had his Paypal account closed “due to an error” and so wants to hire a freelancer to transfer money from their own account to an SBI account, with promises of a generous bonus payment when the transaction is completed. You can bet your life you won’t see that money. Or, how about the American who needs a batch of 100 unique 500 word articles, like, yesterday, at a whole $1.50 a pop, but “just to check your writing style please submit 5 samples”. You can bet your life you won’t see those articles or hear of the buyer again. Doesn’t matter if it’s copyrighted – it will probably get re-written using slave labour recruited – you guessed it – through Freelancer.com and sold on again to another buyer.
Even the projects that aren’t out to steal your money or time can be just as flawed. There is a growing trend for people to request freelancers, hired for a pittance, to rewrite articles that are probably taken without permission from another site. The rewritten articles, however shoddy they are, will be heavily keyworded to attract Google searchers looking for information on a niche topic. Instead of finding a credible source of information, they will find a badly written website with a dump of rewritten, stolen articles, as well as a host of adverts that will earn the site owner money if they are clicked on, which they often are.
Having attended a webinar yesterday, hosted by Jonathan Bailey from CopyByte, I’ve become very worried about this last ripoff attempt, as I’ve even unwittingly been party to such a scam myself. I won a project through Freelancer.com in which the buyer wanted me to proofread articles that were originally written in German and had been translated into English. Sounded credible, but it was only after I’d worked on a few articles that I realised the buyer hadn’t actually written the articles himself – he had copied articles written (and copyrighted) by other people from a German website, pasted them into Google translator, and was then asking me to “tidy them up”. If the copyright holders wanted to sue for an infringement, they could well have a case, and I would be accomplice to the copyright thief.
Add these examples to the hoardes of students hiring freelancers to write their dissertations and theses for them, blatant hackers and spammers who ask for people to write malware, or those who simply don’t obey the rules and give out their contact details to try and secure a transaction outside the relative safety of Freelancer‘s escrow system to avoid paying fees, and you’ve got a pretty messed up website. I sympathise deeply with Freelancer.com – as Alaister pointed out, they are the world’s number 1 freelance job site with hundreds of thousands of users and are therefore a prime target for abuse, but whatever they’re doing to overcome these problems clearly isn’t enough. I don’t claim to have the answers, but I still think that an editorial team is needed to check each posted advert before it goes online. This may not be practical at the moment with the large volume of adverts that are posted every day, but if this was implemented alongside an increase in the buyer’s fee (which is refundable upon selecting a freelancer for the job), then I’ll bet that a lot of the more unscrupulous types would be discouraged. The current fee of just $5, coupled with the fact that many scam posts are left undetected, doesn’t seem to be a tough enough deterrent.
In addition, Freelancer.com really needs to shake up its customer support service to start, um, supporting its customers! It’s a little bizarre that Alaister from Freelancer.com found and commented on my month-old blog post all the way out here in cyber space before the email that I sent directly to Freelancer‘s customer support was answered. In fact, it still hasn’t been answered – care to respond?!
Let me finish by reiterating what I said at the start – Freelancer.com is a great idea (but I think PeoplePerHour do it better). For all those of you who arrive here looking for answers to the question, “is Freelancer.com a scam?” I would say no, it isn’t. But many of the projects advertised are so you need to be very careful about who you do business with.