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My previous posts on Freelancer.com seem to get more traffic than any other post on my blog. Most people seem to arrive here after searching for words to the effect of “Is Freelancer.com a scam?”, and to be honest, the reason I wrote the original post was to discuss exactly the same question. As a freelance writer and editor, I’ve opted to receive daily email alerts that inform me when new projects matching my skills are added to the site, and for a while, I really wondered whether it was worth it. Every day I’d have to sift through the newly posted projects and more often than not would instantly delete them or report violations against the project owners because they fell into one of 3 categories: spam, scam or sham.
Spam projects range from the outright illegal, such as “I need someone to create a programme that will hack into Facebook/Hotmail/GMail/Yahoo” and captcha projects, to the more subtle, yet equally as annoying, “need someone to get me 1.5 million Facebook/Twitter followers”, or “need someone to post comments containing links to my site on blogs and websites”. I’m always amazed that these projects get any bids at all, especially for the paltry sums that the advertisers offer – I guess not everyone can afford to take the moral high ground, and that’s sad.
Scam projects are the ones that really make my blood boil. They can include money transfer scams: “my Paypal account has been closed down due to an internal error and I need someone to transfer money from my Freelancer.com account to my Western Union/Indian bank account”. Freelancer.com makes it very clear that these projects are not to be posted on the site, and yet some people still try and get away with it. Other scams include things like the buyer asking for money from the freelancer to cover “admin fees and start up costs” before the project starts, sample article theft and asking for large numbers of articles with payment on completion of the whole project – no milestone payments or escrow.
Finally, less illegal but equally as immoral in my eyes, are the sham projects. There are an awful lot of these abounding on Freelancer.com every day. In the vast expanse of cyberspace, the websites that succeed are those that rank highly on Google. To get your website to the top of the rankings, it must be heavily keyworded with search terms that people are likely to look for when they want to research a particular topic. This is called SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation and in itself, it’s a very lucrative marketing tool. However, some people set up sites called affiliate sites which contain large numbers of badly written, but – crucially – heavily keyworded articles, along with a whole pile of monetised adverts. If you land on these pages because you are fooled into thinking that you will find out whatever it is you were searching for there, and click the advert links, you’ll be making money for the site owner. Needless to say, the site owners don’t write the content themselves, they pay pathetic sums of money to people in India, the Philippines and Africa to write the content for them, or even to rewrite content stolen from elsewhere, while the site owner knows that he will more than recoup this small outlay in click money.
Personally, I will have nothing to do with any of these “jobs”, but I have to admit that sometimes the project owners make it very difficult for freelancers to judge whether or not a project is legitimate. I’m happy to say that I have noticed less trash projects advertised on Freelancer of late, and I must again stress that the problems do not inherently lie with Freelancer.com itself, more with the shameless people who try to abuse the site. Nevertheless, here are some tips to avoid being caught up in spam, scams and shams.
1. I live in the UK so, personally, I tend to stay away from article writing projects that offer a very low rate of pay simply because they’re not worth my while. Also, while I appreciate that there are people in developing countries who would be overjoyed to receive a few dollars for a days work, the majority of projects within this budget – approximately $0.25 – $3 per 500 words – are the aforementioned affiliate shammers. They’re not interested in quality articles, they just need high keyword density and as low a price as possible so that they can easily absorb their outlay in advert click earnings. There is a place for outsourcing to developing countries, but I think projects like this are highly unethical and exploitative.
2. Scams and spam projects are quite easy to spot. Money exchanges, hacking, and rewriting anything other than somethat that either you or the buyer has copyright for is illegal. If you have concerns about a project, always ask the project owner for clarification. If they don’t reply or are cagey in their response, it’s probably not worth it. Report a violation!
3. Steer clear of projects that state that they will not use the Freelancer.com payment system. It isn’t perfect, and you will incur a few dollars in fees, but it is a useful safety net. You can check if the buyer has enough funds in their Freelancer.com account to pay you, and you can also arrange milestone payments that can be released as you complete each phase of a project. If you conduct a project outside of Freelancer.com, then you’re on your own if there’s a dispute. I would recommend to only conduct a project outside of Freelancer.com‘s framework if you trust the buyer, e.g. if you have worked with them before or they have very good feedback as a buyer.
4. It is against Freelancer.com‘s terms and conditions to offer less than $30 for a project, so report violations against those that do. Also, don’t bid lower than this yourself. It’s not on.
5. Check up on your buyer’s feedback. Obviously, it is better to work with someone who has received good feedback points and comments from their previous clients. Not having any feedback doesn’t instantly make them untrustworthy though; they could be new to the site or past providers may not have left feedback for any number of reasons. They might not have been able to leave feedback if they conducted a project outside of the Freelancer.com payment system. Check if they have posted any projects before, what those projects were, and whether the projects were cancelled or not. Be wary of anyone who has cancelled a lot of projects or has had projects deleted – this usually means that they have previously been in breach of Freelancer.com‘s terms and conditions.
6. Check out your buyer’s profile. Have they given a company name, or their real name as well as a username? If so, google it and see what you can find out. I once discovered that a past client of mine was not only involved in some really dodgy “cash gifting” scam system, he was also a student at an Ivy League university and the project he had asked me to do was his school lab report!
7. A freelancer should never ever have to pay money to the buyer upfront. Ever. “Admin fees” and “start up costs” should ALWAYS be borne by the buyer – if you pay them, you probably won’t ever see that money or hear of the buyer again. This happened very recently on People Per Hour – the buyer advertised this great-sounding job, but when he responded to people asking for clarification, he suddenly began asking interested people to pay £35 up front to cover the costs of “getting you set up on the system”. A google search for the company name also, tellingly, gave no results. Using a freelancer will already be saving a company money, so there should be no reason for the freelancer to bear any start up costs.
8. If you bid on a project, always mention that you will require the buyer to sign a contract. If they’re a spammer, scammer or shammer, they probably won’t even bother replying to your bid. If they do, and they refuse to sign a contract, stay away from the job. Make sure you get your client’s full contact details: full, real name, company name if applicable, postal address (no PO Boxes), phone number and email address, from a paid ISP if possible rather than Hotmail or Gmail etc. If you both sign a contract and there is still a dispute, at least your back is covered from a legal point of view.