Would you trust these proofreading companies?

23 03 2017

I’ve written before on the subject of so-called ‘predatory’ journals – essentially unscrupulous or even downright fake open access publishing companies that will pretty much publish anything if you are willing to pay for it. I quite often get emails from these companies asking me to submit my “eminent research” in some completely random field, or even trying to recruit me as a reviewer or Associate Editor.

Recently, a new – and I suspect not unrelated – form of spam has started hitting my inbox: companies offering me their proofreading services.

As an academic editor and proofreader myself, I’m hardly ever likely to want to use someone else’s services, so I tried unsubscribing from these emails (not that I had ever subscribed in the first place, of course!). Unfortunately, this seemed to have the opposite desired effect: instead of removing me from a mailing list, I seemed to get added to it again, such that I started to get multiple emails per day from the same companies!

I also started noticing patterns. The first batch of emails I received was from a company called Cognoscenti. But then I started getting very similar emails from another company called Swift Proofreading… then Donnish… then SpringerEdit. In fact, to date, I have received spam from so-called proofreading companies going by eight different names! (Skip to the end to see the full list, plus some others I’ve discovered!)

Now, I’ve never used any of these companies, and I don’t know anyone who has, so who am I to say they are not legitimate? All I ask is that if you are considering using one of these companies, just read the following and make up your own mind as to whether you think you can trust them… (And if you decide you can’t, why not drop me an email! 😉 )

Here are a few things that definitely do not add up: 

  • All of these companies use a pretty much identical website theme.
  • Several of them have used almost exactly the same blurb on their home pages:
    • “Swift Proofreaders is one of the leading online editing and proofreading firms. Our company’s primary objective is to provide users with swift, proficient, and affordable editing and proofreading services.”
    • “Phoenix Proofreading is one of the leading online editing and proofreading firms. Our company’s primary objective is to provide users with professional, proficient, and affordable editing and proofreading services.”
    • “Donnish Proofreaders is one of the world’s leading online editing and proofreading companies. Our company’s primary objective is to provide clients with prompt, professional, and affordable editing and proofreading services.”
    • “Cognoscenti is one of the leading online editing and proofreading firms. Our company’s primary objective is to provide users with professional, proficient, and affordable editing and proofreading services.”
  • Given that these are supposedly proofreading companies that claim “error-free work”, some of them have some suspiciously bad spelling and grammar, e.g.:
    • “Manuscript must be submitted in the Ms-Word document.”
    • “Donnish Proofreaders offers moderate charges, as it also depends on the volume of your research work in question.”
    • “Savant Proofreading give your manuscript the attention they deserve.”
  • Most of these companies do not list their editors. OK, they don’t have to, but of those that do, the names all seem suspiciously generic and I have not been able to verify a single one.

Who Is it?

Oh and hey, you know what else is interesting? Despite the fact that the spam I get from these companies all indicates that they are based in the USA, UK or Canada, a quick Who Is check reveals that the domains were in fact all registered by one of two people: a Clinton Clarke, or an Erumevwa Ebenezer, both from the same town… in Nigeria.

What’s more, SpringerEdit (do you think genuine publishing giant Springer might have something to say about that name?) and Cognoscenti, which were both registered by Ebenezer, are associated with the email address, “swiftjournals@gmail.com”. Swift Proofreading, registered by Clarke, is associated with another of his websites called – you’ve guessed it – Swift Journals (and there’s that familiar looking site template again…). A Google search on the Swift Journals Gmail address reveals that Ebenezer is associated with 17 different domain names (including some I’ve already mentioned, and some that no longer exist), all with a common proofreading or publishing theme.

What about Mr Clarke? A Google search on his email address reveals that he is associated with over 100 different domains! Some of these have already been mentioned, others hint at similar proofreading or publishing services, but others include names suggesting pay day loans, courier services, and one has a domain name very similar to that of a global banking corporation, which flags up a “Dangerous” phishing warning if you try to go to the URL…

Decide for yourselves…

Here is a list of domains associated with “proofreading companies” I have found (so far!) that all fit this pattern. There may be others! All of these are associated with “publishing companies” with the same names, too. Let me know if you come across any others!

How to spot an AirBnb scam

2 03 2017

Given my previous research into fakers and scammers on freelancing platforms, I’m almost ashamed to admit that I very, very nearly fell for a scam myself recently! This time, however, it was on the holiday apartment rental site AirBnb.

What is AirBnb?

airbnb_logo_belo-svgAirBnb was founded by some cash-strapped tech guys from San Francisco who started renting out an air mattress on the floor of their apartment to delegates attending Silicon Valley congresses. They built a platform to allow others to do the same, and the idea grew to something akin to a paid-for version of Couchsurfing, where you can rent spare rooms and second homes. Now, allegedly, AirBnb is the world’s largest accommodation booking site, and it’s increasingly used by short-term lettings agencies as well as the more traditional AirBnb ‘hosts’.

I’ve used AirBnb loads of times, and have had a fantastic experience each and every time. My husband and I have been hosted by an Emirati property developer in Dubai and an airline pilot in Gothenburg, rented a harbourside apartment in Nice and a casita in the Texan desert. I’ve used AirBnb for business trips, whether alone in a 1-bedroom apartment near to the Minneapolis Convention Centre, or with colleagues in a villa with private pool in Brazil. Most recently, and closer to home, my husband and I and 4 friends rented a beautiful apartment together for a weekend city break in Bath.



This amazing Barcelona AirBnb for 6 people, with roof terrace and private pool, can be yours, but it’ll cost you over £400 a night, not £300…

Fresh from that trip to Bath, myself and the same group of friends are now looking into taking a mini-break in Barcelona – and since we all enjoyed our previous AirBnb experiences, why wouldn’t we do it again?

We found this apartment: https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/1025760 – a stunning 3/4 bedroom duplex with a private pool and roof terrace hosted by a lettings agency called Valencia Luxury. Alas, it was much more expensive than any of us wanted to pay.

But hang on, what’s this!? The same apartment, listed by someone called “Sofie“, for over £100 per night cheaper? https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/14373796 (NB: these links have been reported and may now be inactive.)

We did think it was a little strange that the same apartment would be listed twice at two completely different prices, but having never had a bad experience with AirBnb before, I trusted the site and wondered if perhaps the same apartment was managed by more than one lettings agency. Also, sometimes larger apartments are listed more than once if the hosts rent out the rooms separately, as well an entire place.

Sofie’s listing, the cheaper of the two, contained an email address and requested that anyone interested in booking should contact this email to check availability. My friend did so, and received a prompt and friendly reply asking us to send a contact name, address and phone number, as well as a copy of a piece of photographic ID and a utility bill so as to receive “pre-approval” for the property via AirBnb. They then provided lots of helpful information about how, once pre-approved, the payment process would take place through AirBnb’s secure payment system.

Since I have an AirBnb discount voucher to spend and lots of positive reviews on my AirBnb account, my friend passed over communication with the host to me. I had actually drafted an email in reply, and was just looking for a utility bill to scan when my husband came home and said, “Er, is it such a good idea to send all that personal information over email? Why do they want a utility bill?!”

Dodged a bullet


FYI, it is forbidden to include contact details in AirBnb listings or AirBnb messages. Click to enlarge and notice that the email address provided here has spaces in it to stop it being automatically detected and removed.

I instantly felt very stupid! I have a verified AirBnb account, which means that when I submit a booking request through the AirBnb website or app, the host can be assured that I have already provided verified contact details and ID – there should have been no need to send all this information in advance, especially not via email. However, still not quite ready to believe that we were being scammed, I sent a message to “Sofie” via the AirBnb message system, confirming our dates and asking her to pre-approve us that way. Funnily enough, I have not yet heard anything from her.

In the meantime, I did some research. Using a Google reverse image search on one of the AirBnb photos, I discovered that the apartment we were interested in is also listed on Valencia Luxury’s own website. Valencia Luxury seems to be a reputable outfit, with hundreds of positive reviews going back several years, a fully verified AirBnb account, and a 100% response rate to AirBnb messages.

Conversely, ‘Sofie’s’ listing gave almost no information about the apartment, other than the same photos as the Valencia Luxury listing, an email address to contact and the message, “PLEASE do not book before you contact me! All the bookings made without prior contact will be canceled!” It also had no reviews.


Sofie’s profile was conspicuous in its emptiness…

On checking the Who Is record for the domain name of the email address (rent17.eu, FYI – a blank website), I discovered it was only registered in January 2017 by someone known only by a Gmail address (A John Greenwood, not a Sofie). Sofie’s AirBnb profile was only established in August 2016, gave no biography or information, was not fully verified, and she had a dismal 42% message response rate.


I messaged Valencia Luxury and they advised me that they are the legitimate owners of the apartment. The other listing, not authorised by them, is indeed part of a scam.

Scam research

Searching online for details of other AirBnb scams, to my surprise (though I’m not sure why it was a surprise!) I found that lots of people have had similar experiences. Here are a few examples reported in The GuardianThe Huffington Post, and this one in The Telegraph, which also concerned an apartment in Barcelona!

A common thread running through these stories was that, in each case, the host and guest had been in contact by email. Sometimes, as in our case, the host specified an email address on the AirBnb listing (which I now know is completely against AirBnb’s terms of service), but sometimes the correspondence was initiated through the AirBnb site, with the host later claiming that the message platform wasn’t working so the conversation continued by email.

Phishing for info

But, in her email to us, why did “Sofie” take the trouble to explain that payment would be conducted via the AirBnb system and harp on about how secure it was? Because, if we had provided the information she requested (which, in itself would give plenty of ammo to use for identity theft!), the likelihood is that we would have been “pre-approved” via an email purporting to be from AirBnb but with a subtly altered email address. That phishing email would then link to a fake website to process payment….which would not have gone to AirBnb, or secured our reservation on the apartment, it would have just vanished from my bank account never to be seen again.

How to spot an AirBnb scam

I have loved using AirBnb and this experience won’t put me off using the site, but I will be far, far more careful in future! Here are my top tips for how to spot an AirBnb scam.

  1. NEVER EVER contact an AirBnb host via email. ALWAYS use the on-site or in-app messaging system. It can be confusing because if you receive a message via the official platform, you do also receive that message via text and/or email, and you can reply directly to the platform via those emails as well. However, scammers often use fake email addresses that are subtly different from the official AirBnb ones. To be on the safe side, always access and reply to your messages from within your logged-in AirBnb profile, and never click on links in emails – they could redirect you to a very convincing phishing site. Furthermore, it is against AirBnb’s terms of service for the host or the guest to provide their contact details (including email addresses, phone numbers, Skype usernames) before a booking is confirmed, so if a host asks you to email before this stage, it’s definitely dodgy.
  2. Check out the host’s reviews. Of course, there are genuine hosts who don’t have any reviews yet simply because they are new, but for the novice AirBnb user, the safest thing is to choose a host who has some history, e.g. positive reviews and a verified account. Better still, some experienced hosts are even awarded “Superhost” status, meaning that they are fully verified and vetted and have received consistently excellent reviews.
  3. Check out the host’s profile. Most AirBnb user profiles have a completed biography section in which they tell you about themselves. In our case, “Sofie’s” biography was completely blank. This can indicate a new host who hasn’t filled out their profile yet, but I would argue that if they are serious about listing their place, they should take the time to give you some information. As I’ve found out with freelancing platforms, scammers are often repeat offenders, so if one profile gets closed down, they’ll simply open a new one. Tracking scammers can become a bit like a game of digital whack-a-mole. Check when the profile was created and if it’s very new, has no or a very brief biography, and no reviews, proceed with caution.
  4. Check out the host’s response rate and response time. The “The Host” section on a given AirBnb listing will tell you their response rate to AirBnb messages. In our case, Valencia Luxury’s response rate was 100%, and their response time “within an hour”. Sofie’s, on the other hand, was a dismal 42% within “a few days or more”. Clearly she doesn’t like AirBnb’s paper trail…
  5. Use Google Reverse Image Search. This is a trick I’ve used a lot to find out whether freelancers’ profile photos are likely to be genuine. Right-click on a photo of the apartment listed on AirBnb. If you’re using Google Chrome, there is an option to directly “Search Google for this image”. If you’re not on Chrome, right-click and select “Copy image URL” (or your browser’s equivalent wording). Then, go to www.google.com/images, click the camera icon on the search bar and paste the URL. Google searches its indexed pages for websites using this image. It doesn’t always return results, but when I did this, I found the apartment listed on Valencia Luxury’s own website, so I knew that *that* listing was the real one. You can also use this trick on the host’s profile picture. Again, it doesn’t always return results, but when I’ve done this with Freelancer profiles, I’ve found that (for example) “Bob Smith’s” photo was actually pinched from “Dave Jones'” Facebook profile, or that it’s stolen from some random website.
  6. Be suspicious and ask questions. If, as in our case, you find two similar listings by two different hosts, message both hosts (through AirBnb, of course) and ask them to explain. Apartments can be listed more than once if rooms are rented out separately, and hosts who own similar apartments within the same building do sometimes use the same, or very similar photos to list different properties. However, whole apartments should not appear on AirBnb more than once. When you think about it, it doesn’t even make sense to do this if genuine – why have two listings with an average number of reviews, when you could have one awesome listing with lots of reviews?

Anyway, I hope this blog post is helpful! If you have any other tips then please leave a comment below!

Academic writing: what I will and won’t do

11 05 2013

Plagiarism is not just copying someone else's work - it also includes getting someone to do the work for you!I have written about this before, but you know what’s been annoying me recently? Dodgy ‘academic writing’ projects.

Just this week I was contacted by someone who asked me to help them with a college assignment. Before accepting the project, I messaged the buyer to ask for more details about the project, since they were pretty vague about they really wanted; I was also suspicious that they probably wanted me to write the thing from scratch. Funnily enough, the buyer didn’t message me back and the project offer expired, so it seems my suspicions may have had some grounding.

Just to make things absolutely clear, here’s what I WILL do for students and academics, and here’s what I WON’T do.

What I will do

  • Copy-edit draft versions of a paper that the author has written themselves
  • Proofread final drafts of a paper that the author has written themselves
  • Take an author’s notes or early draft and advise on paper structure, formatting, referencing (etc.) in accordance with the house style of the submission journal or academic institution
  • Write an abstract based on the author’s manuscript
  • Co-write a manuscript article for a peer-reviewed journal submission provided I am either named as a co-author or credited in the acknowledgements.

What I won’t do

  • Write an assignment for a student from scratch (this includes anything that is going to be graded or count towards a qualification)
  • Rewrite an article or manuscript that someone else has written

Why won’t I write or rewrite academic assignments?

The answer is very simple: it is CHEATING.

Contrary to seemingly popular belief, plagiarism is NOT JUST about copying paragraphs from books, or recycling the work of a friend taking the same course in another class – there’s more to it than that. I checked the plagiarism policy of my alma mater, the University of Warwick, and here is what it said:

…‘cheating’ means an attempt to benefit oneself or another, by deceit or fraud. This shall include reproducing one’s own work or the work of another person or persons without proper acknowledgement.

If an assignment or article passes Copyscape or similar ‘anti-plagiarism’ software tests, it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been plagiarised – it just means that it probably hasn’t been copied verbatim from published work. However, if YOU did not produce the work yourself, you cannot say it is yours. It’s like someone pretending to be you in an exam, or stealing someone’s bank details so you can pilfer their account. Let’s get this clear – asking someone else to write something that you intend to submit as your own, original work IS plagiarism. And plagiarism is WRONG.

What REALLY worries me, is the number of people who think that this practice is OK.


I have lost count of the number of times that a student has asked me to write an essay for them. It truly baffles me. I worked bloody hard for my degree. I EARNED the right to be called a Bachelor of Science by doing all my own research, writing all my own essays, studying REALLY hard, and sitting my own exams. Cheating never even crossed my mind because, actually – you know what? – I wanted to be GOOD at my subject! I wanted to KNOW about biology, to UNDERSTAND science, to PROGRESS my future career with my intelligence and skill! Why would you even BOTHER going to university or college if you don’t want/can’t be bothered/don’t have time to do the work?! I do understand that some people have difficulties structuring an essay, or with spelling and grammar and that is why I do offer a second pair of eyes to check work for errors. Editors serve a genuine purpose; so-called academic writers merely fuel dishonesty.


I had a quick flick through the scores of profiles of providers on Freelancer.com who claim to be ‘professional’ academic writers and boast about how they can improve student grades with their ‘well-researched, plagiarism-free content’. First off, that ‘professional’ tag really makes me feel sick. Professional? It’s anything but! Many of these people also claim to have bachelor degrees, Masters’ or PhDs. They could be lying, of course (and I suspect many are), but – vis a vis my comment above – I just don’t understand why anyone who has studied for and passed a qualification of any sort would want to be accomplice to a student cheat. It’s not even well paid (see below)! Unless of course the only way these so-called academics got their degree was through cheating themselves…

Essay writing agencies

A quick Google search for essay writing companies came up with LOADS of companies offering this service. The sheer number seriously blew my mind – and, my god, they’re so cheap! From as little as $15 USD, students can receive a ‘standard quality’ assignment within a few days!

How do they get away with it?! Some proffer a disclaimer stating that the essays provided are not to be submitted as students’ own work, but to be used for ‘research purposes only’ or to ‘help students with essay structure’. Pah, come off it! EssayTyper.com, a website that automatically creates an essay on your chosen subject using Wikipedia says, “EssayTyper uses a patented combination of magic and wikipedia to help you write your essay – fast! That said, please don’t ever try to use this legitimately. The magic part is not real… and that’s plagiarism.” Still, I wonder how many kids have turned in homework using this ‘handy’ tool?!

Cheating dialogueSome companies openly convince students that it is not cheating to submit an essay that they have not written themselves. I posed as a student needing ‘help’ and logged into the Live Chat function at essayforme.com to ask if I could buy a biology essay.  “We would be glad to do it” said ‘James’. But isn’t it cheating? “No it is not. The paper is 100% custom written and never again used or sold”, I am reassured.

Elsewhere on the same site, a banner tells me, “Don’t waste your time! Order top paper [sic]!”, and “rest assured that you will get non-plagiarized paper [sic] written from scratch according to your instructions.” Essaysprofy.com says “our main aim to help students in getting good grades [sic].” (Incidentally, the grammatical errors in the companies’ own websites don’t inspire much confidence!)

In response to the FAQ “Is this plagiarism?”, Write-my-essay-for-me.com even asserts that “Plagiarism involves the theft of somebody else’s work. You hire us to write original work for you, and that is exactly what we do. There is nothing plagiaristic about our service.” What?! Yes, plagiarism involves theft of someone else’s work, but that’s not all! Even using someone else’s work WITH their consent, and passing it off as your own IS plagiarism and WILL get you in trouble if you are caught!

Are you a student who has used, or considered using an essay writing service? Why did you do it? What results did you get? Did you feel bad about it?

Are you a writer for an essay writing company? How do you justify your role?

Do you work for a university or college and help to tackle plagiarism issues? What are your thoughts on essay writing services?

I’d love to receive comments on this matter – am I the only one who understands the real definition of plagiarism?

Now now, NOW Magazine!

10 05 2011

First of all, sorry that I haven’t written anything for a long while, and sorry that my second blog, focussed solely on freelancing, hasn’t yet properly materialised! After learning that I was to be made redundant from the publishing company I work for, I was all set and ready to freelance full time – but then, out of the blue (and annoyingly, just after I’d had a batch of business cards printed up!), I was offered a permanent job with a med comms company that was too good to turn down! I start my new job on Monday, so things have been quite manic trying to wrap up my old job amidst an unusually hectic social calendar! Freelancing has taken a back seat for now, but I will try to get the blog back on track again!

Anyway, back to the subject of this blog post.

If you’re a Facebook user, you’ll notice that the adverts that appear on your pages are quite often cleverly targeted to whatever you have been writing about on your Wall. Over the last few weeks, I’ve attended two hen parties and was a bridesmaid at my friend’s wedding, so of course the ads on my Facebook page have been all related to rings, dresses, cakes and wedding photography. Then, just yesterday, a friend posted, “Health kick has begun! 15K run and only one chocolate bar consumed today!” Ever since I congratulated her on her efforts, I’ve had sports and dieting-relating ads appear on Facebook – and it’s one of those ads that I want to talk about today because it’s got me rather riled!

The offending advert is this one; “Cheryl Cole Loses 19lbs”. Even without clicking the link, the advert has got me mad – Cheryl Cole is TINY and I rather suspect that the advert text is not only misleading but also factually incorrect. Intrigued, I decided to click the link in the advert, and was directed to a NOW Magazine article that discusses how between them, the 5 members of British girl band Girls Aloud allegedly lost 36lbs in weight. Weirdly, the article doesn’t mention “these 2 old diet tips” proffered in the advert, though the page is loaded with miracle diet-related Google ads, and even more oddly, the NOW article was from 2006!

Immediately getting on my soapbox, I wrote to NOW Magazine and pointed out the many inaccuracies and misleading titbits quoted in the article.  For starters, the Facebook ad claims that our Cheryl lost 19lbs in weight; the NOW article says she lost 14lbs. More seriously, I felt that NOW Magazine were glamourising Cheryl and her bandmates’ unnecessary weight loss (and it is at this point that I should point out I don’t know if the figures quoted are even true or not!). According to the article, 5 ft 3 in Cheryl has gone from 9 stone to 8 stone, and suggests that the higher weight was unhealthy. In fact, for Cheryl’s height, both 9 stone and 8 stone are well within the “healthy” Body Mass Index (BMI) bracket.

Even more worrying were the weight loss figures quoted for her bandmates Sarah Harding and Nadine Coyle, both of whom have reportedly lost 7lbs. However, at 5 ft 6 in and 5 ft 5 in respectively, both Sarah and Nadine’s starting weights were at the lower end of the “healthy” BMI bracket, and their alleged weight loss has now put them in the “underweight” category. Despite this, Nadine Coyle is reported as saying that she still feels she has “curves” – which we all know is magazine-speak for “fat”. This is not something that I feel a woman’s magazine should be promoting!

Though it is 5 years old, I am shocked and appalled that this article was even published in the first place. Many people, especially young girls, look up to Cheryl Cole and the other members of Girls Aloud, and it’s easy to see how these impressionable groups could be led to believe that 8 stone or less is “the perfect weight”, especially in the absence of any explanation of the Body Mass Index – a measure of how your weight is relative to your height. The article also fails to mention that many secondary factors can be attributed to weight – genetics, metabolism, muscle to fat ratios and gender, among other things, can all affect your weight and alter what an individual’s ideal weight should be.

The thing that angered me most about the article was not even the article itself, but rather the way in which I was made aware of the it – through a targeted Facebook advert that was presented to me on the grounds that I congratulated my friend Jenny on her running achievement and chocolate-avoiding will power. It appeared to me to be part of some highly unethical pay-per-click marketing campaign in which young Cheryl Cole fans would see the ad and think, “OMG! If Cheryl Cole needed to lose 19lbs then what does that mean for me?! What can I do about it?! Oh look, there seems to be a Google advert, conveniently placed directly underneath this article, that promotes a miracle diet cure! I’d better try it!” And just like that, NOW Magazine earns a few pence from the ad click, and another teenage girl becomes deluded – or anorexic, eating only rocket salad and balsamic vinegar, just like Kimberley Walsh.

But there’s a twist in this tale! I immediately fired off a complaint email to NOW Magazine and was surprised when, not less than a few hours later, I received a reply that said,

From: Now online
Sent: 10 May 2011 16:34
To: Lisa Martin
Subject: Re: Complaint about Facebook ad article link

Dear Lisa Martin
We do not have any Facebook ads and this article, as you say, is 6 years old so we are perplexed by your letter.

What Facebook ads please? Do you have a grab of one?

So I sent a screen grab and replied,


Well I’m somewhat comforted to learn that you don’t seem to know anything about this Facebook advert (though I still think the article is terribly written, even if it is 5 or 6 years old!), but please find attached a screen grab of my Facebook homepage (as of 5pm today) with the offending “ad” on the right hand side. The link directs to your article at http://www.nowmagazine.co.uk/celebrity-profiles/diets/230337/girls-aloud-s-diet-secrets/1/.

Would appreciate an update!



NOW Magazine sent a brief reply saying, “Will let you know. This is very odd”.

Very odd indeed! What’s going on here?!

The Trouble With Freelancer.com: Part II

31 03 2010

Please also see:

  • The Trouble With Freelancer.com
  • Freelancer.com: How to Spot Spam, Scams and Shams
  • 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.

    The trouble with Freelancer.com

    24 02 2010

    Please also see:

  • Is Freelancer.com a scam? (Part 1)
  • The Trouble With Freelancer: Part II
  • Freelancer.com: How to Spot Spam, Scams and Shams
  • As a relative newcomer to the world of freelancing, bidding sites such as People Per Hour and Freelancer.com are often very useful for me to find and bid on writing and editing projects. So far, I’ve actually found most of my freelance work through these sites. However, I have a major bugbear with Freelancer.com, in particular.

    Unlike People Per Hour (PPH), which charges both freelancer and buyer a fee to post and bid on projects, it is free for the buyer to post a project on Freelancer.com [edit: I’ve since found out this isn’t true; buyers pay a refundable $5 deposit – see the comments below!]. The successful freelance bidder is charged a minimum of $5 USD for being accepted for a project, and a further $1 for withdrawing funds to PayPal. Of course, because it is so cheap to post a project, there are a great deal more projects listed on Freelancer than on PPH. The quality of projects posted is also considerably lower.

    Although PPH is more expensive, I much prefer it because the buyers tend to be genuine individuals and companies who wish to outsource their work. At Freelancer.com, there are various problems. Firstly, many buyers openly exploit cheap labour from the developing world. Many will only recruit freelancers from India or the Philippines and as such, it is difficult for experienced, native English-speaking writers to be accepted for projects where the rate of pay is much more than $2 USD per 500 words.

    Secondly, there is a growing trend for “buyers” on Freelancer.com to ask for free samples of work from bidders. While I do understand that genuine buyers will want to assess the quality of the work that they will ultimately be paying for, a link to previously published work should be enough. What I suspect tends to happen is that the “buyer” will collect these free samples, cancel the project posting and disappear off into the sunset with a few tens or even hundreds of unique articles that he will then try to sell on or pass off as his own work when bidding on another project.

    Finally, although there are many other examples I could give, Freelancer.com seems to increasingly be a place where scammers can post their ads, with little risk. These often tend to be the type where someone says “I have money in my Freelancer.com account but cannot transfer it to Paypal because I’ve been blocked/I live in a country where there is no Paypal. I will pay you X amount into your Freelancer.com account if you transfer X amount into my Western Union/Moneybookers/indian bank account” etc. The freelancer is promised a vast profit with “no risk” because the buyer will pay a deposit up front. ha! Please go right ahead and pull the other one! Worryingly though, people actually bid on these “projects”!

    There is a “Report violation” button that users can click to report project postings or other freelancers for breaching Freelancer‘s terms and conditions, but I don’t think it should really be up to the users of the site. Freelancer.com need to be taking their own responsibility for the image and reputation of their business.

    I have written to Freelancer.com about this before and all I got in reply was a simple and very unsatisfactory, “Thank you for your suggestion, we are looking into it”. So today, after reporting yet another scam posting, I decided to try again. Here’s my email and I’ll let you know of any reply!

    Dear Freelancer.com,

    I have written to you about this before and received a very unsatisfactory “we’re looking into this” email. I have since seen no progress on this matter. The matter I am talking about is the problem of people posting scams on Freelancer.com. There have been many ads in recent months such as this one posted by user “getqualityconten”:

    I need an online sbi or icici account holder person who can earn regular cash for small help.
    My paypal is locked for some checking reason. I have money in gaf* account. I will send $50 in your gaf account and you need to send 1000 inr in my account. The process is very easy.

    I will send you first $25 and you have to send 1000/- instantly in my account then I will send remaining $25 in your account. So there is no risks for both of us…..and if this process goes fine then from the next transaction i will give you more than 1000/- profit. You can earn regular cash by this way. Thanks”

    My first point is that these postings are not genuine requests for freelancers. Freelancer.com is supposed to be a place where buyers can outsource their work to freelancers – this type of advert is not “work”. This also applies to the increasing number of people who try to sell articles that they have written (or more likely stolen from freelancers who have written free samples). This is not the place for sales.

    Secondly, this type of money exchange ad is often posted by “buyers” with no feedback. In the case of “getqualityconten”, he claims to have money in his Freelancer account – but how can this be unless he has transferred it there himself? According to his profile, he has not completed or even bid on any projects so logically, he cannot have received money. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a scam and I wonder why Freelancer.com do not do anything about it?

    In my mind, the answer is simple: each project posting must be checked and edited before it “goes live” to weed out the scammers. Not only the scammers, but people who post inadequately described projects – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to ask what the proposed word count is for a writing project (which, if I am to bid on a project is really quite a crucial piece of information!), so if there was some kind of editing before the advert was placed online, these kinds of careless errors would become extinct.

    Please could you do me a big favour and reply with a detailed account of how aware Freelancer.com is of the problems I have described above, and your proposals for what you plan to do about them. As a regular user of your site, I feel entitled to know how scrupulous a company you are and whether I should even bother with you in the future. I don’t want to help line the pockets of a company that is itself a big scam.


    Lisa Martin

    * Freelancer.com used to be known as GetAFreelancer.com, so many users still refer to it as GAF.

    Rise in students caught cheating

    3 02 2010

    I use AOL email, for my sins. It’s crap and doesn’t save old emails longer than a couple of months unless you specifically request to save an email into the saved items folder, which is something I’m always forgetting to do, but it syncs with Windows Mail and I’ve had my email address for so long that I don’t want to change it now. *Gasp*. Anyhoo, the AOL.co.uk homepage often has some very amusing tidbits of celebrity gossip and superbly sensationalistic “news” headlines. For instance, today I learned from said AOL home page that Katie Price/Jordan has got married in a Las Vegas ceremony to her cross-dressing, cage-fighting ex-Hollyoaks gonk Alex Reid. I learned yesterday about a body discovered in a flat above an Indian restaurant when blood started dripping through the ceiling – “about a spoonful”, the helpful restaurant owner estimated. It really is quality journalism.

    Anyway, one of AOL’s headline news items today was this one: Rise in Students Caught Cheating. Last year, 4500 pupils were allegedly punished or warned for cheating in a public school examination, which equates to 0.03% of exams being affected by cheating scumbags. Hardly enough to make a front page headline, I would have thought, but there you go. Perhaps it was a slow-news day for AOL as Jordan was having a day off.

    Surely, as long as there have been exams, there has been cheating. My dad once told me that he wrote some answers on the back of his ruler when he sat his Geography O-Level and that was ages ago. I’m not at all surprised that the number of cheaters isn’t higher, though. Firstly, a lot of the cheating that goes on is probably not reported. Teachers, wanting to do the best for their pupils, however rude or disruptive they might be, would rather quietly take the smuggled dictionary away than making a big scene and ruining that child’s chance to get the only GSCE he will ever pass. Secondly, especially regarding coursework, teachers often help their pupils a little bit more than they should, spelling out exactly what needs to be written in order to meet the marking criteria. Finally, of course, not every cheater gets caught. Two boys in different Chemistry classes, taught by two different teachers could very easily get away with handing in exactly the same coursework, and it’s simple to write a few notes inside of the novel for your English Literature exam.

    I hate this tendency among students to see what they can get away with. As a former teacher myself, I’ve seen – and disciplined – plenty of pupils who have handed in copied work, or passed notes during a class test. Perhaps because I’m quite the perfectionist myself, I hate cheating.

    Venturing into my newfound career as a freelancer, I am stunned by the number of school and even university students who pimp out their coursework and dissertations to writers on freelance job boards. Just this week I was invited to bid on a project, the title of which was “Need writer for my school essay which is plagarized” [sic]. In this instance, the ad had been deleted before anyone could bid, but I’m sure it goes undetected quite frequently. In fact, I’m ashamed to say, although I didn’t realise it at the time, that I’ve helped a student cheat myself.

    A while ago I responded to an advert on Freelancer.com in which the client said that he needed a ghostwriter for an anthology that he was compiling on different medical imaging techniques. The pay was very good and so I happily completed 4500 words on the development and use of Magnetic Resonance Imaging. I found it very interesting. It was only when he asked me to do a second project that looked suspiciously like a university lab report that I began to smell a rat. I had the foresight to google him and found that not only is he involved in some “cash gifting” scam, but also that he was a student of Biomedical Engineering at a top American college. His Facebook page also revealed that he likes a good keg party.

    Well, quite. Doesn’t everybody? But my view on cheating is quite clear. It’s wrong. Don’t do it. Examinations are supposed to measure your skills and abilities and it doesn’t really matter if you get an E or a C or an A – your grade is a reflection of you, and if it’s not as good as somebody else, so what? Cheating, if you get away with it, will get you an extra mark or two at most, and if you don’t get away with it, you could be excluded from sitting that exam altogether, faced with the prospect of being branded as a cheat. I worked hard for my GCSEs, my A-Levels and my degree and people who spend too much time partying to do their own work, or who are too busy scamming the pants off people, or who just can’t be bothered to study properly shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.

    What Would Martin Lewis Do?

    9 11 2009

    I’ve been a big fan of Martin Lewis, the Money Saving Expert for quite some time. If you don’t already receive his weekly email, I strongly recommend it. Sign up here. He’s made it easy for the general public to understand finance – something that many people are in the dark about – and is educating us in the ways of consumer activism. Retailers don’t always play fair, and consumers don’t always know their rights. With this in mind, I did a little bit of complaining today, for the good of the people.

    Whilst checking my personal emails at lunchtime today, I came across a marketing email from a Volkwagen dealership, asking me to test drive a new VW Polo. There’s nothing unusual about that. I get quite a lot of these emails since I had a spate of “comping” a while back so my email address is no doubt on quite a few mailing lists. What was intriguing about this email was that, for such a large corporation as Wolkswagen, the email was incredibly poor and broke several fundamental rules of e-marketing. The sender had not included an “unsubscribe” option and worse, the recipients of the email had not been blind-copied, meaning that everyone who received the email could see the email address of everyone else it was sent to. Finally, and in my humble opinion, the worst thing of all, was that the spelling was atrocious.

    So, I did what Martin Lewis would do and complained, not only to Volkswagen directly, but also to the sender – and copied in everyone else on the list. Here’s the letter.

    “Dear Mr Uxxxxx,

    Firstly, please be advised that I have written to your office to raise a formal complaint about the email, below, which I received from you today. There is strict legislation regarding what can and can’t be done in mass mailing of this type and it seems that you are entirely unaware of these rules. I appreciate that there are certain companies that sell people’s contact information for marketing purposes, and I realise that at some point in the past I may have left myself open to being included on one of these lists by erroneously not ticking the “Please do not contact me” box when filling in an online form, etc. That said, I have no idea who you are, have no interest in Alan Day VW and did not ask to be kept informed of your news. This email is completely unsolicited, and further breaks the law by not having an “unsubscribe” option.

    Secondly, your mail contained attachments. While these may well have been harmless pictures of Volkswagen cars, forgive me for exercising caution in opening these attachments – owing to the nature of the spam you have sent me. If this was indeed a virus, you could have just infected the entire network of some 500 or more machines at my workplace seeing as I used a company computer to read the mail.

    Finally, and in my eyes the most importantly, you have not blind copied the recipients of this email, i.e. the email addresses of every recipient are visible to every other recipient. Again, this breaks legislation. At the very least you have now opened us all up to even more unsolicited spam, as well as being in breach of the Data Protection Act and putting our online security at risk. You will notice that I have “replied to all” so that the other people who received your mail might also take action. (To those people, please ignore/delete as you see fit – I won’t be spamming you or using your email addresses again, but this is something that I feel very strongly about and I hope you will also report this matter!)

    I look forward to an explanation and apology (you may just reply to me this time instead of bothering everyone else again!)

    Regards, although not kind ones,

    Lisa Martin”

    I regret slightly the “unkind regards”, but hey I was in the flow.

    Over the course of the day, I received several emails from people on the mailing list congratulating me on my efforts, which was nice. Later in the day I received a telephone call from Mr. U who personally apologised (I think he must have got into a lot of trouble!). Later still, I received an email from the managing director of the dealership, and this is what he said.

    “Dear Customer,

    I am writing to sincerely apologise for the unapproved actions of one of my Sales Executives earlier today which may have offended you or caused you to call into question the very strict Data Protection policies that the AXXX DXX VW Group has in place.

    I would like to confirm and reassure you that this incident was isolated and the Sales Executive concerned will be dealt with internally upon the results of a full investigation due to be held this week. I would also like to assure you that all data held by the AXXX DXX Group is dealt with in the strictest of confidence and that new measures have been put in place today to prevent any such incident occurring in the future.

    As a gesture of goodwill and by way of apology for any distress or inconvenience caused, I would like to offer you two complimentary cinema tickets for a film of your choice. If you would like to accept this offer, I would be grateful if you could email or telephone my PA, DXXXX HXXXXXXXX.

    [Telephone no. and email supplied]

    I would like to thank you on behalf of myself and my team for the interest that you have shown in the new VW Polo and sincerely hope that this incident will not prevent you from considering this excellent vehicle as your first choice in the future.

    Apologies once again,

    Yours faithfully

    Managing Director, AXXX DXX VW Group”

    Well! Free cinema vouchers just for a little complaint letter! Yeah!

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