Avoiding Scams as a
by Peggy Deland
Like most work-at-home opportunities, freelance writing is a hotbed for Internet
scammers. Most scams target new writers who are trying to establish themselves,
and are easily spotted if you know what to look for. Scammers are usually after
one of two things: someone to write for free, or sales of a product "guaranteed"
to improve your chances at getting work as a writer.
Websites and Job Listings
Watch out for marketing language, especially if the site doesn't look professional. Websites that claim you can "make thousands each week, working part-time from home" are always scams. These sites aren't trying to hire you; they're trying to sell you something. The most common product is a poorly-written e-book that gives you a little basic information on working as a freelance writer -- information that is widely available, for free, on the Internet. Some don't even bother with an e-book, and instead try to sell you a list of job opportunities. Often, these sites will try to give you the impression that you're buying a job rather than information..
Job listings that appear to be overpaid aren't necessarily scams. Print
magazines, for example, often pay in excess of $1.00 a word. A few content sites
pay hundreds of dollars per assignment. These are not easy assignments, and the
hourly rate often winds up being as low -- if not lower -- than a contract that
pays five cents per word. Genuine highly-paid contracts either don't advertise
their rate of pay, or address it matter-of-factly -- even as an afterthought.
They don't assault you with bolded, flashing text that screams "Make thousands
of dollars each week in your spare time!"
Beware of any website or job listing that claims "anyone can do it" or "write
about anything you want". This is especially true if the site claims a high
payout. The reality of freelancing is that your writing must meet your client's
needs if you want to be paid for it. Job listings like this are almost
Several websites offer lists of known scams. Try doing a Google search for the
website or client's name, along with the word "scam". In most cases, you should
be able to find the information you need.
Unpaid Samples and Test Assignments
Unpaid writing samples are often a way for unscrupulous website owners to get
free content. Almost any client should be happy to see previously published
work. There are exceptions to this; some clients require a very specific writing
style and have an unpaid test assignment. Look for signs that the test
assignment is the same one for every writer who applies. For example, if it's
posted on the website, or the email with the assignment was sent to several
people, you probably have nothing to worry about. After all, who needs 20 copies
of an article on the same subject?
If you're still not sure, you can protect yourself by clearly documenting that
an unpaid sample or test assignment belongs to you. The easiest way to do this
is to include a disclaimer stating that the article is provided as a sample only
and may not be used without your authorization. If you have the necessary
software, you can send writing samples as a PDF file. An unscrupulous client
cannot cut and paste the text from a PDF file without using special tools, and
most won't bother.
If you find that someone used your work without your permission, you do have
recourse. Start by sending a "cease and desist" letter to the site's owner. If
there's no contact information on the website, you can do a WHOIS search. In
most cases, this will give you contact information for the site owner, as well
as the company that hosts the site.
The "cease and desist" letter should inform the owner that you hold the
copyright for the article in question, and that you will take
if the article is not removed by a certain date. If the article isn't removed,
the next step is to contact the hosting company. Most hosting companies will
require the content to be removed, and if the site owner doesn't comply, they
will pull the plug on the entire site. If both steps fail -- which is very rare
-- you can pursue legal action against the owner of the website.
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