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Avoiding Scams as a Freelance Writer
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 invariably scams.

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
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further measures 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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