Scam Or Legit Freelance Writer Job? 10 Things to Spot


May 23, 2018
If you’re new to the freelance, work-from-home scene, then you have to be ready for your fair (or unfair, as the situation always is) share of scams. The ideal situation is that you will never be scammed, but sadly, shady people out there are always looking to fool freelancers in need of income. Transitioning from a traditional office job with its rigid structure and rules to the more flexible, be-your-own-boss scenario of freelancing does have its perks, but risks are always involved.

When I first started freelancing a decade ago, I’ve had several “clients” disappear all of a sudden without paying me, right after I’ve sent them articles I’ve written. Then there were those who suddenly gave me new tasks and responsibilities I didn’t sign up for, or were not in our initial agreement (known to us in the freelancing industry as “scope creep”).

It may seem daunting, but experience has taught me how to spot a legit freelance client from a sham one. I made a list of ten things you should be on the lookout for if you find yourself wondering about a new potential client, and hopefully it helps you steer clear of the fraudulent ones.

1. There is no way to verify the company’s existence

A legit company usually encourages freelancers to reply to their ads using their company name and email address, phone number, and a URL to their website. It’s like upfront advertising on their legitimacy and professionality.

Based on my experience, answering ads on Craigslist for writers isn’t something I would recommend to freelancers. Not that all those who advertise there are scammers, but Craigslist makes it impossible to know the identity of the company or employer right off the bat. This, in turn, makes it impossible for you to perform a background check if they are legit or not.

One of the best ways to get a freelance client (again, basing it on my own experience, as well as people I know) is to get a referral or verification from a trusted source. These could be from freelance forums, your own freelance network, or professional network platforms like LinkedIn.

2. There is a website, but it looks suspect

Checking if a company is legit typically involves looking up their website if they have one. Sure there might be one, but it doesn’t really tell you anything about what their business is all about. Again, if the contact info doesn’t bear the company’s name, domain, or has a personal email address in it, steer clear because it’s not worth the risk. Another red flag would be missing web pages - either their web maintenance team is really lazy, or there’s really nothing to reveal in those pages.

Things you can look for in a potential client’s website include a portfolio of clients or investors, client testimonies, a social media presence (more on this later), an About Me page that really tells what they are all about, a physical address (office building, suite number, etc.) with a map, a list of their products or services, and maybe a “meet the team” feature that doesn’t look like the headshots were bought from a stock photo website.

3. They called you; you didn’t call them

Unless you have the blogger presence of someone like the Kardashians, chances are people won’t reach out to you to offer you a job out of nowhere. I’m not negating the possibility of a company with dedicated headhunters to look for promising writers, because some of them do (and especially if you have a reputation for being good at what you do). However, if you get a call out of nowhere offering you a job you have to accept right away, and they won’t reveal how or from whom they got your contact info, then that’s a huge warning sign.

4. The work promises to be easy but with a high income

You know what they say - if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is. Virtual assistant jobs usually promise this. You get visions of basic data entry, answering emails, or even doing the online version of licking stamps and envelopes, then sitting back to collect your cash. Instead, you will likely find yourself immersed in a shady pyramid scheme or something similar.

“Easy” jobs that pay “big” money are rare, if not downright fake. There is a reason that legit companies have applications and requirements for potential hires, including CVs, background checks, and a portfolio of past works. Your skills and experience should really be the gauge for how much a client is willing to pay you.

5. The employer doesn’t ask for an application, CV, sample work, or an interview

Asking a writer for their CV, work history, and a writing folio first is par for the course, and are considered best practices in the freelance industry. There may be exceptions to this rule, though.

It’s perfectly fine if you’ve worked with the client before, because they will have your resume and sample works (along with an employee history) already on file. However, if someone out of the blue whom you’ve never worked with advertises for a freelance writer without asking for sample work, a CV, or schedules an interview, it should make you wonder what they are really looking for.

Which brings us to...

6. You’re instantly hired and you’re not sure why

This is a huge, glowing, flaming red flag. It simply means they need someone to do their shady work for them, ASAP.

I’ve had someone in the past suddenly hire me because they found my posting on a job site, and assured me that my public CV was enough to convince them that I’m the perfect fit for the job. It turned out they wanted to see if they can scam several free sketches from me for their hokey meditation book’s cover (after seeing me list “drawing and painting” under interests and hobbies). This was on top of asking me to write bogus testimonies about their New Age business.

7. You are asked to invest in a “training kit” before you can work for them

This should really be filed under freelancer common sense, because you’re looking for a job to get paid, not pay them in the first place.

Unfortunately, desperate job-seekers have been falling too often for those scammers asking for a payout before they are hired, or to buy certain products or “kits” they will need to do their tasks. It doesn’t make sense, and it’s really not worth the time and effort to investigate how legitimate these kits and products are if it means shelling out money for them.

8. When you Google the company’s name with the word “scam”, and you get results

This is a sneaky way to investigate, but it will help you immensely in the long run. Many freelance bloggers have experienced being scammed and have retaliated in the best way they know how - by writing about their experience, and naming the scammers outright. Their knowledge of SEO and keywords will help you weed away those potential scammers if you just type in their company (or employer) name plus the word “scam” or “lawsuit”. If results show up, then you’ll know better than to even entertain them.

9. The company or employer gets negatively reviewed in freelance forums

Aside from looking up potential scammers via Google or the Better Business Bureau, you can ask around on freelance forums for legitimacy, as well as other people’s experiences. Chances are, since scammers usually look for freelancers they can fool then discard, they will always strike again in the same place, This means there’s a huge possibility of someone in the forum who’s gone through it and will be willing to share their cautionary tales.

A note of discretion, though. In doing this, you have to be discerning about true complaints regarding the client in question, versus a disgruntled former employee who only wants to bad-mouth the employer for personal reasons.

10. They have no social media presence whatsoever

Nowadays, it’s almost criminal for any business to not have a Facebook page, Instagram account, or Twitter account to keep their customers constantly updated. Reviews and feedback are very telling, so avoidance of social media is equally as telling. Social media sites and apps are free, so how come they aren’t taking advantage of them to get more clients and online presence?

The verdict?

This list is by no means an exhaustive one that can guarantee you will never be scammed as a freelancer, but the things mentioned are based on my experience as a full-time freelance writer (as well as some freelancer friends’ experiences). It’s a good practice to use tools like Google and your membership to freelance forums to help you weed them out.

Your turn!

Have you ever been fooled by a freelance client? How did you bounce back from it, and what steps did you take to avoid being in the same situation again? We’d like to hear your feedback.
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: nebojsa60


May 24, 2018
I could not more fully agree. I had someone hire me on the spot. No interview. No questions on my credentials. Just here you go. I got a check and called Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo checked on the check over the phone and found the check was forged. I was told either throw the check away or go to the police. I ended up tearing up the check. In the end, I learned to be aware of instant internet jobs.


Bronze Wordsmith
Apr 16, 2018
I could not more fully agree. I had someone hire me on the spot. No interview. No questions on my credentials. Just here you go. I got a check and called Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo checked on the check over the phone and found the check was forged. I was told either throw the check away or go to the police. I ended up tearing up the check. In the end, I learned to be aware of instant internet jobs.
Being paid by check for online work would have been a red flag for me alone. I have never in over my 1 decade of working online had anyone try to pay me by check. I will gladly let PayPal pocket their 2% fee and get paid instantly instead.


Jun 21, 2018
I've had good success with Upwork and Peopleperhour, but I didn't like Fiverr. Too many scammers there, so even if you're legit, employers don't tend to treat you seriously.