8 Work-at-Home Scams Every Freelance Writer Should Be Aware Of

common work-at-home scams

If you’re a freelance writer, you likely feel the pressure to always have your next gig lined up, especially if you’re just getting started in your writing career. However, that drive to always have work can make you a potential target for scammers.

Here are eight common work-at-home scams you should be aware of.

The flatterer

A smooth talking individual reaches out to you full of praise for your blog, your resume, or your social media posts. They insinuate they work with a publisher of some kind and want you to write a book, host a YouTube channel, or something else that promises exposure, pay, and prestige. You’ve never heard of this person before, but you’re flattered. Only hours or days of work into the process are you told that you’ll need to invest your own money to make the project happen.

Don’t fall for this one. It’s a scam, and it’s not worth your time. If someone wants you to write a book, they should pay you – not the other way around.

The startup

common work at home scams

An excited and energetic individual reaches out to you. They are part of a new business and they would love for you to do some of the writing for this startup. It’s sure to be a huge success! Unfortunately, they don’t have the money to pay for your services right now, so they promise you a portion of their sales and profits instead.

Unless you personally know the entrepreneur, you shouldn’t trust this scheme. You’ll likely never hear from them again once you’ve done your portion of the “launch” and the names and contact info they gave you (and probably even the business name) will turn out to be fake.

Samples or free work?

This is a common scam. You’ll be asked for a few original samples. They don’t necessarily need to be very long, but the job you’re writing for will be a high-paying one, so you provide high-quality samples. Then you never hear back from the individual again. Chances are that they were never after the work you applied to do but just needed a few short blog posts.

You should have a portfolio and some samples you can provide for every job you apply to. This should be enough to showcase the quality of your work without having to write a completely original piece of content.

Writing for exposure

If you have the opportunity to write for the Huffington Post or Mashable, writing for exposure instead of pay is definitely worth your best efforts. However, some scams suggest their platforms have millions of visitors a day and the exposure and backlinks you’ll receive are well worth your time. Do your research, as these claims are easy to check. You might just find the website you’re posting to receives only a dozen views a month, and these are probably from the scammer collecting new “original” posts for his own content.

Writing contests

writing contest scams

When you start your writing career, you won’t be landing high-paying gigs right away, and that’s what makes contest scams so appealing. Here’s an opportunity to validate your writing while earning a huge cash prize at the same time.

Enter a Writing Contest to Challenge Yourself in 2016

Before you spend your time crafting that story for a contest, do some research and make sure it’s legitimate. You should also be wary of any contest that claims ownership of your work once submitted.

Stealing personal information scam

You’ve landed an awesome gig and already submitted your first piece and invoice. Your client requests your personal banking information in order to process a payment or sends you a link requesting the same thing. These are red flags! Anybody who runs a company accepting work online should be familiar with PayPal, which is a safe way to receive payment without compromising your personal information.

Paid job databases

There are quite a few job databases out there to help you find freelance work. You don’t have to pay to access these. If you come across a job board that requires a paid subscription to access the job listings, stop and think about what you’re doing. You don’t have to pay to look for work.

The overpayment scam

The last scam is a big one, because it won’t just mean substantial financial losses for you, but could also spell potential legal trouble. A client sends you an old-fashioned paper check for thousands more than you agreed to. Then they request you cash the check and wire the overpayment back to them. Freelance writers aren’t the only targets for this particular scam. Either the check bounces and you end up owing your bank for those funds, or you’re taking part in a money laundering scam of some kind. This process is always fishy. Tell your client that you shredded the check and request payment in the correct amount, via PayPal.

These are some of the most common work-at-home scams. It is important to note, though, that not everything similar to the situations above are scams. This article is meant to make you aware of the potential dangers.

This post was written by Kelly Smith, who works at CourseFinder, an Australian online education resource. She also provides career advice for students and job seekers and is passionate about the Australian startup scene.


8 responses
  1. Emerald Lavender Avatar

    This article has some solid advice!

  2. k Avatar

    You say that you should not pay to find jobs yet you have links to paid job websites. Hypocritical

    1. Noemi Tasarra-Twigg Avatar
      Noemi Tasarra-Twigg

      Those are red flags, but not every site like that is a scam. As the conclusion of the article says, “It is important to note, though, that not everything similar to the situations above are scams. This article is meant to make you aware of the potential dangers.”

      At the end of the day, due diligence is up to the job seeker.

  3. Lisa Jo Rudy Avatar

    Yeah, I’d say a lot of these situations are case-by-case. I’ve more than once been asked to create samples because the client is looking for the ability to do something very specific (can you really create assessments for grade 12 social studies using multiple levels of Bloom’s taxonomy?). Even if I have samples that are similar, they may be for grade 4… for a totally different subject. If the project and the client are known quantities, I usually say Yes.

    Back in the day, everything was in print and it was rare that I couldn’t share (though even then if it was a grant proposal it was not shareable). Now, it’s often the case the while I HAVE samples I can’t share them because of non-disclosure agreements, etc. In addition, a lot of what I produce is now hiding behind clients pay-for-access portals!

    The pay for access gig sites are weird to me: I’ve paid for Flexjobs, and all the work is legit — but somehow I’ve done MUCH better from sites like yours than from Flexjobs… no idea why…


    1. Noemi Tasarra-Twigg Avatar
      Noemi Tasarra-Twigg

      You’re right about the situations being on a case-by-case basis. Disclosure: Flexjobs is a partner, and yes, they are legit. There are also other sites like them, so what I’m saying (and said before), due diligence is necessary. I am glad to hear that you have had a great experience with sites like ours. We do our best to screen ads, but we can’t give a guarantee for the external links. Thanks for dropping by and sharing, Lisa.

  4. Ehsan Dannouf Avatar

    It was a nice article; thanks a lot!

  5. Lem Enrile Avatar

    When I was a newbie freelance writer, I was once a victim of those write-an-original-post sample. I emailed the “employer” a few times asking the result of my application, since my written post was already live. “Employer” never replied.

    1. Noemi Tasarra-Twigg Avatar
      Noemi Tasarra-Twigg

      I’m sorry to hear that happened to you. This is indeed one of the most common scams, that is why it’s always better to have an online portfolio or a pool of URLs to show as samples. Unless they agree to pay for the sample (better yet, half upfront and then half upon submission), it’s best to decline such requests.

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