Freelance Scams to Watch Out For on Online Job Marketplaces

Editors Note: This is a continuation from last weeks piece about oDesk vs Elance: Why It’s A Battle YOU Won’t Win. This guest post has been submitted anonymously. Quality contractors can be found on either, or all platforms. And a dedicated freelancer may find a great client after many proposals. In order to find happiness, you must be able to navigate through the BS. This piece dives into a few freelance scams, and what you should do to avoid them.  

Companies and contractors have both tried to scam each other through online freelance marketplaces. There are many reports of shoddy workmanship, clients who have glowing reviews but turn out trash, and companies that use misleading language or outright trickery to make a contractor do work for way too little or beyond the scope of the job. Here are some of the things to watch for from either side so you don’t get burned:

Contractors love clear job descriptions. They also love descriptions that don’t involve a lot of boilerplate text. They look for things like:

  • Type of job (ebook, white paper, logo creation, programming)
  • Scope of the job (word count, image size, video length)
  • Subject of the job (fiction, non fiction, pressure washing)
  • Expected turnaround time
  • The amount they’re willing to pay
  • The types and amount of samples they want
  • Anything that is unreasonable or speaks of a client getting burned in the past

They also want to examine the previous jobs they’ve awarded and the sort of feedback the company has received. If a client is evasive about any of these things, that should send up a warning flag. Unfortnately, sometimes you find a job posting like this:

“Hi, i want to SEO my site.”

No joke. This was a proposal placed on Elance. Only an extremely experienced freelancer who has an interest in educating their clients would want to take this sort of job. Probably not for cheap either. Time spent educating clients about the niceties of writing, programming, or whatever service your providing reduces billable hours.

One outright freelance writing scam that happens often is when a customer requests a special sample that’s similar to the work being requested. This is called “writing on spec”, and it’s a sign that your potential client is trying to get you to do the work for free. Keep an eye out for this!

Here’s an example of a client asking for spec work:

Hello Writers! Need some unique article writers to join my team… You must be ready to write a given sample article to prove yourself. So please bid accordingly because I am going award this job to multiple writers if found good skills. Only serious bidders please because I don’t want to waste my time not even yours. Thanks.

Notice that the client is trying to hire multiple writers, and is giving a writing test using a topic of his own. While this is sometimes a legitimate response to getting burned, most of the time it’s a scam.

Freelancing sites run on reputation. As contractors complete jobs they get ratings and reviews. This makes them more attractive for future jobs. Landing that first job can be quite difficult. Unfortunately, some companies know this and take advantage of a new contractor’s naiveté and eagerness to get their foot in the door.

Here’s a good example of this:

Hello. If you are new to Elance but not to article writing, then this might be your chance to make quick money and gain positive feedback! I’d prefer Native English Writers for obvious reasons. I’m looking for newbies from any part of the world capable of writing in excellent English with a fast turn around… In your proposal, please state how many 500 word articles you can draft in a day (strictly 24 hour time limit)… Please do not bid if – you cannot adhere to deadlines set, you tend to back off from projects at the last minute, cannot write in impeccable English and use spinning and automated software. I’m potentially looking for a long term contractor i can trust. I’m on a budget and cannot afford for more than $1 an article, inclusive of Elance prices.

This job poster wants a native English speaker to write as many 500 word articles as they can in a day for a dollar per article. That’s an absolutely insulting rate. Even semi-pro prices normally run for 2.5 cents per word, or $12.50 per article. The fact that they won’t even cover Elance fees, normally 8.75% of what the contractor would get, is just icing on the cake.

Notice that this company has a laundry list of things to avoid. This shows that the company has been burned in the past by bad contractors, but with that rate the company will never get the level of writer that they’ll need. Many companies hide their “screw you” card up their sleeve until after you’ve accepted the job. The big reason why these companies treat freelancers like this is that they don’t understand that it’s not a boss-employee relationship, but a meeting of equals. They also equate outsourcing with “cheap exploitable labor” and act accordingly. What else can go wrong? Here’s a story of a freelance writer who got burned by three different clients.

As a contractor, it’s depressing to see insulting, low-wage, and unclear jobs being offered again and again over these freelancing sites. But the sad state of freelancing on the big sites isn’t just the fault of greedy, ignorant companies. In our next post we’ll look at what the companies have had to deal with in their search for competent freelancers.

What other freelance scams are out there? Have you been burned before? Let us know in the comments below.

10 Responses to “Freelance Scams to Watch Out For on Online Job Marketplaces”
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