Who Are The Privacy Policies of iWriter.com and Freelancer.com Really Protecting?

Freelance Nightmare: The story of how I was duped out of $1000 dollars — And even after doing the legwork to identify the culprit, these multi-million dollar websites chose to protect the scammer rather than assist me.

Work online they said..
It will be fun they said…

For over five years now I have been employed online working in the content space. I got my start in 2012 as a content writer and gradually grew my career from there.

I was lucky enough, up until now, to only encounter good people and legitimate work. Over the last few years I have also found myself becoming an advocate for the online economy, and a mentor who helps other people monetize their skills and passions to achieve, the much coveted “freedom lifestyle”.
 
Now, anyone who works in the “digital space” specifically in the area of digital marketing knows that there is a shady side to the industry. A corner of the online entrepreneurship world, is dedicated to “work from home” scams, fraudulent schemes, and people with absolutely no ethics at all doing whatever they can to make money… no, take money, from those who are authentically trying to make a go of it selling their skills and talents online.

Freelance contractors who work in the areas of web development, design, copywriting, content networking, social media marketing etc. are often the target of these schemes — simply because this is where they sell their services.

It is rare that you would encounter someone working online with any one of these skill sets who has not been taken in by a “fake opportunity” — used, abused and then ditched without pay.

Sadly, very often they also do not have any way to protect themselves or seek reprimand. Often, they are left — with their work published on the web for all the world to see — and they will never be compensated for it. Someone else, of course will benefit financially as most of these projects relate to digital marketing and the promotion of someone else’s products or services.

And although, some may argue that the only way to protect yourself from these scams is to have very strict routines in how you obtain work, get hired and are paid — anybody who has actually worked in the freelance space knows that -
 
 Contracts are not always useful
 Getting paid upfront is not always possible

And how people find and hire you is not always conventional…

Therefore, in order to be successful at “working online” you also have to have a certain understanding of how obtaining, hiring and paying procedures are managed and take each situation or “opportunity” that comes your way with a certain benefit of the doubt.

At least, for me this has always been my understanding of it.

Yes, there are scams and the risk of being taken is often high but if you are careful in your approach and tread lightly more often than not you can protect yourself.

In fact, I was actually part of the camp of people who believed that only people who were being “swindled” were those who did not behave cautiously enough or who acted desperately and took on high risk projects decorated with red flags.
 
That was of course, until I, someone with over 5 years of experience working in this arena was taken myself.

Here is what happened:

I was contacted by an individual through my website, who found my profile on a Freelancing website called Upwork. Although, I don’t typically apply for freelance work on websites like this anymore I do like to keep my profiles and portfolios active on these websites because it does occasionally lead to quality work. 
 
This is now, anyways — when I first started out Upwork ( while it was still Elance.com ) was my main bread and butter. In fact, I owe the SEO content writing job, that landed me a full time writing position at an online marketing agency based out of California, for much of my experience and training in the content marketing space. Had I not been actively seeking work on this freelancing website, back then, I never would have encountered the vessel of opportunity that led me to where I am now. And I would like to include this in the narrative because, my experience working as a freelancer and saying yes to opportunities that I encountered on a freelancing website — like Elance — was previously something that I owed much gratitude to.

So, when I was contacted by an individual looking for a bulk amount of content writing work, to be paid by the hour, weekly — at a rate of $30 USD, who said they were a “fan” of my writing and that they had checked out my portfolio, it did not seem peculiar at all. They informed me that the type of content they were looking for was SEO strategized website copy for commercial business websites, some short Ebooks for opt in funnels, sales pages, lead page copy and the odd Amazon product description or review for affiliate websites. The individual contacting me, was English speaking, worked in similar capacities as myself and said that they had accumulated enough quality writing work to sustain more than one person.

It wasn’t a “red flag” situation at all, it sounded legitimate and I was surprised by their personableness. I thought, scammers don’t do “small talk”…

I want to share this part of it also because, often when we think shady or we think fraud — we also think unsophisticated. I understand now that this was actually very sophisticated and sort of a woo-ing process to put my guard down. The freelance contractor equivalent of being romantically cat fished.

My mental state at the time, also made me vulnerable to this scheme — as I am currently 7 months pregnant and expecting a baby early in the New Year. I had been hoping for something steady to come along, that would be simple easy work — with a fair amount of pay — that I could maybe even continue to do once the baby arrived. Although, I have professionally “outgrown” doing a lot of bulk SEO content spinning like this job, it isn’t something that I am unfamiliar with. I figured that at a rate of $30 per hour I could do this writing work for a few hours a day and then have some extra income coming in so that could build a nest egg for when the baby gets here and then perhaps, have some easy work to continue doing in the future.

I share this now, because as someone who previously believed that only un-savvy people who didn’t pay attention got taken in — I now see a very different side of the coin.

Perhaps, it was un-savvy of me to say yes to such a random opportunity and an unknown person coming my way. ..

However, like I am sure many other people out there have been in a similar situation where, like me they were in a personal situation and a state of mind making them more likely to say yes to anything that seemed promising.

It bothers me so much now looking back at a snippet of conversation with this individual where he assured me that I would not be taken advantage of. Where, I explained to him — my reason for agreeing to the terms of the project, being frank and honest that don’t typically stray from routine and ritual of receiving half of the entire project payment up front.

ah yes, where I directly questioned whether or not he would be ripping me off…

It was of course the promise of ongoing work — at a reasonable rate — that I didn’t have to “go out” and find for myself that lured me in.

In order to obtain this “glorious fruit” I would have to agree to “their” terms of the arrangement. As in any negotiation where someone is offering you something that anyone would find desirable.
 
They asked me to create an account on freelancer.com and download the time track application. They stated that THIS would be how we would trace my hours to assure that I was fair to “him” and did not run the clock. 
 
Secondly, he asked that I started work at 9 am during the day, providing him with 100% unique high quality articles. ( Ironic he was so concerned with my work ethics … huh? )

Again none of these things seemed peculiar and because his account said “payment verified” on the freelancer.com website, I believed that it would be more secure to begin work in this fashion; utilizing the application that screenshot all of your work and kept track of your hours — was actually a fair request. After all, I was as foreign to him as he was to me.
 I also was not unfamiliar with the process of building working relationships with people whom you connected with online. It truly was not unusual.

Until it was.

After working with this person for a week I inquired about when I could expect the first payment as he seemed satisfied with quality of work that I was providing.

He said, that just like with a “real job” payment would be staggered and therefore I could expect my first full payment every Friday, starting on the second Friday from when he hired me. This gave him over two weeks to wrack up hours from me. At the $30 USD rate per hour, I worked 32 hours and provided him with over 45 pieces of written content. When we had issues with the tracking app he asked me to send him personal memos citing my hours worked from start time to finish. The total invoice due was $961 USD — split into 3 invoices that were to be processed through the freelancer.com “verified payment” connected to his account. The day the first payment was “due” — I received an email from freelancer.com that there were no funds available. I then forwarded this “screenshot” to the individual — who proceeded to block me on Skype, close the job on Freelancer and disappeared.

Ghosted.

At first, I was calling this my freelance “ghost story” as it was a horrific turn of events and an unfortunate way for things to “end up” — that this individual who clearly targeted and took advantage of me, was to be lost to the world.
 
 I was ashamed to have fallen for it and was advised by many to sweep it under the rug and just “let it go” cut my losses.
 
However — too stubborn to do this and wondering, curiously, who else has fallen for an identical scam? — I decided that I would do a bit of sleuthing and see if I could figure out the real identity of this person.

I began my research with a simple plagiarism check on some of the first articles that I had written and submitted.

They were designed for the purpose of SEO and therefore, would likely be found on obscure websites that were eager to rank with Google and purchasing content “by all means possible” in order to be able to do this.
 
 Low and behold, using a plagiarism checker and by running simple Google searches with lines from the copy placed in quotations I was able to track down a handful of the copy pieces that that I had written.

As I suspected — and because the SEO world is weird and random — my “blogs” were being hosted on a bunch of really random websites and then back linking to specific business websites who were obviously employing some sort of “link building strategy”…

This is a side by side of my doc and where I was able to find this SEO article on a website. The owner of the website was the one we was willing to co-operate with me and tell me where he had purchased this article from, identifying iwriter.com as the source.
Another instance of my article live on someone’s website. This one is really random though, creates a backlink to a commercial real estate broker for medical professionals website. The website the article is on is actually an android phone review site. However, it was really easy to find. The website owner did not respond to any of my messages about where he obtained the article.

Not all of it made great sense — since SEO practices like this aren’t very helpful for ranking especially with Google’s latest algorithm updates — but still, I knew what I was looking at…

I also knew that if I contacted the individual who owned the websites where my content was published — they should be able to tell me who they purchased the writing from so I could confirm the identity of the person who I had been communicating with.

Just some simple sleuthing — a bit of detective work.

Not all of these websites were legitimate enough to be able to trace the owner.

When I did a whois.net search on the domain, they had been purchased with additional security in order to keep the website owner’s identity anonymous. This was for some — but not all of the websites — some, showed me the website owner’s name plain as day. My next step was to begin politely emailing them and sending them messages via social media asking if I could speak to them about their website and making it clear, I wasn’t after them — or the content — or anything of a threatening nature; instead I needed help identifying whom they had bought their “high quality” content from.

One individual, an owner of a website that hosted my content, was actually very kind and offered to help me without any question. He, said he had purchased “premium” valued articles from a website called iwriter.com from a qualified writer on that website and provided me with their username. There we had him!

My resolve was then to contact iwriter.com a seemingly legitimate content retail site. Let them know that one of their “qualified writers” was outsourcing premium jobs to other people and not actually completing the writing work himself or paying the people who he outsourced to. Since the website, claimed to be selling “premium” articles — the one’s I was being “hired” to write 1500–2000 words at $30 per article… i figured that they would be co-operative with me to avoid having attention to the website. I explained the situation and requested that they provide me with this individuals name and identity so that I could actual take legal recourse ( or at least publicly shame them ) on my own.

Super willing to help… NOT… here is iwriters.com response to my complaint.

They responded to me via an email — that it is against their privacy policy to release this person’s actual identity to me — that they were not liable for my losses — and then requested I co-operate with them providing them with proof “the screenshots” of me writing the content and a full list of all the articles I completed for “this” person. In order to make sure that my story was true before they removed them from the site.
 
Getting it straight; I was to help them, but they weren’t to help me at all beyond slapping him on the wrist and protecting his identity because their privacy policy says they should.
 
I sent another message to iwriters.com explaining, that I would be happy to prove that I was the one who wrote the articles. Thankfully, I had the screenshots from the freelancer.com app that would make it easy — but that I would also be sharing this story publicly as I did ( and still do) think that their privacy policy creates a vessel for fraud.

Now, you can do your own research into iWriter.com if you like. In fact I advise you do — but from my understanding people who write on that website need to be qualified as writers and business owners who purchase content from that website believe who they buy from, is who is writing. They also pay a mark-up on the content to the website — who takes a percentage from the writers and writers are ranked for a certain level of “pricing” based on the quality of article that they deliver. My writing was sold as “premium” so each longer article was sold for $30 USD

here is the pricing for iwriters.com — my article “as far as I know” was sold as Premium …

As someone who does understand the nature of the S.E.O content writing industry I can see “why” and how this is all supposed to function.

But also, as someone who has a much deeper understanding of the virtual economy and how MANY PEOPLE will be abused by this system am now a vocal skeptic.
 
Additionally, because the privacy policy here favours the protecting the identities of people buying and selling these articles, it is not surprising why these scheme is occurring.
 
I know, because I’ve now heard many other accounts, that I am not the only legitimate writer who is being duped although most of the other victims, i figure, were not able to trace it back to the iwriters.com website.
 
I also have to mention the fact that they are peddling these articles ( that BTW really won’t work that well to boost your website’s SEO in 2017 ) to people with no care for who, or where the content is coming came from — that’s a whole conversation in itself, but for the sake of brevity, let’s move on…

When I first started working as a content writer back in 2011 — i wouldn’t have known any better. My years of experience in this space has given me greater insight and an understanding of what is actually happening here. iwriter.com is crap. They don’t care. The people buying from the website don’t have any clue. And what I have actually spotted here, from this experience is a place on the web ( amongst many ) where — i suspect — fraudulent people run around freely and unchallenged — actually protected by the benefactors of these gigantically profitable sites.

Alas, it isn’t surprising. We know that there is a lot of this going on online. I knew it also, full admittance and I was STILL duped. I never should have believed for a second that I would ever be paid fairly for the articles that I provided or that this individual was anything but a scoundrel, but I did, and so here we are…
 
 That said, being able to get so close to identifying who this person is —

To be able to get even an ounce of closure -

And to be told, that THEY are the ones protected because of a privacy policy on the iwriter.com website… well it is appalling.

What about freelancer.com you may be wondering? Do they have any liability here considering that their website also stated that this person was payment verified through them — giving me, the “person hired” some sense of guarantee — can’t they assist me, even in the slightest?

Well, again — even once I had a handle on “who” and “where” we could find this person freelancer.com stated that their privacy policy does not allow their identity to be shared.

They also explained that the payment verified simply means that they put in their payment information either a Paypal account or banking information and that freelancer.com confirmed that the account existed. It gives no guarantee that funds will exist in that account or anything of that nature.
 
 They also — hindering me further — deleted the person’s account following my first complaint and blocked him from the website. However, this also deleted most record of the job, besides what I have still from my end of it on the app. 
 
 Thankfully that’s still enough to prove that ‘he’ did not the write the articles and that I did -

But still not helpful and actually limiting in information and access to the person’s once existing profile where much of the information — I now require — existed.

At this time, this is where my story wraps — a cautionary tale for sure to be absorbed by anyone legitimate who works and sells their creative services online.

I think what I am unravelling here is a great BIG issue — a truly problematic situation — that relates to multi-million dollar revenue websites: iwriter.com and freelancer.com and the vessels that they have created, paired with privacy policies that are more hindering ( and self serving ) then they are beneficial to everyone.

Of course, in a perfect world we wouldn’t need websites like this and prefer to buy and acquire the services we need — from people without a “middle man” mediating negotiating on our behalf and taking a cut from the work.

However, with the vast size of the current “online economy” — and the number of people trying to freelance and work legitimately within it, there is no surprise why these vessels exist “and thrive”.
 
 I am angry of course, over the money and work that was stolen from me and my family.
 However, I am angrier that this is happening to so many people — not all who are naive — who are being taken for rides and left completely unprotected.

So what am I going to do about it?
 Sadly for everyone involved I am a stubborn noisemaker.
 I like to stir the pot.

I am actually enjoying the process of hacking this — trying my best to find closure — but also create learning materials for others who may just be getting started working online — or veterans like myself who have been duped but didn’t know where to begin, in the process of standing up for themselves.

Sure, i’ll likely never get my payment.

Not counting on it.

I will, however get my self respect and dignity back by talking about this candidly until something changes, and that’s quite frankly, all any of us has to defend anyways.


Update!

FB Live Where I talk about this situation and ask people to share my story: