Freelance Writer Scams: How to Avoid Them

Or, How to Actually Get Paid When You Work

Image by the talented aitoff

I have been scammed over freelance writing projects. Maybe you have, too. It seems to happen most often to those of us who choose to take others’ words at face value, to — naively or otherwise — believe the best in people.

That’s no excuse, of course. Freelance writers don’t work their fingers to the bone for kicks. They do it to feed their families, to buy the latest iPhone, to keep their dogs in overpriced kibble.

Freelance writing scams are, unfortunately, not uncommon. This is especially true on websites that impose little or no safeguards for professionals.

And they’re often not scams in the traditional sense of the word. Someone hires you to write some product copy or a series of blog articles. Upon delivery, the client pretends not to get your invoice or claims that his bank account has fallen into the hands of domestic terrorists.

Maybe the client set out to steal your work from the beginning and maybe he didn’t. Either way, you didn’t get paid and your dog gives you dirty looks every time you set a bowl of bargain-basement food on the floor.

So how do you avoid freelance writing scams?

Know — and Watch for — Red Flags

Since I invite other freelancers to contact me via email ( with questions about their careers, I get a lot of messages about freelance writing scams. A few common threads connect them all.

  • Requests for lots of content all at the same time
  • Refusals to pay a deposit prior to a project’s inception
  • Reluctance to communicate via the telephone
  • Radical opposition to signing a contract
  • Requests for free samples
  • Ripoff reviews of the client around the web

Lookie there. The six red-flag R’s. Easy to remember, right?

If a potential client makes you uncomfortable or balks at simple requests, cut him loose.

Research the Client

Image via the talented StockSnap

No matter how you first came into contact with a potential client, do your homework. Better to spend 20 minutes on a Google fishing expedition than to get burned after you invest hours of work into a project.

Look for a website with contact information and a detailed, non-generic “About” page. On the “About” page, look for the name of the person who contacted you.

Check other websites, too. Maybe the client runs a service business. Find out what clients have said about the company. If they’re mostly negative, you might find yourself in an untenable position.

Evaluate Pay Rates

There are three major issues with pay that I’ve come across:

  1. Clients who promise to pay well above the industry standard.
  2. Clients who want to pay well below the industry standard.
  3. Clients who don’t want to specify a pay rate.

None of those scenarios bodes well for the freelance writer.

A client who promises to pay you $4 per word for 1,000-word blog articles is either scamming you or has more money than God. Another client who wants to pay you $4 total for a 1,000-word blog post isn’t worth your time.

The third category is the most insidious. The client might promise to pay you based on how well your content performs. Since you have no control over that, run — don’t walk — away.

Set Boundaries and Rules

Freelancers can more easily protect themselves when they set rules and enforce boundaries. Know what you’re willing to accept, then stick to your guns.

For instance, make a contract a deal-breaker. If a client doesn’t want to sign a contract, politely explain that you’re not willing to move ahead with the project.

Another deal-breaker might be custom sample demands. Most freelance writers I know don’t have time to write articles, sales copy, and other content on the off-chance that they’ll get hired.

And when a client asks you to do something, avoid saying “yes” right away. Get in the habit of saying, “I’ll get back to you.”

This simple rule of thumb lets you think carefully about a request to determine whether or not it aligns with your values and expectations.


There are lots of scam artists. There are also lots of bad clients. Both categories can negatively impact your business.

Even if a prospective client is violating the unwritten rules of freelance work, you don’t have to accede to demands. You’re within your rights to refuse to work under certain conditions.

The faster you believe that, the easier your future projects will become.

If you’re a struggling freelance writer, feel free to get in touch. You can reach me at I enjoy helping other freelance writers find their way.