Is The IAPWE A Scam Preying On Writers?
The ads are extremely tempting to new writers struggling to make a living. At least they were for me. The International Association of Professional Writers and Editors (hereafter referred to IAPWE) claim to pay $10 per every 100 words. Best yet, it’s ongoing work. It won’t make you rich, but it’s an excellent start to a writer at the beginning of their freelancing career. Too bad it appears to be a scam.
My experience with the IAPWE began almost exactly two months ago. I’d recently left a full- time job to pursue my dream career as a freelance writer (not something many people would recommend, I know). I sold my first article right off the bat for a whopping $20.00 and I was in search of more, higher- paying writing opportunities.
I stumbled upon the IAPWE ad on Craigslist. The pay rate seemed more than fair given the fact that at this point I’d only sold one story, but I worried I wouldn’t be qualified. I clicked the link to learn more, relieved to find they evaluated you for the position via a writing sample. There was no need to provide a resume or links to previous publications, two hurdles I was finding difficult to overcome thus far. Still, something seemed wrong.
I’m not a web designer, but, even I recognized there was something off about the organization’s logo. It was blurry and flat. Also, why would a professional writing organization hire outside writers when they could utilize their own members? This was especially vexing since according to the website, they weren’t open to new memberships at the time, which would seem to indicate they had ample professionals to choose from. But I told myself it wouldn’t hurt to apply for the job.
The application was painless and didn’t ask for anything alarming by way of personal information. The only thing that seemed a trifle odd was a bit at the end where I was instructed to type in a random 5 digit code, then email the same code to the IAPWE to confirm I’d uploaded my writing sample (remember this because it will come up again in connection to another possible scam later on).
I didn’t think much about my application after that, except to assume I didn’t qualify for the position because I continued to see the IAPWE running new ads on Craigslist on a regular basis. Then, about six weeks later I received a congratulatory email stating I’d been hired. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. By this time I’d sold several articles, but the promise of ongoing work was still extremely exciting. What’s more, I was proud my little old writing sample made the cut.
The email was signed by someone claiming to be named Amy Wilkerson. It was brief, informing me my sample met the IAPWE quality standards and I would be receiving an invitation to their Basecamp.
The end of the email invited me to join their organization and also informed me that because they rarely accept new members, the opportunity was only available until the end of the week. I clicked on the link and found a form, the first part of which was for basic personal information. The second part, however, offered several membership levels ranging from a free membership with limited benefits to several levels of paid memberships at heavily discounted rates. The most expensive membership was the business membership, normally $119 a month, but offered for a limited time at $17.85 a month. An enticing savings of 85 percent!
I used to work for a well- known flooring company who generated the bulk of their leads by advertising too good to be true “sales” on national television. The combination of what seemed likely to be an inflated discount and the “limited time opportunity” were all too familiar tactics for me. So, I did a little internet research on the IAPWE (too little, it turned out).
I typed IAPWE into the search bar and found a review reportedly written by a gentleman named Jason Royston amongst the top results.
Mr. Royston claimed to have received numerous high-paying jobs from the IAPWE. That’s all I needed to know. I didn’t spend any more time on his website nor did I attempt to verify that Mr. Royston was a real person at that point in time. My greed got the better of me. I wanted those high paying jobs! I returned to the IAPWE website and opted for the free membership since I was only in this for the work. But when I clicked through to the next screen I was offered a free trial of the IAPWE’s professional membership for 30 days. All I had to do was provide them with my PayPal information.
I decided to bite based on the fact the website explicitly stated I could cancel at any time. I entered my PayPal details and they provided me with a hyperlink I could use to refer new members in exchange for a 50 percent cut of their membership fee. What? Was this an MLM or a professional organization? Also, weren’t there only a limited number of memberships available? Something didn’t smell right. But, instead of listening to my instincts, I reminded myself of Jason Royston’s lucrative IAPWE experience and busied myself with refreshing my email, awaiting my basecamp invitation.
When no invitation arrived the following day my suspicions grew. I performed another internet search, this time typing IAPWE scam into the search field, which presented me with a different list of search results.
Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware had done a bit of research on the IAPWE and found numerous red flags, including the fact that the organization was caught using fake pictures of real people to pose as staff members on their website.
Writer Beware also linked to a Translators Scammer report which found even more instances of the IAPWE using fake pictures and linked to evidence that they had even gone as far as to swap them all out for new faces at one point.
I’m no private investigator but utilizing fake photographs did not seem like the behavior of a legitimate organization. Add to this the fact that the IAPWE street address is actually a UPS store and the crazy 85 percent off membership sale and it was starting to look downright fraudulent. I wished I hadn’t given them my PayPal information.
Writer Beware also linked to a Reddit thread filled with comments about the IAPWE. Amongst them were writers claiming to have deliberately submitted poor quality writing samples to the IAPWE, yet still received emails that they were “hired”. There were also several people who claimed to have applied for other writing jobs via their school or Craigslist only to receive an email from a gentleman named Mike Townsend who told them the positions they applied for were full, but the IAPWE was hiring. What a helpful guy! The name Mike Townsend sounded familiar. I went back and checked the pictures on Translator Scammers. He was one of the many IAPWE staffers with a fake photograph.
Additionally, there were numerous people who reported positive experiences with the IAPWE, most of, if not all of whom, had brand new Reddit accounts. It was almost as if they’d joined Reddit for no other reason but to say the IAPWE was a swell organization and not at all a scam. Interesting.
The same thing seemed to be happening in the Writer’s Beware forum. There were a plethora of positive posts, the majority of which didn’t have clickable profiles in order to verify they were real human beings. I found two that did, and clicked both, only to find their profiles were flimsy at best. I was hardly convinced of their legitimacy.
The majority of posters on Writers Beware reported similar experiences to mine. Disappointed writers at various stages of their careers who applied for a job only to get a solicitation for a paid membership to an organization of dubious merit. At least one reported canceling her membership and getting billed regardless.
Many specifically stated that, like me, they didn’t receive an invitation to Basecamp. Several of them were diligent in their follow up, emailing Amy repeatedly until they finally received their invites, only to find that no projects had ever been uploaded. This, despite the fact that the IAPWE has been hiring writers on a regular basis for years.
I began to get curious about the Jason Royston blog. The one that originally convinced me the IAPWE was legitimate. How had he got roped into all this? I went back to his website, only to discover that it, too, seemed suspicious.
Jason Royston’s bio says he’s an entrepreneur and freelance writer, but there are no examples of his businesses or links to professional publications on his website. There were only five total blog posts, a general year-end review, reviews of Textbroker, Iwriter, Ultilus, and of course, IAPWE. Interestingly enough there were no comments posted to his reviews of Textbroker, Iwriter or Utilius, but there were 48 posts responding to his IAPWE review, each one claiming positive experiences with the organization. Not one of them reported any of the red flags that permeated the threads on the Reddit or Writer Beware. And similarly to those forums, the vast majority of these positive posts came from people who were not verifiable human beings.
There were at least two posters who I did feel may be legitimate. I reached out to them and didn’t hear back, but it’s important to note that these posters did not say they were members of or had worked for the IAPWE. They were merely thanking Mr. Royston for his information.
I performed an internet search of Jason Royston to see I could find any proof that he existed as a flesh and blood person outside his blog, but couldn’t turn up any information. Not even a single publication with his byline even though he claimed to be a successful freelance writer. I did eventually find him on LinkedIn but he only had two connections. If I were a bookie, I’d place the odds against Jason Royston’s existence.
I found more suspicious blogs with reviews of IAPWE as well. One of which was written by someone who goes by Gloria Wagner. The similarities between her blog and Jason Royston’s are uncanny. Ms. Wagner also has very little content on her site and has zero links to professional publications despite claiming to be a successful freelance writer. She has a total of four blog posts, three of which are reviews of Blogmutt, Textbroker, and you guessed it, IAPWE. The first posts had one comment each, but, just like on the Jason Royston site, the IAPWE review was where the action is. Gloria Wagner’s IAPWE review had 74 comments from happy professionals who weren’t verifiably real and zero people reporting red flags.
I undertook another search, hoping to find proof of a freelance writer named Gloria Wagner and found none. At this point, I have no reason to believe in her existence.
But wait! There’s more! A website called Snoop411 also appears to have been created solely for the purposes of driving traffic to the IAPWE. This one doesn’t have much info on it’s about page, so Snoop could be Snoop Dogg or Snoopy of Peanuts fame for all I know. The entire site only contains two posts. A review of Upwork and a review of IAPWE. Only one of the two reviews has any comments and they’re all positive. I’ll let you guess which one it is.
And I don’t even know what this is, except that it can’t be normal.
If you’re assuming I canceled my IAPWE membership you’re right, but even this revealed more dubious practices. I logged on to their website in order to cancel and immediately received an email with the subject “confirm your account cancellation”. The body of the email beckoned me to click on a button labeled “confirm your subscription” in order to cancel. Talk about a mixed message. I clicked on the button regardless and immediately received a second email with the subject “Important Cancellation Instructions”
This email informed me that for the next 24 hours I would receive a 50 percent discount off my membership if I opted to remain part of the organization. 50 percent off of a discount that was already 85 percent off? What would that come to? The email didn’t say, but it did go on to state that if I didn’t do anything the discount would apply. That’s right. I still wasn’t canceled. To cancel, the email provided detailed instructions for an eight-step cancellation process, involving logging back into my PayPal account to cancel the recurring payment. Since i was already experiencing a pronounced lack of trust for the IAPWE, I’d planned to do this anyways, but I could see how easy it would be for someone to glance through their email and assume their membership had been canceled when it, in fact, had not, potentially leading to repeat billings.
By now, it’s probably obvious that my curiosity was piqued. I wanted to find out how closely my experience would mirror the experience of posters on forums like Reddit and Writer Beware so I continued to email Amy Wilkerson to request my Basecamp invitation. The job and the membership were supposed to be two different things, after all.
After two more emails, Ms. Wilkerson emailed me back and told me to check my spam folder because the Basecamp invite should have been sent (I did and it wasn’t there). Several other people had already posted that they received similar emails in the past so I wasn’t surprised. I was amused, in fact, to see how closely she stuck to her script. It would have been an easy enough thing to include the Basecamp link into the body of this email, but for some reason, she was consistent in not doing so. Perhaps because with each day that passes a trial member finds themselves that much closer to incurring charges during the next billing cycle.
I emailed her over the course of four more days, requesting the link be resent. On the fourth- day I asked if there was another person I should be contacting, possibly via Twitter. That one received a response. I got my invitation to basecamp. Sadly, just like the other posters, I discovered there were no available projects and furthermore, there was a message that specifically stated no projects had been created yet. As in ever.
I contacted the technical support professionals at Basecamp, hoping they could offer me some information on the account. They couldn’t. But they did give me an email address for Mike T, the account administrator. I wondered if Mike T was Mike Townsend, the infamous gentleman of fake photograph fame.
His email address was firstname.lastname@example.org. I typed it into the search bar and got a hit. I learned that this email is also associated with a company called Domainite. I’d heard this name before. It was mentioned on the IAPWE Reddit thread by a poster who said he applied for a job at Domainite only to receive an email from Mike Townsend that all those jobs were full, but that the IAPWE had openings. Curious.
I found another website with a review of Domainite and what do you know, Mike Townsend himself was participating in the comment thread. I should note here that I don’t think either of the two websites I’ve linked to in regards to Domainite reviews are in cahoots with Domainite, Mike Townsend or the IAPWE. It appears to me that they did their best to present straightforward reviews and may have been taken in by fake accounts and unsavory characters.
My next stop was to visit the Domainite website to check out the writer’s application even though it was difficult to picture anyone applying to work there since they were advertising an unbelievably low rate of $1.00 per every 100 words.
The Domiainite website was cheap, outdated, and eerily familiar. The writer’s application follows basically the same template as the IAPWE application, right down to emailing a random number 5 digit number to a separate email address after you’ve uploaded your application. For the first time I gave some thought to this, and I now wonder if this step is necessary because they don’t read the writing samples at all, but rather wait a suitable time period, then reply to these emails to inform starry-eyed writers they’ve been accepted. This would explain the fact that I have yet to read a post from a writer whose sample didn’t meet the IAPWE quality standards. Think about that for a minute.
This brought me back to my correspondence with Amy. I emailed her once again, informing her there were no jobs on Basecamp. I also asked who Mike T was since I was told by technical support that he was the administrator of the Basecamp account. Ms. Wilkerson assured me they’d be uploading the “next” set of projects shortly. She ignored my Mike T question.
I’ll mention here that Amy Wilkerson always responded to me late at night. Usually after 8 pm PST (I live in Seattle). This seemed unusual given the fact that the IAPWE is supposedly based in Manhattan and eventually led me to wonder if I was corresponding with someone who lived outside the United States.
I followed up, asking again about Mike T and why it appeared there had never been a single task uploaded to the IAPWE Basecamp account. She responded a few days later, insisting they uploaded new tasks every week or so. She also stated that the famous Mike T was no longer with IAPWE and they were in the process of changing his email.
Almost two weeks passed and although I checked regularly, the IAPWE Basecamp site was still a ghost town. By this time I’d started writing this article so I decided to email Amy for comment. I emailed, informing her I’d uncovered disturbing information about IAPWE’s use of fake photographs, lack of transparency, etc. and offered her a chance to respond before I published. I didn’t expect to hear back from her. Boy, was I wrong.
I received several more emails from her, in rapid succession. In one, she said I hadn’t received any assignments because I’d canceled my membership. When I politely pointed out the fact that she hadn’t mentioned this previously and the job and the membership were supposed to be two separate things (not to mention the fact that she gave me access to the IAPWE Basecamp after I’d canceled my membership), she quickly dropped this illogical argument.
She also suggested that perhaps I hadn’t received work because no tasks met my profile yet. She quickly dropped this argument as well, which was wise given the fact that the entire Basecamp was empty and always had been.
In subsequent emails, I asked her about the IAWPE’s use of fake photographs. After my third request for this information, she responded that these were “dummy” photos used by an outsourced web designer.
Several times she accused me of being aggressive. Her tone was near hysterical, vacillating between accusatory and defensive. In one of her last emails, she forbade me to quote her in this article even though she hadn’t mentioned this previously, which is why I’ve chosen to describe her emails rather than quote them.
I’ve given a great deal of thought about how the IAPWE will react when I publish this. They have a great deal to lose. As of this writing, they are running Craigslist ads for writing and editing jobs in Seattle, Portland, New York, Los Angeles, and Austin, and those are the only markets I checked. This represents a large number of potential memberships and should be a red flag in itself.
Since the IAPWE doesn’t appear to have an issue creating countless online personas I realize there’s a good chance they’ll attempt to refute this article within the comment section. I considered turning the comments off for this reason, however, I’ve decided to leave them open in order to hear from actual human beings, some of whom may have stories to tell.
The last email I received from Amy was almost pleading. She simply couldn’t understand why I was doing this when I’d canceled my membership before I was billed. I didn’t answer her. I didn’t feel I owe her that. But I will answer that question for you, the reader, who made it this far.
The IAPWE preys upon the dreams of people who long to become professional writers. And although the monthly payments they collect may seem small on an individual basis, that doesn’t mean they’re insignificant. I’ve struggled with poverty off and on throughout my life. There was a time, years ago, when I was a single mother who didn’t receive child support and had to spread baking soda underneath my arms because I couldn’t afford deodorant. A monthly payment to the IAPWE might have prevented me from picking up a half gallon of milk and loaf of bread at the grocery store. But, I would have made the sacrifice if I believed this membership was an investment into a brighter future. The thought that this might be happening to someone right now fills me with profound sadness. I wrote this article for that person. I hope they find it.
Last month I created a new email account and used it to apply to one of the “jobs” the IAPWE was advertising via Craigslist. I used a different email for the sample I uploaded on the site and the separate email with the five digit code. There was no way for the IAPWE to link the two together. I also used a terrible writing sample just for fun. Last night I received an email that the sample met the IAPWE quality standards along with the solicitation for membership and promise of a future invite to Basecamp.
Since the sample I sent was terrible and the IAPWE had no way to link it to my email with the five digit code, this appears confirms my suspicion that the IAPWE accepts everyone who applies and doesn’t read the writing samples at all.
Urgent Update 4/28/18:
I am sorry to report a very disturbing development in this story. A writer who posted a response to this piece (below) had over $100 taken from her bank account by the IAPWE without her consent. I can confirm this. She sent me screenshots of the transactions (random increments over a short period of time), as well as her email exchanges with “Amy Wilkerson” who did not explain or rectify the issue.
This is the first time I have heard of the IAPWE stealing money beyond the membership fees. It happened within the last month so they may be getting desperate. If you have given them your banking information of PayPal information at any point please change your passwords and email addresses to make sure they no longer have access.