What Are the Signs of a Freelance Scam? (And How to Avoid Them)

What Are the Signs of a Freelance Scam? (And How to Avoid Them)

  • Oct 12, 2023
  • 6 min read

As a freelance proofreader, you’re in charge of your working hours, the projects you work on, and your rate of pay. But unfortunately, finding your own clients means you also have to watch out for scammers! 

In this post, we’ll cover some of the common signs of a freelance scam and advice on how you can avoid them.

What Are the Signs of a Freelance Scam?

If you want to know how to avoid scams as a freelancer, you’re in the right place. While scammers use a variety of methods to catch freelancers out, there are some common warning signs you should look out for:

  1. They won’t sign a written contract.
  2. They offer higher-than-average rates.
  3. They ask you to pay a fee before you start work.
  4. They expect you to use an unfamiliar payment method.
  5. They request free samples. 
  6. They make off-platform communication requests.
  7. They request access to your freelance marketplace accounts.

Keep reading to find out more about each of these freelance scam warning signs.

1. They Won’t Sign a Written Contract

A client that refuses to sign a written contract is a red flag for any freelancer.

Even though you may have to compromise on your terms sometimes, having a written work agreement (with the project’s deliverables, expected timeline, and payment information) can protect you from most freelance scams. You can use freelance contract templates to make your life easier (and stay on the safe side).

And if someone is completely unwilling to agree to your work terms in writing, you might want to reconsider working for them.

2. They Offer Higher than Average Rates

It is important for freelancers to know the value of their work and avoid taking on projects that offer a lower pay rate. But what should you do when the rate offered is way higher than average? Could a job be too good to be true?

Unfortunately, yes: it could mean that you won’t get paid at all. Do your research to know what the average rates are for the services you offer (and make sure to take into account your level of experience). If you come across an above-average rate, ask the client why the pay is so high.

Suspicious answers? Call their bluff and ask to be paid 50% in advance – if they agree, the offer might be real after all. But proceed carefully either way.

3. They Ask You to Pay a Fee

If a client asks you to pay a fee before the project starts, chances are they’re setting up a freelance scam. They might ask for a deposit, for example, or for you to pay to access a certain software.

To avoid falling for pay-to-work scams, never agree to work for clients that require you to pay for the privilege.

4. They Use an Unfamiliar Payment Method

Another red flag: a client that insists on using a payment method that you’ve never heard of.

To avoid falling for this, do your research! Although people often pay freelancers digitally (e.g., via Stripe or PayPal), checks, direct debits/bank transfers, and credit cards are also commonly accepted.

To prevent an unpleasant surprise after you’ve completed work, set out accepted payment methods before a job starts (e.g., with a freelance contract as above). And if the client disagrees with all of your proposed methods, consider politely turning them down.

5. They Request Free Samples

A free sample edit isn’t always a scam. It can be a great way to showcase the quality of your work and secure a job, especially when you’re starting out. So how can you tell if it’s a scam or not? Watch out for:

  • Tasks that are overly complex or long
  • More than one free sample request
  • Free sample requests for projects you’ve already shown expertise in

Unfortunately, this isn’t the easiest freelance scam to avoid – and this means some prospective clients will take advantage of that to get work for free.

Working for agencies like Proofed can protect you from being exploited. But if you don’t work for an agency, make sure you clearly outline (and stick to) the number and length of free samples that you’re willing to offer.

6. They Make Off-Platform Communication Requests

Freelance marketplaces have terms and conditions for communication that aim to protect freelancers from exploitation.

Sometimes, though, people will request to move messages outside these platforms. This can make it easier for scammers to remove evidence of ill conduct. When asked to leave the official communication channels, the general advice is to say no.

If you do decide that someone appears trustworthy enough to communicate off-platform, however, make sure you do this on your terms. Use a work email address (rather than your personal one) and keep a record of all communications.

7. They Request Access to Your Freelance Marketplace Accounts

If someone pops up in your messages claiming they can help grow your freelance business, pay attention to how they say they will do it. If they request access to one of your freelance marketplace accounts (e.g., Fiverr or Upwork), they can then access:

  • Your current earnings that are waiting to be transferred
  • Your bank details
  • Other personal information, such as your date of birth, national insurance number, and scans of your identification documents (e.g., passport or driver’s license)

In general, having to share any account information is a huge risk to your privacy and almost always a scam. Just say no!

How to Avoid Scams as a Freelancer

As a rule, you should consider new projects carefully and always do a quick search of your clients before accepting a job. If something seems too good to be true, it might just be! Remember to do these things: 

  • Research the client.
  • Get a contract signed.
  • Check that you are being offered a reasonable rate.
  • Don’t pay any deposits or upfront fees.
  • Only accept standard payment methods.
  • Communicate only through official platforms or a work email.
  • Don’t share your freelance marketplace accounts with anyone else.
  • Don’t give out personal information.
  • Keep a record of all communications.

Becoming A Proofreader

If you are interested in becoming a freelance proofreader or editor but are worried about the possibility of getting scammed, our courses can help you get started. 

To help you feel safe while you’re getting started, we even offer guaranteed work with our partner company, Proofed, when you pass the final assignments of Becoming A Proofreader and Becoming An Editor with a distinction score (80% or above). 

If you want to get a head start on this exciting career path, sign up for a free trial today!

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Join the Conversation

Jeanette says:
June 2, 2022 at 9:58AM
Good day ive done freelance work for a company now they want a fee for my company id card before i can get paid out, is that a scam?
    Knowadays says:
    June 7, 2022 at 8:26AM
    Hi, Jeanette. That does sound a little unusual. It's certainly worth doing some more research on the company, if you haven't already, before giving them any money.
Salum says:
January 26, 2023 at 8:58AM
I follow typing job from facebook and they give me telegram link, they ask me few questions and they send me a book that need tobe retyped its 100 page to be typed in 4 days, the price is 40$ per page so it total its almost 4000$, can i being scammed?

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