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Too Good to Be True – A Freelance Writing Job Scam

Freelance Writing Job ScamIt started innocuously enough. An email message that at first glance came from Indeed that said someone was interested in my resume. I was given a choice to accept or decline contact. The work outlined read thusly:

Our writers are responsible for taking article concepts and creating engaging, relatable content that will be posted to our website and shared on our various social media outlets. Writers should also be comfortable searching for high quality images to accompany their work. Among the content types our writers should be familiar with are listicles, how-to’s, video posts, recipes and long form articles. Applicants for this position should be self-starters who have excellent writing and proofreading skills,and who have a great sense of writing style.
Self-starters, who are motivated,
organized, dialed-in, and driven by deadlines
Enjoy being a part of a small-but-growing team and willing to be flexible and take on
a wide variety of tasks.
Willing to work soley from home
Experience with wordpress is a plus, as is experience with SEO.

Which is a pretty good description of what I like to do so I accepted. (No I didn’t notice the spelling error.) And it’s the same tone that many legit employers use. The vague specifics didn’t bother me because so many jobs are posted with just this kind of language.

I also didn’t notice that the email it was sent from is probably not a real Indeed email address.

Down the freelance writing job scam rabbit hole

I received an email message asking me to meet the HR rep on Google Hangouts. This didn’t seem to different from interviewing by Skype, so logged in.

That began a trip down a rabbit hole. We chatted and he began asking questions which seemed legitimate. For example, he explained, I’d actually be writing for the company’s clients and he asked, “how do you respond if the client wants something changed?” and “what if you don’t like what the client is asking for?”

I had no problem with the questions but I really began to wonder what was happening when he’d take up to 5 or 6 minutes to respond.

The next oddity was his explanation that the company would send me a check to deposit in my account so I could buy the computer they wanted me to have – it would come preloaded with software that would let them know how many hours I was working. I couldn’t, however, see how that would make them money. I was probably wrong as you shall see.

When I asked about pay, he quoted a fairly high hourly and explained I’d actually be an employee, with taxes taken out, vacations time given, etc.

The deal started to smell. I decided this was probably not real but since they’d approached me as a writer I wanted to see where it was going so… yes, so I could write about it.

When I asked for the company name he gave me one, and I couldn’t find it. More evidence of a probable scam.

He wanted, he said, to test my ability to follow instructions and had me send email to guess who – people who had posted their resumes on Indeed. He had me create an account with a specific name and then gave me a list of folks. I didn’t realize until later than the email I had received had probably been sent by someone like me, although I’m not totally sure about that.

I take it to the bank

When the check arrived I took it to my bank, actually my credit union, and asked some questions about how I would know when a check actually cleared. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was talking with the new manager and she quickly understood what was going on.

Asking if I minded if she checked on the check; she used her computer to discover at least two instances that said it was likely to be fraudulent. She then told me she wanted to call the credit union’s fraud department and asked permission to fax the a copy of the check. She also indicated she wanted to hang on to the check until she heard back. And she explained to me what the likely scam was – if had I deposited the check, I would have been told they made a mistake and been instructed to return some of the money… which would have left me in the hole when the check didn’t clear.

Just because a bank or credit union will issue you cash based on a check you deposit, doesn’t guarantee the check will clear – if you spend that money and it doesn’t clear, you’re on the hook for what you spent. I knew this which is why I asked the questions.

I got home and reported to the ‘HR’ guy that the bank had refused the check and ended the relationship. The bank manager called about half an hour later thanking me for being alert and confirming that it was really a fraud. They kept the check, but I don’t know if there will be any further investigation.

Noodling the experience

It seemed to me the fraudster was working awfully hard for small money. But if, as a friend suggested, the long delay in answering on hangouts was because the guy was working other people, I suppose it could add up pretty quickly.

I’ve also discovered the rather curious fact that since I wasn’t actually victimized, since I didn’t fall totally for the scam, it’s awfully hard to report. The FBI and others apparently want to get involved after someone’s lost money, not when they realize a scam is being attempted.

Another thing that had never occurred to me is that my resume is out there. What that means, unfortunately, is that I have to be careful when people contact me about it. It turns out that if you google something like how safe are resumes on indeed you’ll get a ton of answers saying you shouldn’t bother. And it not just Indeed. I just tried to delete my resume there and apparently all I can do is make it private. Be warned.

On the other hand, I’ve gotten more than a few good and even great clients from my professional website.

I’m glad I didn’t stop marketing for real writing work during the drawn out process of this scam and if something like this happens again I probably will end it sooner. I mean how many articles like this one about a freelance writing job scam can I write? Hopefully it will never happen again.

It turns out that if you google something like how safe are resumes on indeed you’ll get a ton of answers saying you shouldn’t bother.

Have you had anything similar happen? How do you protect yourself?

Write well and often,




Image: a mixed-media comic by Andrew Toskin, writing as Niccolo Florence

{ 13 comments… add one }
  • Thanks for this informative post Anne! I had the unfortunate experience of being on the receiving end of a scam as well and got duped of $540 worth of work.

    Good thing that was the only time that that ever happened to me. I now make sure I heed any warning signals from the get-go!
    Jeanne San Pascual recently posted..5 Freelance Mistakes That Kept Me Stuck at the Rookie Level for YearsMy Profile

    • Ouch… sorry your lesson cost so much, but it sounds like you learned it well.

  • I received zillions of scam emails when looking for a day job several years back. It taught me not to post my resume on ANY job websites such as Indeed, Monster, or Careerbuilder–I only use them to search for listings. Maybe it used to be okay to do that, but now they seem to have become data farms for con artists. Even now, I still get them just from registering for the sites so I can search.

    As you’ve said many times, Anne, every writer should have a website–if they want me, they can find me on there. 🙂
    Elizabeth West recently posted..5 Myths about Writers That Will Get You Smacked with a BookMy Profile

    • Elizabeth, were you smart enough never to post them or did you have to go in and unpost them? Resumes that is.

  • Yes, I just had one. A gentleman contacted me to tell me “his people” had reviewed my resume online (he didn’t specify where) and stated I had “excellent skills” for a managerial position with a real estate company (he clarified neither the name of the company nor the skills that were in demand). Large sums of money would be involved, including pay for training. I wrote back saying I was interested and wanted to know more (I wasn’t and didn’t, but I wanted to see what would happen). I figured that would be it.


    About a minute later, like clockwork, I received a reply from another guy who more or less regurgitated the same spiel without answering any of my questions regarding the first email. I knew right then, for certain, it was a scam. I replied with the following:

    “Hi ***,

    I am already a skilled and seasoned professional in my field, but I think I know what you mean. I appreciate your interest in me and will review the registration you appended. If I find it corresponds with my career direction and will benefit me as a professional in my given field in some way, I will fill it out and send it out to you as soon as possible.

    In the meantime, should your company need my writing, editing or translation services, please feel free to let me know. I will be more than happy to discuss contract terms and accommodate you any way I can.”

    I have received nothing further at this point.

    As for other potential scams, I have gotten various calls regarding my resume on Indeed. One time, I queried a woman regarding the particular skills she found appealing. I actually wanted and needed to know this. The woman paused, apparently not knowing what to say, and then responded that she would have to get back to me. She never did.

    What gets me about these parties who view my resume and present me with an opportunity is that all want to offer me a job in a different field. I have to emphasize to them the blatantly obvious, which they should have noticed when reviewing my resume: I am a freelance writer and editor. Yet, they disregard that, and it irks me

    So, yes, I have been approached by scammers. I have found them to be as amusing as they are annoying. When I throw them an unexpected left hook, they disappear.

  • Thank you for taking the time to share your experience. I have told my children for years (and am just repeating what I was told) – “you don’t have the money until the check clears.”

    So – be sure if you do deposit these checks that you don’t give back any of the money until the check clears 😉

    And another reminder to be alert and aware because you are the only one looking out for you.
    Kathryn Lang recently posted..Make it Work ChallengeMy Profile

  • Wow, disaster narrowly avoided for sure. I’m glad you were vigilant and careful! And thanks for following through in order to be able to write about it and warn others.
    Charlotte Rains Dixon recently posted..Fall Planning, A Special Offer and Off I GoMy Profile

  • I fell for a scam many years ago, when I was young and naive and keen to make more money. It was the old “we wend you money. Then you send some of it by wire transfer to some obscure country, but you keep a very GOOD commission.
    Anyway, I was doing this almost daily for a week and then I got a call from my bank’s fraud dept.

    The guy told me that if I helped them and gave them all the info I had, then I could keep the money and they would investigate.

    That was one of the only times I was scammed (but I did get some money from it).

    I have seen tons of other scams and been called by scammers so I know what to look for.

    Always be on your guard, whether it’s by phone, email or even in person.

    • Glad your bank was willing to let you keep some of the money… and yes, there are a ton of scams out there.

      • You’re right, Anne. I was VERY lucky to have been allowed to keep the money. I guess they regarded me as a good customer who was naive in this case. The fact that I gave them lots of help may have assisted them to track down the real crooks.

        • Hi Laurence,

          I am surprised you were allowed to keep some of that money, and I say this for two reasons:

          1) Keeping money involved in a scam sometimes makes the recipient an accessory to a crime.

          2) I figure the FBI would dissuade you because it is money involved in a crime.

          At least, these two points I have heard are common cases, and that people have gotten in trouble before for keeping money involved in a crime, so I mention them here.

          In any case, I am glad it worked out for you. Experience is the best teacher. 😉

    • That’s a very common money laundering scheme. It’s really easy for someone who doesn’t know about it to fall for it!
      Elizabeth West recently posted..5 Myths about Writers That Will Get You Smacked with a BookMy Profile

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