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Differentiate legit consulting jobs from scams

After you’ve identified your ideal client and before you start looking for freelance opportunities, you need to understand how to identify legitimate clients. You’re probably excited to get out there and start working with clients! But before you get there, make sure you understand the difference between legitimate clients and freelance scams, and how to protect yourself.

Let’s examine three freelance job posts together:

  1. PoochPicker needs FReelance Writers for Online articles. Must have Good Grammor Humor Skills. Free test assignment. It’s a Work From Home Opportunity. mansports4325@toptalent.com

  2. PoochPicker needs one to two freelance writers to help us create SEO-driven blog posts for our audience. Please send three samples of your work to PoochPickers@gmail.com. #hiring #contentmarketing #freelance

  3. Poochpicker needs a freelance writer for online articles. Please email PoochPickers@gmail.com or DM us.

Which one do you think is legit?

Jasmine applies for the first opportunity. Unfortunately, she missed the red flags that indicated that this is a scam. Besides the incorrect grammar, spelling, and capitalization, this opportunity has a suspicious email address. The listing also asks for a free test assignment and doesn’t specify pay information. Jasmine completes a test assignment and then never hears from this scam again. She never gets paid and has wasted her time.

Jeffery noticed all the red flags and kept scrolling. He found the legitimate PoochPicker freelance job and sent his samples of work to a legitimate company email. Now, he has a recurring client who he loves to work with, and he gets to write about dogs!

Jasper, on the other hand, sees the third opportunity. He sends the company a message and the company wants to work with him. The company asks him to buy special equipment that he doesn’t need and asks for his credit card information. This opportunity is a scam even though it didn’t look like one at first. Jasper may lose money and has definitely wasted his time.

Signs that it’s a scam

A fear many freelancers have is the fear of falling for a scam. The best way to protect yourself is to understand how to identify a scam, and what to do in the event you fall for one.

This first exercise will get you thinking about red flags to watch out for. Ask yourself these questions as you review job postings and speak with potential clients:

  • Is there anything unusual in their job posting? Do they have unusual capitalization, grammar errors, and incorrect spelling? Are they unusually vague about what they need?

  • Are they asking for free work? Clients might ask for a paid trial or samples of your work. But if they’re asking for a lot of work before even hiring you, it’s possible they’re just trying to get you to do labor for free.

  • Are they unwilling to sign a contract? A contract protects both clients and freelancers. It's normal to want revisions or to negotiate! But if they are unwilling to make your agreement legal, this is an opportunity to pass on.

  • Does this person or company seem professional? Is their email address, website, and social media channels legitimate? If they are misrepresenting themselves or don’t have a legitimate online presence, it’s a sign of a scam.

  • Are they asking you invasive questions? As a freelancer, you never need to give your clients your social security number, credit card information, bank account information, date of birth, or physical address to book work. You may have to give them official government paperwork later (like your W9) but you don’t need to hand over your mother’s maiden name.

Next, review what makes a freelance opportunity legitimate

You need to understand how to verify legitimate freelance opportunities and how to protect yourself. This next exercise will teach you how to review an opportunity to see if it’s legit.

Go out onto Slack, Twitter, or LinkedIn and find a freelance gig you could apply to. Before you apply, you’re going to verify it’s legitimate.

  1. Verify the company or individual’s credentials. Take a look at the company’s website, social media channels, and overall online presence. See if they’ve been in the news and what’s written about them online. Are they accredited by the Better Business Bureau? Are they a member of their Chamber of Commerce?

2. Look at review sites. Check out sites like Glassdoor to see what people have to say. Even low ratings help verify that a company is legitimate.

3. Dig into their social media. How do they respond to people? What kind of values do they hold?

4. Take all of this information into account and see if it passes the “sniff” test enough for you to spend the time applying.

Protect yourself from scams

Thankfully, there’s lots of legitimate work out there! But just in case you encounter something that looks like a scam, consider the following:

  • Remember that if something is too good to be true, it probably is. Trust your gut. If something feels a little fishy, it probably is.

  • Wait a beat. Scammers will often want you to act quickly. If something seems off, take some time to consider a job posting before acting.

  • Use an employer identification number. If you’re US-based, you should consider applying for an employer identification number (EIN). You can use an EIN instead of your social security number on your W9, direct deposit forms, and any other business documentation which further protects you from identity theft.

  • Contact your state attorney general’s office. Your state attorney general’s office may have a phone number or online form you can use to report a scam. You can find this by googling “your state name” + “state attorney general”.

  • Report any fraud or scams you see. The Better Business Bureau tracks scams. Contact the BBB to see if there are any complaints against a company, and to report any fraud.


Your anti-scam checklist:

  • How to tell if a freelance opportunity is legitimate

  • How to identify a freelance scam

  • How to protect yourself from scams

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