Have you ever wondered if a client is trying to scam you?
Most of the scams I hear about start with an email or message on social media where the potential client tells you they have an urgent project and they're willing to pay a rush fee or top rates if you can do it quickly. This is especially tempting if business has been slow.
Another scam I see is when a company posts a “job” listing and one of the application pieces is a test article. Think about that one. An unscrupulous company can easily generate a year's worth of “free” content by posting a listing they never intend to contract or hire anyone for.
So how do you avoid these scammers so you can focus on your real clients?
Spotting a Scam
Determining if your client is scamming you or not can be difficult, especially if you are new to the freelancing business. However, there are a few signs you watch for to protect yourself from fraudulent activities.
They don't give you a chance to verify who they are
Part of my process when accepting new clients is asking them to fill out a project form/client intake form. This helps me qualify them as a client by making sure their budget, project completion date, and project needs align with my rates, availability, and project preferences.
If a prospective client wants to skip that form, a discovery call, and the proposal/contract process and jump right to the project, then I have to wonder why they are rushing things. I want to know who my clients are, and so should you.
They ask for too much personal information
When it comes to personal information, only share what your client needs to know. If they are asking for more personal information than what is required, such as your social security number or bank account details, it could be a sign that they are trying to scam you. Be cautious and clarify with them why they need that information.
Protect yourself even further by getting an EIN to use when filling out a W-9 instead of your social. And confirm with your bank what information you should give if you are being paid by ACH deposit.
They offer to pay you a large sum of money upfront
While getting paid upfront can be tempting, it can also be a sign of a scam. If your client is offering to pay you a large sum of money before any work is done, it's important to proceed with caution.
This often plays out with the “client” sending you a check for significantly more than the actual project fee. They say it was an accounting error and ask you to deposit the check and send back the extra. Their check will eventually bounce, and you'll be out both the project fee and any money you sent them.
Always ask for a reasonable down payment and make sure you clearly define the remaining payment amounts and deadlines in your contract.
They pressure you to start working immediately
Some clients may pressure you to work on a project before they send payment. They'll often cite tight deadlines. This can be a sign that they are trying to rush you into something that may not be legitimate. Always take your time to review the project scope, deliverables, and timelines. If the client is not willing to give you that time, it is better to move on to the next opportunity. And never start working without a signed contract/agreement and your deposit or payment.
They are unresponsive or difficult to communicate with
Communication is key to any successful project. If your client is unresponsive or difficult to communicate with, it can be a sign that they are not serious about the project or may try to scam you. Always have a clear communication plan with your client, and if they are not responsive or communicative, be upfront with them and consider ending the project.
When in Doubt, Walk Away
Pay attention to your gut if something doesn't seem right. Always review contracts carefully, and ask for clarification on anything you are unsure about. Remember, you are running your own business and you have the right to protect yourself from fraudulent activities. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Always do your due diligence before accepting any project, and take care of yourself and your business!
What signs do you look for if you think a potential client isn't legit?