Introduction to Freelance Writing: Spotting a Scam

Avoiding writing scams online

So you’ve decided to become a freelance writer. If you’re just taking your first steps into the world of freelance writing, you’re probably fresh-faced and eager, ready to jump headfirst into the sea of potential job listings that are posted around the web.

But don’t be too hasty. You could run into trouble. In this blog, we’re going to examine a number of the most common scams out there. Since we spend most of our day helping you find a writing job, we’ve seen it all. So, where should we start?


Paid Work

If you want to become a freelance writer, that means getting paid. Unfortunately, not everyone wants to pay you. If you’re browsing Craigslist or other job boards while searching for work, you might come across a number of phrases, many of which indicate that this might not be the paying job you’re after.

Some posts will be kind enough to mention that they don’t pay. That’s fine. Close the tab and move on. Others might promise a portion of the ad revenue or the profits from the site. Many people are attracted to this, thinking that their writing will bring in the biggest audience possible and with it the profits. Usually, however, this is just a way to avoid paying the writers. Unless you know them personally, you should probably steer clear.

The same goes for start-ups. Many brand-new businesses will be struggling to get off the ground. Writing is one area where they’ll look to save money. Phrases such as “the position is unpaid for now, but will evolve into a paying position as soon as we’re up and running” or “long-term, full-time work will be available for committed volunteers” should set alarm bells ringing. Unless you’re getting paid your desired rates, avoid these positions.


Giving Out Samples

Samples. Trial periods. Test articles. Many positions will ask you for a short-written sample when applying for a position. Some of these will be legitimate. But some will simply be trying to get you to work for free. Say you complete a 500-word blog entry for what seems a very desirable job. You send it off, full of hope. And you never hear back from the client again. Meanwhile, your post is already up and running and you’re left without pay.

It’s hard to say don’t provide samples. As mentioned, certain circumstances do warrant providing a short example of your capabilities before beginning. But be wary. You should really have an online portfolio which shows off your work already, so don’t be afraid to point clients in that direction. If the client insists, it comes down to your discretion.

Almost every writer will have fallen for this trick at one time or another. If you’ve been caught, think of it as a rite of passage. A cost of doing business. One of the keenest senses you’ll develop as a freelance writer is being able to tell when to trust a client. After one or two brushes with this type of client, your senses will be properly sharpened. Giving out samples can be beneficial, but always be wary.



Writing for exposure is one of the biggest myths of the modern world. You’ll get your name out there, they say. You need to build a reputation, you’ll be told. Any publicity is good publicity, you’re assured. These are all – essentially – lies.

If you’re searching for writing jobs online, you will inevitably come across media outlets which offer to publish your work in exchange for exposure. You’ll get your name on the by-line but you won’t get paid. In essence, you’re writing for free.

Granted, there are certain outlets which might be able to provide a degree of profitable exposure for writers. But these are the biggest websites on the internet. The Guardian, for example, or Mashable, or the Huffington Post. Having your name published by one of these companies could be beneficial in the long term. But the exposure you get from a tiny, struggling Cracked clone will be less than worthless. These opportunities should be avoided like the plague.

You can’t put food on the table with exposure.


Dodgy Clients

Unfortunately for the freelance writer, you exist at the whim of your clients. They’re the ones paying. They’re the ones who control the flow of cash. So dealing with difficult, awkward, or just plain dodgy clients is almost inevitable. As we’ve already discussed, newbies and first timers will benefit from refining and developing a sixth sense for these matters. Once you’re experienced, there are a few indicators which can set alarm bells ringing.

There’s those clients who are just too nice, for example. It sounds weird to say, but being flattered feels good and it can lower your guard. Among the compliments are promises for paid work. Eager to please, you complete the project and then send off your invoice. Then there’s nothing but silence.

Similarly, there are those clients who want a bit too much from you. We’re not necessarily talking about time or energy (though those clients do exist), but we’re talking about personal information.

Remember, you should never be handing out private and personal information to anonymous people over the internet, regardless of whether they might hire you. The risk is simply too big. Phishing scams, attempts to extract your banking information, identity theft. Remember to be on high alert when chatting to potential clients.


Paid Websites and Recruitment Firms

There are plenty of websites which are designed to help you find work online. You’re on one now, for example. But not all websites are created equal. We’re not going to name names, but there are a number of job databases and sites which offer the promise of hundreds of possible positions in exchange for a payment, either a one-off or a recurring monthly charge. However, it’s always disappointing when you get inside.

Think of it like a nightclub. You’ve got to the front door, paid your entrance fee, you’ve stepped inside and – to your horror – you’ve discovered that it’s almost empty. There’s a few people scuttling around, sure. But it’s nowhere near worth what you’ve paid to get in. Your expectations are shattered. You wander home, disappointed.

It’s one of the reasons why we were compelled to set up Find a Writing Job. We provide you with links to loads of writing jobs every single day and you don’t need to pay to get in. Instead, we offer a subscription model for our emails, which provides a huge amount of information about the jobs we’ve already listed. We simply want to save you time, but – thanks to our free daily blogs – you can already see that we’re packed to the rafters with writing positions. So, when you’re starting out, be wary of sites which promise lots and deliver little.



Of course, there are plenty more scams and schemes out there, waiting to trick you. It’s like an eternal race, whereby the scammers and the writers are always trying to pull slightly ahead. The best advice is always to use your common sense. Unfortunately, this develops and gets better over time. For those new to the game, trying to spot a scam can be really difficult.

But stick with us. Thanks to our search and filtering methods, we cut out many of the worst opportunities on a daily basis. Those positions offering only exposure, those after your personal details, or those which are simply too good to be true. We filter these out before they ever hit the blog. While we can’t promise to eliminate every murky posting, we do want to guide you through the world of writing as best we can.

Stay tuned for more blogs and daily writing updates as we try to make finding a writing job easier than ever before.

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