Top Five Warning Signs to Spot a Writing Scam

Writers need to be wary of online scams

Trying to find a writing job can be difficult. It’s why we’re here to help you, for a start. We put together a list of job postings every day to help you navigate the tricky waters of the online job market. But we don’t include everything we find.

Given how many jobs are posted to Craigslist on a daily basis, it takes us a lot of time to filter out the worst, most suspicious, and the most downright obviously suspicious posts out there. If you’ve spent any time searching through the various job listings online on your own, you will have come across these posts. But for newcomers, it can be difficult to tell the promising from the potentially damaging.

But there are a few signs to look out for. These are the top five warning signs you should spot when you’re looking for an online writing job:



First, we should couple together the classic ‘ALL CAPS’ approach and the over-use of the exclamation mark. In both cases, this stylistic choice makes it seem like the advertiser is shouting. Rather than a possibly-lucrative, intellectually-stimulating job offer, it makes the post seem like a man shouting at you in the street. Very rarely are these street-shouters the best place to source job offers.

If the job poster doesn’t know how to capitalise correctly or when and where to use an exclamation point, you should probably exit the scene as quickly as possible.


Ridiculous Pay Offers

You know those scam emails you get from supposedly foreign dignitaries which want to wire $12 million to your bank account? You know how they’re often filled with spelling mistakes and errors?

Well, there’s a theory which states that these errors are deliberate. They act as a filter. Those put off by the spelling errors (who ignore the spam emails) are instantly put off by the poor writing skills. Those who don’t care or don’t notice are more likely to proceed. These are the people who are more likely to fall for the scam in the first place.

If you’ve spent any time browsing the various jobs online, you should have a rough idea of the amount of compensation you’ll be owed for work. Pay rates vary hugely, but there are always red flags to look out for. When an advert offers “$2,000 a week to sit at home”, for example, you should probably treat the advert with suspicion. Email processing, drop shipping, and many similar scams fall into this category.

Mentions of hourly rates, rates-per-word, and generally industry specific jargon are more welcomed. When the pay looks too good to be true, it probably is.



This one is a bit harder to pin down. When we talk about rhetoric, we’re not necessarily talking about anything specific, but we’re talking about tone. It’s not what they’re saying, it’s the way they’re saying it. It’s an approach favoured by start-ups and ambitious new sites which have no real grasp of how valuable hiring a decent writer can be.

Stop if you’ve heard any of these:

  • “currently, the site is not monetised.”
  • “compensation is not currently available”
  • “writers will be paid in stock and ad revenue”
  • “the better your articles perform, the more you’ll receive!”

And so on and so forth. The point is: we’re not going to pay you for your writing, but we’re too arrogant to say that you’re working for nothing.

Usually, these small sentences are tucked away in a 400-word post describing the amazing work environment and the 50-hour week you’ll be expected to put in. They’re over-egging the pudding. The rhetoric might sound seductive, but they’re trying to scam you into taking no wages. Avoid.


Failure to Mention Specific Subjects or Topics

When you’re being hired as a writer, there’s usually an expectation that you’re going to have some insight or knowledge regarding the work. It might be that you’re already an expert or that you’re willing to do the research. Either way, the client has a topic or subject which needs to be written about and has decided that professional help should be brought into the equation.

But there’s a genre of job listing which entirely fails to mention what you’re going to be writing about. It could just appear as something like “Content writers needed” and that’s it. Nothing to indicate what you’ll be writing about, the length of the articles, the tone, the style – nothing, nada, zip. Even if these posts are not always scams, they should be treated with caution. They’re usually low-paying content mills.


“The lady doth protest too much”

If you are looking at a legitimate job post, it’s very likely that they won’t mention the possibility of a scam. The very thought will not have entered into the advertiser’s head. But there are many posts out there which go to great length to assure readers that everything is totally fine. This isn’t a scam. Honestly. 100% not a scam. Almost always, this means it’s a scam.

But it’s not just limited to the word “scam.” There’s all sorts of weirdness out there. Reassurances that a particular position involves “nothing sexual” or that “we won’t steal your personal information” should immediately start alarm bells ringing in your head. The guilty conscience of the writer shines right through. Needless to say: steer well clear!


And that’s it for our top five warning signs for freelance writers. If you’ve got any you’d like to share or any horror stories, get in touch and we’ll share our collective nightmares in a future blog.

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