The Way We Work
April 12, 2010 by Tamara Rice

Recently oDesk had the opportunity to talk about writer-targeted scams with marketing expert Marcia Yudkin, author of 11 books inluding Freelance Writing for Magazines and Newspapers, whose work has appeared in the New York Times and Boston Globe. Her insightful article “You Too Can Sniff Out a Scam” got us wondering what freelance writers need to know to protect themselves.

oDesk: First of all, why would scam artists target writers?

Marcia Yudkin: Scam artists target anyone who is vulnerable by virtue of diminished intellect or heightened gullibility, and intense hope for success makes aspiring writers willing to believe instead of being skeptical.  The scammers use that to part them from their money.

oDesk: What are the biggest scams you see threatening writers today?

writing scams alsoYudkin: Decades-old scams that originated prior to the Internet are still duping writers.  Here are the biggest ones:

Scam #1  “You’re talented. We can get you a show or book contract.”

Someone with a mesmerizing voice and silver tongue calls with flattery and an opportunity.  You should have your own radio show.  Or you should publish a book.  Only much, much later are you told about the thousands of dollars you need to invest to make this happen, and by that time, such details hardly register in your swelled head.

These callers are not talent scouts;  they’re sales people.  Give a cold, hard look at their “opportunity.”  Don’t let the flattery make you ignore the cost.

Scam #2  “Join our venture.”

writing scamsSomeone with a lot of enthusiasm and a clever idea approaches you, saying they’ve seen your work, found your website or heard about you from someone they can’t remember.  Their new venture is going to turn into the next Blogger, Twitter or YouTube.  Get on board by writing our sales letter or website.  You’ll get paid out of the money that pours in after the launch.

If you wouldn’t work for free for someone who just called you out of the blue and asked, don’t do so for this starry-eyed, smooth-talking entrepreneur.  You’re unlikely to ever see pay for your work.

Scam #3  “Prove you can do it.”

Here the scammers ask you to provide an unpaid writing sample, but not something you already have on hand.  Rather, they give you a creative brief and ask you to write to it, promising that if you show high ability, you’ll get well-paid assignments.

Unfortunately, their “test” is a ruse to get you to write what they need. They are asking numerous people to contribute and have no intention of paying anything later.

oDesk: What are the tell-tale signs of a writing scam?

Yudkin: Watch our for generic flattery, when someone praises you to the skies but without saying anything specific.  Is this something they could have said to anyone?  Then they probably are.

If something seems too good to be true, that’s probably the case.  Stand back and be skeptical.

Telling you there’s a small window of time in which to make your decision is another red flag signalling a scam.  Beware of any other kind of pressure too, such as a scarcity of available slots.

Scam artists abound in any time, but especially in times of recession. There are people out there who will say anything to make a quick buck at a hopeful freelance writer’s expense. Don’t let that freelance writer be you!

Tamara Rice

Freelance Writer and Editor

Tamara Rice is one of several freelance writers on the oDesk Blog team. She joined the oDesk marketplace in 2009, after more than six years on staff at an award-winning national magazine.