Ripoff Alert: Beware of 3+ Scams That Target Freelance Writers

Carol Tice

Make piles of money writing from home…even if you don’t have any experience. Yep, hucksters are out there scamming freelance writers every…single…day.

Have you ever wondered if a freelance-writing opportunity you’re looking at is a scam?

It certainly could be. Scams that target freelance writers are common. Some of these ripoffs are age-old and never seem to go away. New ones are always emerging, too–got a new wrinkle for you in this post.

These scams aren’t all about getting jobs, either. There’s shady activity in online learning, PR help for freelance writers, and more.

Often, freelance writers can be too trusting, as we seek to ply our trade. Sadly, there are plenty of people out there ready to take advantage of our trusting nature for their own gain.

Please don’t get scammed!

In this post, we’ll cover three of the most common ways freelance writers get ripped off online. For the full list (Top 10), download this free e-book, where we also include your Scam Fighting Toolkit.


1. Writing for free

There are many ‘opportunities’ to write for free online. You’ll get a lot of pitches that your free piece will give you ‘great exposure.’ Most of these offers are a complete waste of your time and energy.

The most common scam in free writing is the request to write a free trial article as an audition for a job. Unless you have no clips, you shouldn’t have to do this–prospects can just look at your samples and decide whether to hire you.

All too often, companies fill all their content needs by simply asking many freelance writers to do these ‘auditions.’ These free samples are their whole source of content. They don’t really plan to hire anyone.

If you get asked to write a free sample, ask yourself if it’s worth your time.

A good counter-offer is to write the piece on spec–namely, that if they use the clip you’ll be paid. There’s no justifiable reason why your first piece should be unpaid, if it’s good enough to publish.

2. Pennies for ad-clicks

Somewhat similar to Medium’s formula, you may find sites that offer an ‘opportunity’ to write for what they promise will be pay.

But the pay model is based on how often readers click on the ads next to your posts, or how many views a post gets.

Most of the sites making these offers have little traffic, so no clicks will happen. Also, have you noticed that people generally hate online ads? Real diminishing returns there, in general.

This is a formula that may have worked 15 years ago, but few sites today are good pay-per-click earning opportunities.

There is a legit way to earn based on traffic or ad clicks:

  • That’s with a minimum-pay guarantee, with click or eyeball revenue figured in as a bonus. I earned well writing for Forbes on this formula at one point (sadly, their pay scheme is different now).

Any site that really generates high traffic should be willing to offer you some base pay, since they know you’ll get some traffic. If they won’t pay a flat guaranteed fee in addition to click revenue, I recommend you move on.

3. Pay to play

This is one of the oldest scams out there. It’s so popular that the FTC warns against it. “Congratulations, your resume shows you are qualified for X contract job! Just pay the $30 application fee and you’ll be hired.” Nope. Total scam.

Legitimate employers don’t ask you to pay to apply or to get hired for their job.


Also, consider this gray area: the websites that promise you unique lists of freelance jobs, if you’ll pay a monthly subscription fee. (Red flag: No samples will be offered, no free trial. No other benefits, just job lists.)

Heads up: Most of those job ads are simply scraped up from Craigslist and other places you could look at yourself, for free. And most of them pay about $20 per blog post.

When job listings are worth a fee

A paid jobs list should be unique and high-quality, like:

  • FlexJobs, which does an impressive job of digging up legit jobs off arcane places you’ll never find on your own.
  • Freelance Writers Den’s Junk-Free Job Board, which is a hand-curated collection of only the best-paying opportunities online each week (along with exclusively listings we solicit from employers). It’s offered as a minor side benefit of accessing our learning and support resources.

A time-saving list of high-paying gigs is worth a fee, in my view. Most pay-to-play sites serve up warmed-over junk listings.

Save your money, do your own research–and remember that online job ads are rarely a source of great freelance-writing jobs. That only comes from qualifying and pitching your own prospects, who aren’t sifting through 500 resumes from a mass job ad.

Remember, if it sounds too good to be true…it usually is.

It’s your freelance business to run. Be a good steward of your time and resources and do your homework before you jump on any offers, whether they’re for jobs, marketing help, or courses.
Be your own scam-buster!

It’s a great time to be a freelance writer, because there’s a ton of great opportunity out there…but if you waste time falling for scams, it’s hard to earn well. I hope you can use this guide to avoid getting ripped off, so you can spend more time finding great clients.

Ever fallen for a scam? Tell us what happened in the comments.

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  1. Carl Isom

    You mentioned two scams that I see constantly from the American Writers and Artists Institute (AWAI).
    1. Certification Programs in X or Y for $2,500 or MORE.
    2. Direct Response. The founder of AWAI has been selling a Direct response course for years. Every 3 months I get another email hyping the course. I have never been interested in Direct response so I have never fallen for it.

    • Izak

      I get several emails from AWAI on daily basis, claiming that they are experts on various subjects around writing etc. I did take one of there courses on special before joining the Den

    • Carol Tice

      I certainly think their teachers are experienced copywriters. We’ve had some of their trainers do courses for our own Freelance Writers Den. I’ll just say I wouldn’t feel comfortable making some of the promises they do about the earning potential for newbies.

    • Carol Tice

      I’d just like to see any proof that NEW writers can break into direct response. I think there’s very little of it left, and what there is belongs to very experienced copywriters who’ve been in the niche for decades. I don’t want to call anyone a liar, but where is this market today? I don’t get any direct response mailings any more. Does anyone?

  2. Bob Wolf

    I appreciate uprightness combined with a willingness to help others, its a very important part in my own life. And I gladly see that in the leadership of our writer’s den. This is increasingly rare in our broken world.
    Thank you,

    • Carol Tice

      Too true, Bob! Glad you’re enjoying the Den —

  3. Karen Axelton

    Great post. Thanks especially for #9. So many people don’t realize this is an issue. (As an editor, I once had to fire one of my favorite writers for this.)

    Also appreciate the tip to wait until a new client’s upfront payment *hits your bank account* before proceeding. I haven’t been scammed so far, but it’s a good reminder that even if they’re willing to pay upfront, you have to make sure it’s for real.

    • Carol Tice

      You’re welcome, Karen! We have had MANY reports inside Freelance Writers Den of writers who were targeted for the rubber-check scam. It sounds so appealing, they’re paying well… then they ask you to refund part of it back, and are in the wind before you realize their check was invalid and you sent them $500 of your own money. Grrr, makes me burn!

  4. Andrea Kluge

    I was burned when I first started years ago. A “prospect” contacted me via my website requesting I review his site and give a bid; I can’t recall for what. I suggested we start with a phone call for more details. He declined, asked me to review the site first (red flag) and then we’d talk. He also said he paid well (right thing to say to a newbie). So, off I went reviewing the site–it was an online school–clicking links left and right. I told the prospect I was done and ready to talk. Of course, he disappeared. Within 24 hours, my website was hacked and I discovered my domain was being used to send out Viagra spam. I only discovered this because of the email bouncebacks. Then Google blacklisted me as a spammer, including my email address–a true nightmare and a hard-earned, time-consuming, costly lesson!

    • Carol Tice

      That’s…pretty weird. Sort of a different type of problem that can affect EVERYBODY, not just writers, ending up on malware sites.

      I personally am STILL trying to get vestiges of SearchitNow off my computer… I have to check my browser to make sure it’s not up there. Every once in a while, even though I did every ‘remove’ protocol, part of it is still around. I gather it’s notorious for this.

  5. Danny Long

    Thanks for publishing this information, it is very helpful and i will be looking harder to protect myself. i am new to writing and of course have encountered a number of what i felt were leading to a scam of some sort.

    • Carol Tice

      Trust your gut on that, Danny! Anytime it doesn’t seem right, or seems too good to be true… it usually is.

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