Signs of a Freelance Scam

What to look for and how to protect yourself

Hi freelance friends! Today I wanted to talk about something we don’t talk enough about in the freelance world: scams. Anyone can fall for a scam, and people looking for work are especially vulnerable.

— Kaitlyn

Signs of a Freelance Scam

1. They’re looking for free labor

Some people and brands will ask freelancers to do a test project for free. This can and does happen with legitimate businesses. For example, proofreaders and copy editors are often asked to do an editing test. But it's also possible that they're just looking to get some free labor out of you. Asking for free work isn't necessarily a scam, but it is a red flag. If you must take on an unpaid assignment, make sure that the scope of work is reasonable.

This is one reason why I never take on free test projects. Legitimate companies are happy to review your portfolio or accept paid test assignments.

2. They refuse to sign a contract

Most established businesses will send over a contract or be okay signing yours. Contracts specify deliverables, costs, deadlines, and expectations. It's normal to negotiate contract points. What's not normal is refusing to sign one.

3. They’re using a bogus email

Just this week I got an email from [email protected] looking for a freelancer. That's not how Simon & Schuster formats emails, so it's an easy delete. Anytime someone tries to impersonate another person or business, it's shady.

4. They want to pay you in exposure


4. They want to pay you with something that’s not money

Cold hard cash pays your bills. Unusual forms of payment like gift cards are a scam.

5. They want you to pay them

Never buy a product, software, or service because a client demands it. You should never have to pay to access work. Legitimate companies will often give you access to certain tools you need to complete work. If a client asks you to make a deposit, refund a wire transfer, or buy something, decline and run like hell.

6. They’re pressuring you

There's a sense of urgency. The company wants you to say yes immediately. Remember, there are no emergencies in freelancing. Some legitimate projects have a fast turnaround. But scam artists often want you to make a quick decision.

7. They don’t have a legitimate website or social media account

It's 2024. This is basic stuff. A lot of companies will have outdated websites or social media profiles, but they will have something.

8. They’re riddled with punctuation and grammar issues

If you see one grammar mistake, it's human. But error-riddled copy that's difficult to decipher is a massive red flag. So is addressing any communications to a name that's not yours.

9. They’re unusually vague about what they need

Brands hiring freelancers know what they need, even if they don't know how it should be executed. Legitimate job postings will specify exactly what the brand needs.

10. They’re interested in your personal information

Your client does not need your:

  • Social Security Number (more on that in a minute)

  • Home address

  • Credit card information

Obviously, you will need to send over tax documents that include personal information. But never share this information until after you're hired and you've verified their identity.

Protect Yourself

If you only do one thing from this list, make it applying for an EIN.

1. Apply for an Employer Identification Number

If you're US-based, apply for an Employer Identification Number. An Employer Identification Number replaces your Social Security Number, so you don't have to share your SSN with a client. You never have to pay for an EIN and the process is immediate.

2. Do your due diligence

Research a company's social media, website, and online presence. What kind of reputation do they have? Run a Google search with just the company name. Multiple websites for the same company could indicate a fraudulent business.

3. Diversify your income

Anyone can fall for a scam. However, having a stable income source allows you to make decisions from a more powerful place. When you have revenue coming in from multiple sources, you won’t need to take a gamble on a prospective client.

4. Set and enforce your boundaries

I never take on unpaid test assignments. I know other freelancers who require a deposit upfront. I know that setting (and enforcing) boundaries is easier said than done, but putting some in place can help protect you.

5. Talk to other freelancers

This is where the freelance community comes in handy. Talk to other freelancers! If you're not sure about a brand, ask around. Other freelancers will share their honest opinion and their experiences.

6. Trust your instincts

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Decline anything that seems fishy. There’s a lot of legitimate clients out there. You’ll find something better.

7. Make an official report

Report scams to the FBI and/or Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker.


There’s this LinkedIn scam that’s been going on for years. A random account will message freelance writers looking for someone to write about alcohol abuse. The copy always changes but it’ll look something like this:

I’m reaching out because I need a freelance writer for our topic: “effects of alcohol abuse.” Looking forward to hearing from you.

I’ve gotten this message, as have countless others. If you get a similar spammy message on LinkedIn, report it.

Thanks for reading!

P.S. Please take a second to give feedback. I’m eager to hear your thoughts as I develop this section of the newsletter.

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