Spotting Scams

Many technical writers use the Internet to look for work. While the World Wide Web is an invaluable tool for all types of freelancers, it's important to be aware that there are many scams out there. This fact shouldn't deter you from looking for jobs online, however. You just have to know what to watch out for. Here are some red flags that may indicate you are dealing with a scam artist:

  1. You are asked for money: The number one rule of technical writing (and any other type of freelance writing) is that you should never pay to get work. Follow this rule, and you'll avoid 99% of the scams out there. You may be asked for money to access job boards, and some scam artists will even request money to send you training materials. As soon as you receive these types of requests, move on. There is no point in trying to argue with the scammer.
  2. You are not provided with company and/or contact information: Before you ever take on a technical writing assignment, it's important to know who you are dealing with. If you apply for a gig and receive a reply, the person should tell you which company they are representing. If they are not affiliated with a company, they should give you their full name and a contact number. Request this information if it is not provided, and do not complete or submit any work until you are satisfied that you know who you are working for. If the person or company has every intention of paying you, there is no reason why they should be reluctant to provide their full contact information.
  3. You are asked for highly personal information: If you are hired to work as a technical writer for a company, you may be asked for your social security number. Before you provide this, be sure you are dealing with a legitimate and reputable company. If this is the case, it's fairly safe to give this information. Scam artists, on the other hand, will often ask for information like credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and copies of drivers' licenses. In addition, they will also usually be reluctant to provide information about themselves or their company. Trust your intuition and use common sense. Never provide personal information if you don't feel comfortable doing so.
  4. You are asked to do a free sample: Free samples are also known as trial articles. They are often, but not always, scams that are designed to get free content. For example, an individual may need a user guide. You apply, and are asked to complete the assembly instructions as a sample. Another person's sample may be a review of the product, while someone else might compile troubleshooting information. After the scam artist has received all of the "samples," he has a complete user guide, and he didn't have to pay a cent. See "should I complete a trial article?" for more advice and information.

Last Updated: 05/05/2014