Scamming Freelancers

Getting scammed (or, in our case, almost scammed) takes a lot out of you. The whole process is physically and emotionally exhausting, never mind embarrassing.

Just Needed a Little Extra Cash

May and June have never been good to us and this year those months really sucked. Part of that overall awfulness is tons of unexpected expenses.  So, I decided to look for a freelance job to make a bit of extra money. I signed up with a couple of freelance job boards and started putting in bids. I was submitting at least two bids per day and rejections started coming in hard and fast. It’s hard to land that first gig. Imagine then, my excitement when I finally got a “job offer”. Of course, it wasn’t a real job offer; it was a scam, and I came very close to losing thousands of dollars.

How the Scam Works

A while back, my husband and I watched a great TV show about romanticized scammers, called The Hustle. If you haven’t seen it, I can’t recommend it enough. In the show, the con artists are Robin Hood types who only go after truly awful people. But it’s also a great show about how the con plays on your emotions. In the very first episode they tell you that “the first rule of con is [that] you can’t cheat an honest man. The only way this works is if you want something for nothing. So, what do we do? We give you nothing for something.”

That’s not all there is to it. There is also the way they rope you in. Just like in The Hustle, these guys played on my emotions: insecurity because I wasn’t getting anywhere as a freelancer and the need to get a bit of extra cash.

Hooking the Unwary

They roped me in with the interview. It was a Skype interview but a strange one. We just texted each other; we never teleconferenced. I thought that was odd, but I am new to freelancing so who knows? Maybe this is how it’s always done. Then they had me take a test. It was straightforward grammar and spelling test. I passed easily though I suspect I would have “passed” if I had gotten every question wrong. I was told that they had reviewed my application and my exam scores and decided to hire me. I was over the moon. They were sending me a contract and would I please sign it and return it to my assigned supervisor. Wow, that was fast for a large company. But maybe it’s faster for lowly freelancers?

Catching the Newbie

Then they started (as Hustle puts it) to “reel me in.”  My new “supervisor” told me (again via Skype chat) that he wants me to have an Apple notebook, HP printer and company software. Why can’t I just use my own notebook and printer, I wondered? He gave me some BS excuse and I remember sighing. I don’t really care for Apple products and why did I need all the extra junk in my workspace? But if that’s what they want, fine. How were they going to ship all this stuff to me? (Ostensibly, I had gotten a job with a pharmaceutical company based in Texas.)

Oh, they were going to send me the money to get it from a local vendor. Great. Another hassle.  But fine. How was I to return it once the project was over? The equipment is for me to keep. What? Now, this was beginning to sound weird. But if that’s what they want—fine. OK, they were sending the check now. Did I get it? Yes, I got it. Please sign it and deposit it with the bank app. My supervisor would wait while I did that. Another huge red flag. Who–let alone which representative of a major corporation—hangs out online, waiting while for lowly freelancer to deposit a check? I should have hung up on him right then. In my defense, all I can say is that by this time I had been chatting to these guys for four hours after working for a solid eight hours and after a twelve-hour shift you start making bad decisions.

Got Out While I Could

I am sure they were counting on that. To make a long story short, I went ahead and deposited the check. “Was the money available?” my new supervisor asked. “It was available,” I responded not realizing that these days banks have to make the money available to you unless the deposit is over $5,000 or they have good reason to be suspicious. Once I said that, it turned out that my new supervisor had found a vendor for my equipment, and they would only accept payment by Zelle or Apple Pay. We don’t have any Apple products, but we did download Zelle and tried paying with that. Zelle refused the transaction saying that the e-mail given was invalid. I know, I know another huge red flag.

At that point my new “supervisor” wanted me to go and get Visa gift cards, photograph the front and back and send him the images. That, my husband who was researching the Internet while I was typing with my new “manager” is a classic gift card scam. At this point, I did the smart thing and got out while I still could. Thanks to my husband.

Scammers Hang Out on Freelance Job Boards

The next day we went to the bank just to make sure we wouldn’t get in trouble for depositing what we were now pretty sure was a fraudulent check and the manager told us that what we went through is pretty common. Apparently, scammers hang out on freelance job boards and given what he’s heard over the years, our story does not shock him at all. According to him, we had got off lightly. And when I looked at the community bulletin board, I quickly realized why scammers like freelance sites so much.

Be Kind for Your Sake

Some guy who had almost the same experience as I did except that he lost $3,000 wrote a lengthy post warning others. What was the reaction? Some thanked him but the overwhelming majority were just awful, calling him stupid and listing all the warning signs he had ignored. This poor guy who probably felt awful about his abilities (I did—I mean only a scammer would “hire” me) and who lost a lot of money was trying to do the right thing and was getting beat up for it. Seeing that post, why would anyone say anything?

So let me propose an amendment to the Hustle motto of you can’t cheat an honest man. You can’t con a kind community. And since kindness is in short supply on freelance job boards, that’s where scammers go.

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