The Most Legitimate Looking Internet Scam I Ever Saw

As a freelance writer, you’re probably used to internet scams. Maybe someone wants you to front them money for a project or give them access to your bank account. In general, you’re alert about the potential for getting scammed while working online.

The other day, I nearly fell for a scam. It was the most legitimate looking scam that I ever saw. In fact, if in the end I hadn’t trusted my gut, I may have ended up in a big predicament. I wanted to detail what happened in a post so that you can avoid the same fate.

A Normal Beginning

The project started like all of my legitimate projects do. I reached out to an organization called OldGuide.com with a legimate looking website to see if they needed assistance. A man emailed me back from the same domain as the website with a complete email signature. He asked for samples of my work, which I sent over.

Request for a Written Portfolio

After he liked my writing portfolio, he sent over more details about the project he needed done, including a writer’s guide. He wrote that he needed 46 pages of content written within the next month. Around half of the pages were written by a different freelance writer, but they didn’t particularly like the written work and wanted it redone. He asked me to send over what my rate for this project was.

Setting the Project Rate

I told him that I’d be comfortable writing the project at a rate of $50 a page, which accounts for the fact that some of the pages didn’t need to be started from scratch. He asked if I’d be comfortable doing it for a flat rate of $2,000, which amounts to around $43 a page. Since the volume was high, I said yes, but that I’d need a deposit upfront for 50% of the project. He asked if he could pay by check instead of PayPal and I said okay, but that I wouldn’t start the project until the check cleared. He agreed.

Signing Contracts

I sent over my normal freelance writing contract, he signed it and I sent it back to him with a counter signature. Since this is how so many of my real client projects go, I didn’t think anything of it.

Red Flags

Later that night, around midnight, he asked me to buy a FedEx shipping label so his “donors” could send the check faster. This to me was a red flag. Who were these donors? However, I wasn’t 100% sure there was something fishy at this point, to be honest. I’ve worked in situations where the client’s mom paid for the service or their wife. I responded and said that I wasn’t comfortable with this and if that meant that it wouldn’t work out, that’s okay, but I’d have to pass.

The Classic Scam

He responded again in the middle of the night. This time I knew it was a scam. In fact, it was the classic scam where they’d overpay you, you’d deposit the check into your bank account, and write out checks to other people from your account with the difference. Only, the check wouldn’t clear and they stole your money. Here’s the actual email:

Our donor will be dropping off the check first thing in the Morning. However, our donor have agreed to split the donation into two equal checks only, meaning that you’ll be receiving a check of $2500 being half of the proposed $5000. We couldn’t get them to split it more than that. So, after you deduct your initial deposit, We will also need you to help take care of the previous writer with the balance of the money. They have insisted upon getting a part of the monies before releasing the contents and other documents of the website to us. So Upon receiving the check, you are to deduct $1000 as your payment, and then make a cash deposit of $1500 to the previous writer.
 According to them, they have some issues with their account, so they cannot accept wire transfer or cash a check as well. This means that once you verify the funds in your account, you will withdraw the cash and take it to the bank’s physical location, and then deposit it into their account. I understand this is not part of your job description, and might be a little stressful on your part, I am only asking you to assist us in solving this problem, text and media contents as well as access to the wordpress and web hosting will be released to us and we together will be completely on our own to avoid any delays going forward.
 I will also need your help in hiring another web designer, as well as caregivers via craigslist. I tried make an ad this morning, but it blocked off the IP address here and would let me. So there will be an extra $100 from the check to enable you help us put up two adverts on craigslist. One for a web designer, and one for caregivers to join the foundation. I will really appreciate if you can handle this for us.
 So the first set of tasks will be to have your deposit payment, pay the previous writer to enable us get all the remaining contents and documents of the website, and get rid of them so that we are completely together throughout this project. And also to make ad postings for other contractors to join the foundation. once you verify that you can handle this for us, we will proceed immediately to authorize our donor to drop off the check.let me know if this is clear to you. Thank you

What the Scammers Did Right

  • Most scams are poorly written. The lack of typos, the credibility of a domain name, and the written documentation were all signs that this was a legit opportunity.
  • “Interview” me and ask for samples.
  • Offer a realistic amount for the work. If they would have said, I’ll pay you $10,000 for 46 pages of content, I’d have said scam from the get go.

How to Avoid Scams

  • Understand that scammers are becoming more confident and you need to be more dilligent in ensuring opportunities are real.
  • Trust your instinct. The word “donor” was enough to be a red flag for me.
  • Start small. Ask to write one page upfront as a paid test assignment.

If you’re looking to hire a freelance writer and you’re not operating a scam, please email me at melanie@melaniegreen.info.