I consider myself a pretty savvy Interneter. You gotta get up pretttty early in the morning just to get me on your email list, and I’m happy to say I’ve never fallen prey to a scam.
Not all-the-way prey, anyway.
Yesterday, I almost got scammed. I started my day as usual, and quickly got sidetracked by a Skype notification. A representative from a company I applied to work for as a remote proofreader and copyeditor reached out with an offer letter, or so it seemed.
Something — actually, a lot of things — just didn’t sit right with me. I’ve been a freelance writer and editor for nearly a decade. In that time, I’ve applied, interviewed, pitched, and been hired and rejected more times than I can count. Even if I wasn’t an intuitive advisor I think I would have been able to detect something fishy — or should I say phishy — going on.
Evidently, freelance writer scams are a thing.
I’m happy to say my instincts saved me in time to protect sensitive information like my drivers license and bank account numbers. All the scammers saw was my resume, which is available online, and a typed Docusign version of my signature on their fake job offer letter.
But in case you’re newer to the game, here’s a few tips on avoiding writer scams.
How to avoid a writer’s scam
Double-check the job description
Look for typos, unusual language, and missing key information.
This was my first error. I tend to search and apply for writing gigs at the end of the day, when my brain power is already used up. So, when I found this job on LinkedIn (it’s since been taken down), I hardly scanned the description before clicking the Easy Apply button.
It was a medical proofreader/copyeditor position for a telemedicine practice called Big Tree Medical Solutions. I have loads of experience with medical copywriting, so I just let my eyes glaze over and Easy Apply-d my way into scam central.
When I checked back, I noticed the job description was brief — like 1/3 the length of most others I applied to. While the description stated they were a fast-growing company looking for a humble, service-oriented freelancer, there was nothing about what the job itself entailed. Nor did it state specific skills or experience required.
Look for unusual behavior in the people you interact with
Shortly after applying, I got a message from the person managing the listing (the profile is no longer available). She sent me a link to a form to fill out as part of the application process. This is pretty common in my experience.
However, this person was not affiliated with Big Tree Medical Solutions. Clue #1
She also messaged me on a Saturday, which is not common for legit office folk. #2
She told me to look out for a Skype message on Monday with the next steps in my interview process. The web form I filled out asked for my Skype id, and I’ve done a few interviews on that platform, so I didn’t think much of it.
On Monday, a completely different person reached out to me via Skype chat. Every time I’ve communicated with a recruiter on LinkedIn, they were the person interviewing me. So this multi-person approach was something new. Clue #3
And now is when I start to suspect something. The Skype person was pretending to be the HR Manager at Big Tree. She sent me a job offer letter in the first message, Clue #4 which came through at 9am EDT. That means it was 7am in Missouri, where the company is located. Clue #5
Be wary of offers without an interview
Never in my life have I been offered long-term freelance work without a phone call or at least a lengthy email exchange. Usually, the person hiring wants to get to know you so they can determine whether you’ll be a good fit.
Also — the interviewer has always been the person I’m going to be reporting to, like a managing editor or content manager. HR only comes in when you need to sign paperwork and register accounts with their payroll and project management systems.
Regardless of all these red flags, I returned the offer letter. I was already wary, but I figured a) it was only an offer letter and not a contract, and b) I used Docusign and not my actual signature.
Other signs that scream scam
- The Skype messages from the fake HR person contained a lot of grammar errors
- She messaged me from two different Skype accounts
- She told me the job required a new HP laser printer. For proofreading? WTF?
- Then she told me the company would send me said printer, all she needed was my photo id and mailing address
What to do when you think you’re being scammed
The first thing you should do is stop communicating with the scammers immediately. Then, block them and report the accounts. If the scammer got any sensitive information like your bank account number, call the bank immediately.
I didn’t totally take this advice. After I realized what was likely going on, part of me was curious how much farther they would go. I kept talking to the scammer and asking questions they couldn’t answer.
Then, I looked up Big Tree Medical Solutions website. The scammer was using the name and profile photo of their HR person. I called the number on the home page, and let them know exactly what was going on.
“Can I ask where you saw this job posting?” asked the kind woman who picked up the phone.
“LinkedIn,” I responded.
“Oh, so they’re using LinkedIn, now! I have no idea why on earth they decided to target us.”
Apparently, poor Big Tree has been dealing with this for a while.
I’m glad to see LinkedIn has removed the fake job and profile, and hope Big Tree gets some peace from these malicious scammers!
Unfortunately, writers are a common target for scamming. I’m glad I listened to my gut on this one. I hope you can sniff out a scam before it’s too late!