Got Scammed, Now What?

by Monthy
29 replies
Hi Fellow Warriors!

I think I have got scammed. Let me tell you my story.

I am trying to make a steady monthly income by freelance writing. I gather clients by either contacting them via their websites (I search mainly for websites where there is a page "Write for Us" or similar page to make sure the search will include people who are looking for writers) and I also make money on the freelancer site Upwork (previously known as Odesk which merged with Elance and is now known as Upwork).

I consider Upwork to be a quality website. Their representatives have always been helpful to me and answered all questions I had. I have not had any disputes on Upwork with clients yet but I know that once a client has awarded me a job and they have transferred funds into escrow for the project, there is no way for them to receive the money back without my approval. I think this makes Upwork safe because there is no way I could do work for the client without getting paid.

However, because I also work outside of Upwork, I sometimes find a client who pays me via Paypal. I found such a client about half a year ago. I was sending her articles almost daily and she always paid me on time. Then I send her one large one (it could almost be considered a book) and she has not paid me for it. She owes me about $300 which kind of sucks. I have notified her multiple times that I'd like to be paid for the piece and got no word from her.

I wonder if there is a way to enforce the payment and make sure I get paid for the work I have already given to her. Do you know of any such way? By the way, she was from Singapore and I am in Europe.

Also, about one week ago I got in touch with a client and we've been chatting on Skype. He would always send me assignments for articles and I would write them for him. We agreed he would pay me every other day for the work done in the previous two days. I welcomed this offer. So I worked for him for two days straight. During these 2 days, I wrote a lot of articles for him and made about $350 according to the rate we agreed on. I have sent him an invoice about three days ago and he still has not paid. That is despite the act that at the beginning he mentioned the exact time (3 pm EST) when he would pay me. The time went by without any payment.

I asked him on Skype, politely first, and he said he had connection problems and he was unable to open his Firefox browser, therefore he was not able to make the payment. I told him he should try to download Google Chrome through Internet Explorer if he was unable to run Firefox. He said he would call an IT guy in the morning.

Since then I have contacted him multiple times and he won't even answer me now. I'm kind of screwed. Is there a way to get the money from him for the work I've done?

Now I have read other "got scammed" threads here on the WF. I know some people ended up in a much worse situation than myself because they actually lost money during the process of getting scammed. The only thing I lost is time for the work I did for the clients without getting paid. Time is very important to me but I will get over it. It was just a few days worth of work anyways.

However, I would like to ask you guys if you have some tips you could share with me on:

1) How (and where) it is a good idea to search for clients for my freelance writing business,
2) Whether there is a way to enforce justifiable payments through Paypal once I have created the invoice and the client still has not paid me.
3) Whether you know of a safer and more efficient way to get paid as a freelancer other than Paypal. I know Upwork is safe but as I already mentioned, I am also seeking clients outside of that platform so would like to know of a better payment processor than Paypal.
#freelancer #paypal #scammed #upwork #writing
  • Profile picture of the author cwlim
    I cannot answer the questions, but if i were you, i would put watermarks on every page, and will only send them copy without watermarks after they have paid. Not sure this works for you...
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  • Profile picture of the author dvduval
    I think if you are dealing with someone you don't know all that well, you need to get paid in advance, or set a very short goal (ex. $50) so that if they screw you, it is only a small loss. Even for customers I have know a long time, I rarely extend more than about $150 in credit, and that is for customers that have spent thousands. Definitely a site like Upwork can help insure you have a mediator, and they too have a credit card on file so they get their money. I hope you have better experiences moving forward.
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    • Profile picture of the author Monthy
      Originally Posted by dvduval View Post

      I think if you are dealing with someone you don't know all that well, you need to get paid in advance, or set a very short goal (ex. $50) so that if they screw you, it is only a small loss. Even for customers I have know a long time, I rarely extend more than about $150 in credit, and that is for customers that have spent thousands. Definitely a site like Upwork can help insure you have a mediator, and they too have a credit card on file so they get their money. I hope you have better experiences moving forward.
      I do and this "negative" experience is not all that negative because as I mentioned in the original post, I only lost a couple of days of work, which does suck, but it could be much worse after all.

      Unfortunately I think that when running an online business you are almost always dealing with "someone you don't know all that well", because most of the people you work with (at least this is my experience) are people who I only chat with online and I never personally meet them. This is true for my Upwork clients, as well, I only communicate with them through the site and never in person.

      Sites such as Upwork have another advantage and that is you can check the people's reputation to see how they did in the past. If they have a great record, you can bet on these people and chances that someone with a 5-star rating will turn out to be dishonest or a scammer are much smaller than in the case of someone you don't know at all, you've only seen their website (you can't verify the info on their sites and what they say about themselves, whereas on Upwork you can be sure that the feedback is from other people) and you only know them by your communication with them.
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  • Profile picture of the author agmccall
    I would start to look for the content via copyscape or some other service. If they are using the content you wrote then send a DMCA notice. Other than that there is not much you can do except learn from this experience

    al
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    • Profile picture of the author Monthy
      Originally Posted by agmccall View Post

      I would start to look for the content via copyscape or some other service. If they are using the content you wrote then send a DMCA notice. Other than that there is not much you can do except learn from this experience

      al
      I have found some websites where the content has been published but I am not sure whether filing a DMCA complaint would benefit me. Thanks for the suggestion though.
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  • Profile picture of the author writeaway
    Ask for payment upfront

    If a client is LEGIT and knows what he/she is doing, the client won't have a problem with this.

    Chalk this up to experience.
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    • Profile picture of the author nowservingpixels
      Originally Posted by writeaway View Post

      Ask for payment upfront

      If a client is LEGIT and knows what he/she is doing, the client won't have a problem with this.

      Chalk this up to experience.
      I'll second that.

      I'm a freelance graphic designer and I use PayPal for some projects myself. I always ask for full payment upfront, and 9 times out of 10 the client doesn't have a problem with that, and I even go as far as offering a 15% discount if they pay the full amount upfront. If they still insist on not paying in full after that offer, I'll require a deposit of 50% of the contract price before I begin working (which is only fair when we're dealing with something as fragile and precarious as creative services.) If they aren't willing to do that, I let them walk.

      A big part of being successful as a freelancer is knowing where to draw your line in the sand.

      I haven't been ripped off by a client using PayPal yet, so my guess would be that the people who intended to scam me were the ones who mysteriously vanished into cyberspace once I informed them that I can't give them any sketches or samples until a deposit is paid.

      I don't know much about the freelance writing world, but in graphic design a deposit [at minimum] is standard.
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      • Profile picture of the author Monthy
        Originally Posted by nowservingpixels View Post

        I'll second that.

        I'm a freelance graphic designer and I use PayPal for some projects myself. I always ask for full payment upfront, and 9 times out of 10 the client doesn't have a problem with that, and I even go as far as offering a 15% discount if they pay the full amount upfront. If they still insist on not paying in full after that offer, I'll require a deposit of 50% of the contract price before I begin working (which is only fair when we're dealing with something as fragile and precarious as creative services.) If they aren't willing to do that, I let them walk.

        A big part of being successful as a freelancer is knowing where to draw your line in the sand.

        I haven't been ripped off by a client using PayPal yet, so my guess would be that the people who intended to scam me were the ones who mysteriously vanished into cyberspace once I informed them that I can't give them any sketches or samples until a deposit is paid.

        I don't know much about the freelance writing world, but in graphic design a deposit [at minimum] is standard.
        Thanks, this seems like a solid piece of advice. Would you mind sharing with us what your strategy is to promote your graphic design business? Do you have a website and promote? Or do you work on freelancers platforms like I do?

        I think sometimes clients are in the same situations as we, freelancers - they don't know if they can trust us. If they pay us up front, in their minds they might have doubts because they might be afraid of scam artists who will then not deliver the work. I think these doubts and fears can be eliminated if you, as a freelancer, have a proven record of being successful, reputable and trustworthy. This can mean maintenance of a 5-star rating on a Freelancer site, having a website with credible testimonials, etc.

        And I agree with you regarding the drawing a line in the sand. A freelancer should not be pushed around by his/her client. Terms should be agreed on before entering into a contract and they should be obeyed. It is the same as with low-paying jobs when the clients offers terribly low rate per word or per hour. If you know you have a level and you can produce high-quality articles, why go for these low-paying jobs when there are clients out there willing to pay more for higher quality? Nobody is forcing you to accept a job, you make the decision as to whether or not to do so.
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        • Profile picture of the author nowservingpixels
          Originally Posted by Monthy View Post

          Thanks, this seems like a solid piece of advice. Would you mind sharing with us what your strategy is to promote your graphic design business? Do you have a website and promote? Or do you work on freelancers platforms like I do?
          I actually started out using Elance before it became Upwork. When they announced the merger I felt like my future was up in the air, so I set up my own website and now conduct all of my business through it.

          Most of the clients I get are referrals -- past clients who were happy with my work and referred me to others.

          The new clients I get all come from social media, primarily Youtube and Facebook. I regularly post helpful and insightful information on Youtube, which took some time to build, but now brings me lots of traffic and clients. Also, I make case study blog posts and advertise them on Facebook. For example, I'll take a case study where I designed a logo for a realtor, post it on Facebook, then pay for it to be a sponsored post that targets realtors.

          I'm sure these concepts can be applied to what you do in some way, so hopefully this helps.

          Originally Posted by Monthy View Post

          I think sometimes clients are in the same situations as we, freelancers - they don't know if they can trust us. If they pay us up front, in their minds they might have doubts because they might be afraid of scam artists who will then not deliver the work. I think these doubts and fears can be eliminated if you, as a freelancer, have a proven record of being successful, reputable and trustworthy. This can mean maintenance of a 5-star rating on a Freelancer site, having a website with credible testimonials, etc.
          Yeah, getting work outside of the freelancing platforms is an entirely different ballgame. There's really no credible ratings/reviews section you can put on your own site, so personal referrals are key here.

          I also try to reinforce my credibility through social media. I think a prospective client seeing that you have a decent sized and active following on social media eases their concerns. They get to see that you're someone with brand equity and a reputation to maintain, and not some faceless, unknown person trying to make a buck.

          Also, from what I can see, PayPal does offer assurance to buyers in the form of fraud protection. So I'm pretty sure that if all the time and work I put into building my social media presence was nothing but a plan I concocted to run off with someone's $400 and go buy a house in Malibu, I probably wouldn't get away with it.
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    • Profile picture of the author georgec77
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      Originally Posted by writeaway View Post

      Ask for payment upfront

      If a client is LEGIT and knows what he/she is doing, the client won't have a problem with this.

      Chalk this up to experience.
      The tables may be reversed then- the client may be the one ending up being screwed.
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  • Profile picture of the author Brent Stangel
    If you don’t think you need a written contract for a client that you’ve never worked with, think about it this way…

    Without a written contract, your client has no legal obligation to pay you. At all.
    https://blog.bidsketch.com/clients/a...-for-payments/
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    • Profile picture of the author Monthy
      Originally Posted by Brent Stangel View Post

      Sorry but I do not think so. I think that if I and the client agree on something, whether in writing, orally, or via Skype, in legal terms we enter into a contract with all the obligations arising from it. The thing is, the obligation is difficult to enforce because I am in Europe and the client is in the United States.

      Brian Kindsvater would be able to provide a much better and detailed answer on this one than myself.
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  • Profile picture of the author Randall Magwood
    Maybe you should try using a service like "escrow .com" to receive payments for your work. Check it out.
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  • Profile picture of the author kilgore
    I know it sucks to get screwed over like you are -- but at the same time, you need to do a cost-benefit analysis on how much it's worth it to you to keep fighting this, especially since you rightly point out that it's going to be hard to enforce from across an ocean.

    If it were me, I'd probably just move on. $350 isn't nothing, but it's also not the end of the world. At least to me -- again, you have to do your own cost-benefit calculations.

    Still, just about every type of business has to deal with things like this. Whether it's chargebacks or shoplifting or not getting paid for the work you did -- it's part of the costs of doing business, and it's something you should factor into the price of your services.

    I do like Al's idea of filing a DMCA for any content you haven't been paid for. No, it probably won't get you paid, but it's super easy to do and there doesn't seem to be a good reason for allowing someone to use your hard work for free. It at least sends the message that if you don't get paid, they don't get your content.
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  • Profile picture of the author interwebbuzz
    Sorry to hear about these problems. Do you write amazon product info/review articles & if so what is the cost per 100 words?
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  • Always assume you wont get paid and they will scam you so if you don't know them get a third party to take the money or force them to use 3rd party like upwork. The one who holds the money is in control (NOT YOU)! So don't work if you don't know them.
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  • Profile picture of the author Brent Stangel
    I think that if I and the client agree on something, whether in writing, orally, or via Skype
    Then why aren't you being paid? You had a "verbal" contract, which means nothing.

    Good luck...
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    • Profile picture of the author Monthy
      Originally Posted by Brent Stangel View Post

      Then why aren't you being paid? You had a "verbal" contract, which means nothing.

      Good luck...
      I said in legal terms a contract was created. The fact that a contract was created does not mean the client is not going to breach it.

      Why am I not getting paid? Because the client broke his promise and breached the contract. That could happen also in the case of a written contract.

      Does a verbal contract mean nothing? I do not think so. Could a written contract be better? Perhaps, but the person would still be beyond the ocean and enforcement would be problematic, in my opinion.
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  • Profile picture of the author Mike Anthony
    In regard to your Singapore client who has always paid - have you offered a payment arrangement? considering ti seems like it was a larger job than they are accustomed to paying it might be that you have not been scammed but that the client just does not have all the money.
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    • Profile picture of the author Monthy
      Originally Posted by Mike Anthony View Post

      In regard to your Singapore client who has always paid - have you offered a payment arrangement? considering ti seems like it was a larger job than they are accustomed to paying it might be that you have not been scammed but that the client just does not have all the money.
      Well, we agreed on the amount she would pay beforehand so she knew exactly how much she was going to pay me. If she didn't have the money, she shouldn't have agreed on the terms.
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  • Profile picture of the author mountveggie
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    • Profile picture of the author Monthy
      Originally Posted by mountveggie View Post

      I've had a client try to walk away from over $12,000 of unpaid invoices before. As a trusted client that I'd worked with for many months prior, I trusted him and didn't rush to invoice him (and when I didn't, didn't push for payment).

      Big mistake.

      Luckily for me, we live in the same country and I even knew where his office was. Still, I ended up losing almost 6,000 because I didn't want the hassle of taking him to court, and he was only willing to pay half of what he owed me (citing "business problems" as a really bad excuse).

      The lesson is - always, always make sure you're paid. On time. You don't even need to try to be overly polite about it. If a client's not paying you, they're stealing your money - that's the reality.

      And if someone seems fishy, stay away. While it may be tempting to covert every lead we get - some of these leads will cost us more than they're worth. (And if you're a quality copywriter, you're worth quite a lot.)

      Sorry to hear that you've run into these issues. Best of luck resolving them, or at least not having these happen again in future!
      Sorry to hear about your issues. Losing 6k must suck but you at least got something from him.

      This experience definitely taught me a lesson. It was not that expensive after all - I only lost two days worth of work. When I was made first contact with the client, I wanted to be paid daily but he said he would pay "every other day", so I agreed. If he said the first payment would occur after a month, I would reject, because having no prior experience with him, I would not know at all what kind of person he is. This way I "only" lost two days and about 10 hours of work. It sucks, yeah, but if nothing else, I at least improved my research and writing skills a little bit again.
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  • Profile picture of the author alopicatso
    I would start to look for the content via copyscape or some other service and put watermarks , If they are using the content you wrote then send a DMCA notice. Other than that there is not much you can do except learn from this experience
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  • Profile picture of the author sbucciarel
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    I would file a DMCA for all published work that hasn't been paid for. Why let them benefit from ripping you off.

    In addition, I would require a 50% deposit before taking a project from anyone. I would also provide the copy as a graphic, watermarked, rather than as text until the customer was a reliable customer who always paid. Once payment is received, I would give them the text document.
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    • Profile picture of the author elmoo
      Originally Posted by sbucciarel View Post

      I would file a DMCA for all published work that hasn't been paid for. Why let them benefit from ripping you off.

      In addition, I would require a 50% deposit before taking a project from anyone. I would also provide the copy as a graphic, watermarked, rather than as text until the customer was a reliable customer who always paid. Once payment is received, I would give them the text document.
      Same here, most of the time ask for 50% deposit when working with new clients. But it is easier for me because I'm video editor and if I send watermarked or low quality video it is 100% unusable.
      But with the text is different. I can't see how watermarked picture of the text will avoid you being scammed.

      However, I can't really give good advice here, because most of the time I trust my clients and deliver the work before getting paid. Soon or later I guess I will be in the same situation.
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    • Profile picture of the author Monthy
      Originally Posted by sbucciarel View Post

      I would file a DMCA for all published work that hasn't been paid for. Why let them benefit from ripping you off.

      In addition, I would require a 50% deposit before taking a project from anyone. I would also provide the copy as a graphic, watermarked, rather than as text until the customer was a reliable customer who always paid. Once payment is received, I would give them the text document.
      Thanks for the response but I am not sure how watermarked text would benefit the situation. The client would see a bunch of watermarked text that they will not be able to read, so they will still have no guarantee that the article has been written (if I was a scammer, I could simply copy a bunch of text from the web, watermark and then present it to the client as if it was the article that I have already written).
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      • Profile picture of the author sbucciarel
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        Originally Posted by Monthy View Post

        Thanks for the response but I am not sure how watermarked text would benefit the situation. The client would see a bunch of watermarked text that they will not be able to read, so they will still have no guarantee that the article has been written (if I was a scammer, I could simply copy a bunch of text from the web, watermark and then present it to the client as if it was the article that I have already written).
        Watermarked text has to be typed to be useful, so the image is not useful to them until it is paid for unless they want to go to the trouble of typing it ... people are lazy and don't want to retype an article. Most watermarked work has a watermark that doesn't cover up the text or design, but is there, and would be a pain to remove.

        I've used that technique more than once with good results. I used to do a lot of freelance work and you develop instincts for which clients you can trust and which you cannot.
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        • Profile picture of the author Monthy
          Originally Posted by sbucciarel View Post

          Watermarked text has to be typed to be useful, so the image is not useful to them until it is paid for unless they want to go to the trouble of typing it ... people are lazy and don't want to retype an article. Most watermarked work has a watermark that doesn't cover up the text or design, but is there, and would be a pain to remove.

          I've used that technique more than once with good results. I used to do a lot of freelance work and you develop instincts for which clients you can trust and which you cannot.
          Ok, that makes sense, thank you. Would you mind sharing how you get clients for your writing business?
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          • Profile picture of the author sbucciarel
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            Originally Posted by Monthy View Post

            Ok, that makes sense, thank you. Would you mind sharing how you get clients for your writing business?
            I'm semi-retired now and don't have a writing business. I was a freelance designer on Elance for many years and always used deposits and watermarks to separate out the scammers from legit customers.

            I used to design powerpoint presentations as well, and those, of course, could be used as is, if I sent it to the clients as a Powerpoint file. I sent it to them as a pdf instead. One client was really pissed. As it turned out, this was a homework assignment for him and he got a bad grade because he couldn't use the pdf and he had no intention of paying for the work, which was several days of work on that project.
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