A question we hear frequently, whenever we introduce people to the concept of freelancing, is one on how to avoid being scammed/defrauded. The question tends to be put across in a much more basic form: like, for instance, where someone wants to know how he or she can be sure that the folks they will be working for (clients) will actually pay them. There are really no foolproof ways of avoiding scams as a freelancer, and most of the people who have been freelancing for any appreciable period of time will confess to having lost money at some point. Even those who haven’t lost cash have had to redo jobs they had done reasonably well, thus spending/wasting time they’d otherwise have spent working and earning — and hence indirectly losing money. But while there are no foolproof ways of avoiding being a victim of fraud/scams as a freelancer, there are ways in which you can minimize the possibility of being defrauded appreciably. Those include:
- Selecting the freelance market sites to work on with great care: the idea here is to avoid the situation where you may join a freelancing site, bid for a project, win it and then earn money, only to end up being unable to withdraw the money. It can be very tricky, when you withdraw funds, but the funds are not actually wired to your bank account or your PayPal/Skrill account. It can also be another situation where you join one of those freelancing sites that demand membership fees upfront, where you pay such membership fees, only to end up not winning any projects. There are other sites that are alright (in the sense that the folks behind them are decent folks), but where we find that, due to weak controls, most of the clients are scammers. All these are things you can avoid, if you take your time to do due diligence before joining any freelancing site. You can, for instance, check out reviews and visit forums where freelancers exchange notes, to see what is being said about various freelancing sites, before joining.
- Selecting projects to bid on/apply for with great care: the objective here would be to avoid bidding on projects posted by scammers. Take note of the fact that on sites where project fees are deducted upfront (the moment you accept a project), some malicious folks post fake, high value projects. The objective is to get you to accept the projects, hence lose money (in the form of project fees), and then they simply cut communication with you. Some people insist on seeing to it that a milestone capable of covering at least the project fees is set up, before accepting projects. On another note if, from the project specifications, certain clients look genuine but too demanding, you may consider avoiding their projects. They may end up giving you work, then having you redo it severally, which would amount to losing money: because the time you spend redoing work is time you’d otherwise have spent earning cash.
- Insisting on milestone payments: this is the only way in which you can know that a client is serious about having work done. Some people are malicious – they are capable of posting projects, getting you to do work, and then bailing out at the last minute. This can mean losing lots of time and effort in vain, and it can be very painful. If you asked your client to give you the money for the project beforehand, chances are that he wouldn’t trust you enough to do it. Why, then, should he ask you to effectively deliver work on credit, with no milestone in place? If you are desperate and have nothing to lose, you can go ahead to work with no milestones. But as your bargaining power increases, you should insist on milestone payments. The milestone system is fair to both you the freelancer and the client, and any person of goodwill should have no problems using such a system.