Getting Scammed: Six Lessons from a Freelancer

Getting scammed never feels great. Getting scammed when you are in a place where the scammer seems to have the exact answer at the exact time makes it even worse. What you thought was the blessing you hoped for becomes a test you never signed up to take.

I got scammed. Fortunately, I found out before any real damage could be done (thanks in part to my husband’s natural paranoia). Still, it caused me to lose time and motivation and that can be a tough enough couple of hurdles to jump.

Getting scammed is not something that happens often to me. When I first started freelancing, I got burned with some “test content” and have since been of the mindset that you can trust, but verify when it comes to freelance work.

This time, I was in a place of hopeful expectation.

Six Lessons from Getting Scammed

It all started with what I thought was a response to one of several content writing inquiries. Before the holidays, I had sent out a dozen or so queries. Life and a shift in focus allowed me to lose focus of the ones where I had applied.

Lesson One:

When applying or querying, keep a backup record so that if you clean out your email box, you’ll still know who you contacted.

The email came to my work address and hit on my specialty: content writing. It probably didn’t hurt that they email stroked my ego a little:

Hello Kathryn,
We would love to invite you to interview for the Content Writer position. We went through your background and would love to talk about employment with us, please reach out at your earliest convenience if interested, Thank you.

My first instinct was to ask how they found me. My second was that if I asked how they found me I might offend someone. The third thought was that it couldn’t hurt to have an interview and find out a little more.

Lesson Two:

If a potential client or employer gets offended because you ask how they found you then they are not someone you need to be working with. Listen to your gut.

The first round of the interview process was conducted through an app and basically was me answering questions about what I felt were my strengths and weaknesses – basic interview stuff. At the time of the interview, I wasn’t really looking for a full-time position so I didn’t answer in a way that I thought would get me the job. I just answered honestly (and with some answers that make me want to copy them and save them for later use).

There was nothing fishy (get it) about the interview process. Warning bells should have gone off four days later when I was told they wanted to hire me. It wasn’t that the process was too easy (we all want jobs that show up that way) but it was that the job showed up out of the blue. Other jobs that have shown up like this have come from recommendations by friends or former clients. 

The email stated: You have been hired . .. but then said they wanted to offer me the content writer role. I let my emotions stand in the way of the internal editor so I didn’t catch that until right now (and trust me, over the last several days I’ve read all the emails and correspondence numerous times).

Lesson Three:

Emotions should NEVER drive the train.

Reading this now – and if I’m completely honest even then – things didn’t make a whole lot of sense. This was about the time I started researching the company. Although the company logo was on the emails and the attachments were on letterhead, something didn’t seem right.

I’m not sharing the company name because once I caught on, I found out other companies had similar problems. But I will say that I looked the company up on social media and then researched for the names of the people that were in contact with me . . . and found them.

So I proceeded even though things didn’t seem quite right.

Lesson Four:

SLOW DOWN! If you take your time when something doesn’t seem quite right then you will have the time to find out what that bug in your ear is trying to tell you.

I followed the directions given to me by my recruiting specialist – which involved a direct deposit of funds to purchase hardware to set up my office. Yes, I hear you. Five years ago, I would have had all sorts of warning bells going off. But last year I worked for a company that supplied hardware. And the company website with the job posting mentions that they have a home office reimbursement program.

I also knew from previous long-term content writing jobs that I would need to have my money direct deposited into my account. Not many people do paper checks these days. 

Again, my Spidey Senses were tingling because I seriously considered going to the bank and opening a new account. But I didn’t.

Ignoring spidey senses while getting scammed

Lesson Five:

If you aren’t sure about something then ask questions until you are sure. It’s best to know what you’re leaping into. You are making a business connection and if the directions don’t make sense then ask until they do. 

Side note. Many years ago, I would go up to a local swimming hole and jump off the rocks into the water below. During a drought a few years back, we hiked up to the falls with our sons. It was shocking the number of rocks we had been jumping (and diving) over all those years. Once I saw what was in the water, I knew better than to jump. 

Back to me getting scammed. 

I leapt and then I got the following email:

I was just informed that payroll is experiencing issues with direct deposit at the moment but they will be able to issue an echeck and I will have the images sent to you to have deposited remotely.

Now, normally (yes, that is a hook hanging out of my mouth) I would have stopped right here. Why couldn’t we just wait until their system was working again? But since the FAA was having technical issues, I didn’t see why this company couldn’t be having issues as well.

The “echeck” arrived just before my bank closed. After several attempts, the app took the check but it didn’t deposit directly.

Getting Scammed warning bells

And THEN the warning bells got loud enough that I paid attention.

  • The check was from a separate company.
  • The check was for JUST UNDER what I had said was my deposit limit.
  • The check was signed by names I couldn’t read.

I broke off contact and started digging. I called the bank. I called the company listed on the check. I called the bank listed on the check. I started contacting the top executives listed on social media.

When nothing happened, and I got no responses, I assumed it was an elaborate (and kind of wasteful) rues. I was fairly certain that I was getting scammed.

Lesson Six: 

If all the signs are pointing in the same direction then it’s probably a good idea to pay attention.

My day required more phone calls, a trip to the bank, and additional emails. The executives finally did reach out to me. The bank rejected the check saving me the hassle of doing anything with that, but I had to close the account and open a new one. The company on the check was grateful that I had reached out (and was able to forward a copy of the check they had used).

Freelancing is TOUGH! It was tough before 2020 when everyone and their brother started jumping on the online bandwagon. Now, it’s almost painfully tough. 

But some things haven’t changed.

Basic Rules for Online Freelancing

  1. Have some type of security in place to monitor your personal information. I am fortunate that I have those in place already so even if the scammers managed to get some information, there would be very little to do with it. You want to be found, but you don’t want to be used.
  2. Be diligent in researching potential jobs. Although I did some do diligence in researching, I hesitated to follow through where I felt I should. Don’t let fear every rule your choices.
  3. If it seems to good to be true, I’m sorry. It probably is. 
  4. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER pay to get a job. One thing the scammers did ask was if I would make the purchases of the hardware myself until they could reimburse me. That was a hard pass from me.
  5. If a request makes you uncomfortable, then say so. I wish I had been more upfront about my concerns.

You can rule this freelance journey, just be sure you have all of your safety gear on before you jump.

Getting scammed is one of the things that can stop you from reaching your goals. But it’s not the only hurdle that can stop your success!

Get the bonus content: What Stops Your Success

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