7 Red Flags for Avoiding Scams as a Freelancer
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7 Red Flags for Avoiding Scams as a Freelancer

With massive increases in remote freelance work over the past few years, freelancing sites have become hot targets for scammers. If you’re on the hunt for freelance work, here are 7 red flags you should keep an eye out for to avoid scams.
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It’s no secret the internet is packed with scams. From e-commerce marketplaces to online job boards, many of us have been duped a time or two (or three). Some of us are still waiting on that Fyre Festival refund to hit our bank accounts.

With freelancing platforms like Pangea.app exploding with opportunity, it's also the opportune moment for scammers to strike. Don't worry, though! As long as you look out for these 7 red flags, you'll be in the clear.

Red flags for freelancers.

#1: Requests For YOU to Pay for Freelance Work

Here’s a common scam occurring across all freelancing sites right now: A company will put you through an intensive vetting process, offer you the gig, and then request you buy an inordinate amount of tech and software that you’ll be reimbursed for later. 

As a freelancer, you’re responsible for the materials and tools required to do your job properly, but clients asking you to make big purchases like this or pay them anything directly should be a big red flag. You should only be applying for roles in which you already possess the tools necessary to get it done. 

In the rare case that a client requires you to buy a unique software or product for their project, work with them to create an invoice for reimbursement first (if not having them pay for it directly). More often than not (aside from certain long-term projects) this will not be worth your while.

Example

After a few conversations, you’ve been offered the freelance graphic design project you’ve been vying for. Your new client sends you a welcome package that includes a list of equipment you’ll need to purchase, including an iMac, iPad, and the entire Adobe Creative Suite. You already have what you need to complete this graphic design project, and get a funny feeling in your gut. 

After probing a little further, things get weirder and weirder. They won’t budge and insist they will wire you the money to make these expensive purchases. At this point, follow your gut and run for the hills! Finding freelance work can be challenging at first and it’s tough to turn things down, but scammers know this and want to take advantage.

Do’s and Don’ts: 

  • Never give out your bank account information as a freelancer. 
  • Always compare a project’s pay with its expenses to make sure it earns money.
  • Keep records of correspondence with your clients using a freelancing platform.
  • Get everything in writing beforehand. They call it contract work or a reason!
Trust your freelancing gut. Don't get duped!

#2: Suspiciously High Pay for Freelance Jobs

If the pay seems too good to be true, there’s a good chance it is. Spammers love to promise high pay rates to attract as many applicants as possible, so it’s important to understand what the going rates are and what could be considered unrealistic. Be sure to research what your ideal freelance jobs are paying on average so you have some insight into your corner of the gig economy.

Example

Let’s say you see a post for a freelance writer job offering $45 per hour.

Could this be real? Sure.

Is it odd this is $20+ per hour higher than any other copywriting project on the platform? Yes.

The average freelance writing role ranges from $18-$25 per hour, so $45 is far beyond the norm. In these cases, scammers posing as potential clients are looking to reel people with lofty promises in hopes of getting your information or stealing your freelance services. Approach with caution and don’t bite the bait!

Do’s and Don’ts:

  • Be wary of suspiciously high pay rates for freelance opportunities.
  • Know the going rates for freelancers in your field.
  • Always research the company or client to establish legitimacy.
  • Always Ask questions! The best freelancers ask questions of all potential new clients.
Beware of suspiciously high freelancer rates

#3: Requests to Take Freelance Work Off-Platform

Scammers know all about the marketplace fees being removed from your pay and will use this information to try and get you to work with them off-platform. Not only is this a violation of every freelance platform’s terms of service, but you’ll also be on your own if anything goes wrong. 

Scammers will offer to pay you via Venmo or PayPal and then ghost you once the work is done. At that point, you’ll have no recourse or ability to hold them responsible, and 9 times out of 10 you’ll be out of luck. This is a VERY common issue, but as long as you stay on-platform, you’ll be covered

Example

On Pangea, your marketplace fees range from 5%-20% depending on your on-platform experience. Potential clients won’t know these rates unless you tell them, but they’re experienced enough to know you are being charged something. So, let’s say you apply for a freelance web designer role. 

The client reaches out expressing their interest and offers to work with you outside of Pangea’s payment gateway to save you money, and you agree. Now, you’re working on a project with no contract, no promises, and no platform to back you up. 

There is nothing in place requiring this client to pay you, and once the work is complete they’ll be gone. This might sound like a platform just trying to keep you around, but the truth is it happens every day.

Do’s and Don’ts:

  • Always keep your freelance work and correspondence on-platform.
  • Never agree to wire payments from 3rd party, off-platform servicers.
  • Always adhere to your freelancing platform’s terms of service.
  • If freelancing on your own, always have your clients sign a contract.
Freelance platforms like Pangea will keep you on your feet.

#4: Requiring Personal Information of Freelancers

Platforms like Pangea have all the paperwork baked into the software. You should NEVER provide a client with any tax-related information, including your social security number, driver's license number, or address. As independent contractors, freelancers are not W2 employees and should not be asked to provide any information related to the Internal Revenue Service.

Also, all 1099 tax forms will be sent to you by the platform you’re using. Requests for an independent contractor to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement is commonplace, but even those should be thoroughly reviewed. The bottom line is to be careful, and don’t provide any information that shouldn’t be asked of a freelancer.

Example

You work in web development and have agreed to take on a freelance project helping a business revamp their website for a fixed price. They set up your contract properly through the freelance platform you’re using, but also email over an IRS form requesting your SSN and more.

Rightfully so, you let them know you are an independent contractor, and everything is already set up for payment within the freelancing site. They insist they need this information for their own bookkeeping records, and will not budge. This could be a case of confusion if the person has never hired on a platform like Pangea before, but it’s better to be safe than to be scammed.

Do’s and Don’ts:

  • Never provide a client with your SSN, license number, address, or any other private info.
  • Don’t fill out any internal revenue service-related paperwork as a self-employed person.
  • If an NDA is required for a freelance job, always review it carefully.
  • Stick to the platform and use their contract and payment gateways.
Freelancers are independent contractors and expose their personal info.

#5: Odd Forms of Payment for Freelance Work

Payments on freelancing websites should be clear as day. Agree to a rate, agree to a payment cadence (weekly/bi-weekly), and that should be that. If there is any inkling of this being a problem for a new client, they are not the one for you. You’d hate to be a few weeks into a freelance job and realize it’s not legitimate or worth your time.

Never accept any incentives like gift cards, discounts, or free products in lieu of compensation. These tactics are designed to take advantage of your hard-earned skills without providing your deserved income. Even when these incentives are promised, there is usually some other funny business going on.

Example

When discussing income with a potential employer, they mention they’re unable to offer payment at this time. They claim if all goes well, it can turn into a paid opportunity in the future, and in the meantime, they’ll give you free access to their product. 

This may be common for some startups and nonprofits, and if you really want to work for free that’s okay. BUT, companies using freelance websites to hire talent are well aware that all opportunities must be paid. Therefore, if you’re seeing their freelance project posts there’s a chance they’re up to no good.

Do’s and Don’ts:

  • Make sure your pay rate and cadence are determined before you begin working.
  • Never accept incentives like gift cards, discounts, or free products in lieu of cash.
  • Do not accept cryptocurrency as payment when freelancing.
  • Always take payments through the freelance platform of your choosing.
When asked to freelance for free, just say...

#6: No Free Samples! Take the Free Out of Freelancing

Whether you’re a freelance writer, graphic designer, web developer, mobile developer, etc., you should already have a portfolio of proven work samples exhibiting your expertise in your field. In some cases, you may be asked to complete a trial project. This is okay, but you should always be paid for your time and services.

Requests for free freelance work of any kind should be politely turned down, as there is nothing stopping them from using your work and moving on. There is always a level of risk involved with hiring, whether a company is looking for freelancers or full-time employees. You should earn freelance gigs based on your skill and experience alone and always be paid for your time.

Example

You’re a bona fide freelance journalist with the portfolio to back it up. You receive a response from one of your freelance job applications asking if you could write a 750-word sample article to prove your worth. Depending on the subject matter, this could take hours of valuable time that could be spent on other freelance jobs. 

Now, this is a common request from potential employers on freelancing websites. If you believe it’s worth that time to land the job and want to assume that risk, go for it. BUT (there’s always a but), there is nothing stopping them from using that article and moving on. It’s a very common way scammers try and get free work out of skilled, freelance workers like yourself.

Do’s and Don’ts:

  • Never work for free! Think of yourself as a business owner.
  • Bolster your portfolio to establish yourself as a professional in your field.
  • Offer to work on a PAID trial basis. Many freelancers do this.
  • Again…Never work for free! It’s freelance, not free lance.
Never freelance for free!

#7: Abusing Access to Freelancers

Most freelancing websites allow clients to reach out to freelancers directly to inquire about their services without even posting a project to the feed. While freelancer inquiries are designed to help freelancers land their ideal projects, it does, unfortunately, open the door for certain bad actors.

If you receive messages from clients, always verify the legitimacy of their business. If their company profile is blank or generic, make sure you ask for links to their company website or LinkedIn pages where the person contacting you is listed as an employee, HR representative, or owner. In some cases, companies can offer you a project without even speaking with or receiving an application from you, which should always be a red flag.

Example

Most freelancers will receive inquiries from clients at one point or another. In an attempt to stay under the radar, however, scammers will usually opt to contact you directly. Let’s say someone reaches out inquiring about your abilities to help their business. Their company name is Marketing Pros, which is vague. How’d they land that one

Right off the bat, they ask for your phone number to discuss the role further but never call you. Moments later, you receive a contract offer from this vague, scammy company, without ever discussing the project. Furthermore, Marketing Pros yields, let’s say, a million Google results. Probably a good idea to move on from this one.

Do’s and Don’ts:

  • Gut check any messages you receive for levels of scamminess. 
  • Never accept an offer sent by a company you haven’t interacted with yet.
  • Do research to verify the company messaging you are legit.
  • Always ask for more information if their profiles or online presence is lacking.
Freelancing website scams are common, but avoidable.

Freelancers: Don’t Freak Out!

These tips are not meant to scare you off, but rather ensure you maximize your experience as a freelance worker. We’re all still figuring this internet thing out, and while there are fail-safes in place, scammers will still find a way to weasel their way in from time to time. 

Don't fret, freelance!

As a freelancer on platforms like Pangea.app:

  • Always do your research on every client.
  • Never pay to play - freelancers work hard enough!
  • Always keep an eye out for suspiciously high freelancer rates.
  • Never accept a freelance job offer if you haven’t already interacted with the company.
  • Use freelance websites for contract work and payments.
  • Never provide a client with any private or tax-related information.
  • Always get paid for your contract work (and get it in writing!).
  • Never accept incentives in lieu of income.

Why Freelancers Shouldn’t Worry

With over 55 million freelancers in the world today, independent workers are everywhere. Job seekers left and right are realizing the opportunities to be had in the freelancing world as well as the benefits that go along with them. 

The number of full-time freelancers increases every single day, and now is the time to join this new age of the self-employed. Freelancing allows you to:

  • Be your own boss.
  • Create your own schedule.
  • Find your ideal work-life balance.
  • Work with multiple clients on various projects.
  • Control of your income.
  • Build the career you’ve always wanted.
  • Catch up on your household chores (assuming you’re working remotely).
Most freelancer experiences are positive, money-making ones.

Project-Based Work as a Freelance Writer, Designer, etc.

If you prefer traditional, full-time employment over freelancing, that works as well! If you’re working for a copywriting agency, you could supplement your income with a few gigs a year as a freelance writer. If you’re a beast at graphic design, create a company logo here and there.

This is actually the route most freelancers take at first before they eventually fall in love and realize the power of being independent professionals. As a freelance worker, you’re in control of how much or how little you take on. Just remember to follow through on your commitments, and you’re golden!

Freelancing Job Board Scammers…Begone!

It’s incredibly exciting when offers come through for freelance work, but always make sure everything is legitimate before diving in headfirst. If you encounter a scammer or come across a post that appears to be suspicious, alert customer support immediately

We’re all a part of the freelancer community, and freelancing platforms like Pangea will always have your back. There are countless legitimate companies looking to hire freelancers to get the help they need, and as long as you know what to look for, you’ll be safe.

Tell these freelance scammers where to go.

Become a Self-Employed Person on Pangea

If you’ve ever considered becoming a self-employed writer, graphic designer, software engineer, or just leveraging your skills to earn some additional income, freelancing is a viable option for you. There are tons of great freelancer job postings live on the Pangea.app feed as we speak from businesses in need of assistance from independent contractors.

Become a Pangea Pro

Are you already a young professional or freelancer in your field? Do you have a solid portfolio with at least 3 stellar work samples? If so, apply to be a Pangea Pro! Making up the top 1% of freelancers on Pangea, Pros are vetted personally by the Pangea team to verify their qualifications and areas of expertise. 

Not only is this an opportunity to acquire more clients, Pros also receive the lowest marketplace fees on Pangea. If you don’t get in right away, don’t worry! We’re here to help get you that Pro status so do not hesitate to reach out for advice. 

Join the Discord

Check out our Gen-Z Discord for job post news, freelancer tips, Pangea product updates, and more. We want to hear from you, and this is a great place to start. See you there!

Looks Like We Made It

Hop on over to Pangea.app today for free, unlimited access to our network of employers looking to hire freelancers just like you! If you’re a scammer and you’re reading this…we see you! Scram!

Keep an eye out for red flags and freelance without fear.