Warning Signs of an Online Freelance Scam you should not Miss
How it started
I was in between jobs and I had to have money for my daily expenses. Unfortunately, I just got married and I my savings were all used up. Only with a laptop and Internet connection, I decided to invest my time in looking for an online freelance job. I chanced upon Upwork (formerly Odesk) and immediately created an account. I told my husband about it and he said that he once got a part time gig there as a programmer and it was good. I applied to various openings but as a newcomer, it took quite a while before I got any offers. When SBOG Ventures contacted me, I was so thrilled. I practiced due diligence and saw that he has good reviews and a verified payment method. I trusted under these circumstances and soon I was writing for a living.
I did my first article on May this year and it has been 3 months and I have not paid a single cent. Today, I finally decided to accept that I have been a victim of a scam. Now that I am thinking about it, I should have seen these signs and listened to my gut feel instead of just depending on good reviews and a verified payment method.
Sign # 1 : The client missed a payment deadline
Missing a deadline to pay workers is a sign of unprofessionalism. Scams are doings of unprofessional people. When your client misses your first deadline, stop working for him. No Ifs or Buts. Just Stop. I should have.
When he did that to me, I should have stopped immediately and demanded for payment before I continue writing. That time, I remember telling myself that it is okay if he missed the deadline because I wanted to collect more receivables before I have it transferred to my account. WRONG MOVE for me. No matter how small or big the amount it, the client must pay at the time he promised to pay. I wrote more articles, increasing my receivables and now that I do not get paid, so much time and effort has been wasted already.
Sign # 2 : The client does business with you in another site or platform
Initially, Mr. Kofi Sakyiamah of SBOG Ventures coordinated with me through the messaging service of Upwork. One day, he said that he wasn't able to receive some of my submissions. Being proactive, I asked if he wants me to send it to his email as well just to make sure that he receives everything. He doesn't acknowledge the work I pass through the site's official messaging service. From that day onward, we ceased coordinating through Upwork. He was able to manipulate me to use Facebook as a means of communication and I passed articles to him via email.
This is the same when I was asking him about the payment. Upwork has a system where the client can pay the freelancer worry free but with a fee. Because I needed the money asap, he persuaded me to be paid outside of the Upwork network or directly through Paypal. I agreed because I will have less fees/deductions in the process. Unfortunately, not a single cent was transmitted.
If your client tries or encourages you to proceed with business using another website, messaging service or platform, his business may be a scam. This is because he doesn't want to operate in a structured environment where his balances will be monitored. Even if the partnership has been forged in Upwork, and I have filed a dispute regarding the client not paying, I think the company will not be able to cover the business done outside of its platform.
Sign # 3 : The client's Facebook account doesn't have real-life photos and conversations
Facebook was used as an excellent manipulation tool and I failed to spot the missing links soon enough. You see, my client used Facebook to easily contact me for orders. Almost on a daily basis, he will post status about the oil market, the dollar exchange rates, business news and inspirational quotes about being a Christian. Now that I have thought well about it, it has been used to condition me to think nicely about him. He passes himself as an entrepreneur so posts about businesses will be seen in his feed. When he said that his father died, he posted a notification/photo regarding the details of his father's wake. Oh, until now I cannot believe one will use the death of a loved one as a tool to fool other people. What a shame! Finally, he will be posting status about forgiveness, empathy, patience. Parading that he is a good Christian, probably to gain ore empathy and to demonstrate that he will not fool any one. Shame on him. No true Christian will scam a fellow believer.
I am so stupid for not seeing this sign. He does not have a real photo in his albums. A true Facebook account will have photos of the owner during the happiest, most significant moments of his life. His album has a photo of him working (probably fake), a close up shot of eyes, tons of photoshopped announcements, engineering blueprints that doesn't make sense and bible quotes. To check, I should have done this. I should have downloaded a photo and used Google for an image search. It will turn up if stock photo was used. I regret not thinking about doing this a long time ago.
My Scammer's Facebook Profile
Listen to yourself and know your worth
To say "be vigilant" is not enough. After I checked his Upwork profile, I thought I was vigilant enough.
My first mistake was that I showed too much eagerness and need for the money. This was used against me which I realized too late.
My second mistake was that I worked with unstable emotions. I was working for SBOG Ventures in between jobs and at the same time, I was struggling with depression. I had so much thoughts inside my head that I failed to recognize the warning signs in front of my face. Because of my emotional vulnerability, I was overjoyed with every little accomplishment and elated with every small compliment. This tip is good not only for freelancers but for work in general. Be objective.
My most fatal mistake was not listening to the voice inside my head. I let my emotions get the best of me, I listened to empty promises and gave the benefit of the doubt. I failed to realize that evil people are out there to get the best of me. I must be watchful and careful not to give away my time and skills easily because they are worth more than 2 dollars.