Scams Nearly All Freelance Writers Fall For (And How to Avoid Them)

If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. I’ve heard that often, and it seems to be true especially in our field. Trying to make a living freelance writing is like wading through a minefield of people looking for a profit from your efforts to supplement your income, start a new career, get out of debt, or any other reason we start writing on the internet.

These people are scam artists and we would all do well to learn the tricks they use to waste our time and keep us from making money writing. Scams can come in all shapes and sizes, and while some of them are outright illegal, others are just predatory and unethical. Here are some common ones.

Work From Home and Make Big Money

Any time a scam artist wants to grab our attention, they know that they can hit us right in our most vulnerable areas: our homes and our wallets. Go on Craigslist or do a Google search for “freelance writing jobs” and I guarantee that within five minutes you’ll see an ad that says they’re “hiring writers, you can set your own hours, and you’ll make between five hundred and five thousand dollars a week.”

This is always — ALWAYS — a scam. No legitimate company or website will ever promise you a specific amount of money, and they will never tell you that it’s easy. Which brings us to our next scam…

One Simple System

There will be a video. There will be animation that pretends to be hand drawn. There will be a man telling you about how he quit his job and worked tirelessly for two years and ended up making over six-figures. Then he will say, “I realized my system was too powerful not to share with the public.”

He will then ask you to either A.) Pay money for some course that “guarantees” income, or B.) Ask you to sign up for an email list, a free book, or any other way to ultimately try and sell you something. The only system that actually exists is the one that you create for yourself.

Free Samplers

Often times, on shadier freelance writing sites, a client will ask for a “sample” of your work about a very specific thing. They will then never contact you and use your free sample as content. These scams are based on the premise that we are all so desperate for work that we will do anything to get it.

For example, I was once asked to write 350 words on the restaurants in a specific neighborhood. I did just that and I never heard back from them, but I did find my 350 words that I sent them published on a content mill website under another person’s name!

Always make sure that you read the fine print and don’t give away any publishing rights that you don’t want to give away. Even with tiny blurbs, it’s your writing and if anyone deserves to make money on it, it’s you.


When we start out trying to make a career out of writing, we don’t really know what our time and words are worth. When someone offers a job paying $.02 per word, we think that we’d be fools not to take it because even though it’s not much, at least it’s something and it will get our name out there. Needless to say, these are scams, although they are legal.

Here’s the truth: This won’t get your name out there. Scam artists are always trying to promise the world through “exposure” or “portfolio building.” These are code words for cheapskates. If you want to be a travel writer, for instance, don’t waste your time composing 1,000 words about something you don’t care about for a mere $20 (especially for a content mill).

Instead, simply write a blog post about travel! People that are willing to pay real money want to see that you can write about their ideal topics. They appreciate your knowledge about these subjects. A free blog post about something you want to write about long-term is worth much more as a portfolio piece than anything these cheapskates will ask you to write about.


Sometimes scams will come with a very strange request, and might ask you to do something out of the ordinary. A prospect once offered to send me money to deposit into my bank account, merely to prove I was a real person. Very strange request. I subsequently asked them for more information, but they never sent it.

A few weeks later I received a letter in the mail, inside was a very obviously faked money order from this “client” of mine. I called the FBI’s internet scam department and reported them. I was told that this is a very common scam, although i’m not sure how it was supposed to work because (thankfully) I did not follow through.

Takeaway: If It seems weird, it just might be. Always do your research before engaging in odd deals and see if any other freelancers have run into similar situations.

There are a million different ways people are trying to scam you. Freelance writing is hard work. There are no simple answers and no get-rich-quick schemes. You can do it, though; if you work hard and keep an eye out for scams and dishonesty, the world of writing is a great and wonderful place.