Lisa Tanner stops by the blog today to share lessons she learned (the hard way) after receiving a writing gig on Craigslist that seemed too good to be true.
It turns out, it wasn’t real. (I’ve gotten many gigs via Craigslist that have worked out and have never gotten scammed personally.) Lisa shares her five step process to recovery after falling for a scam (plus warning signs to look for so it doesn’t happen to you!).
Thank you for openly and honestly sharing your experience, Lisa!
The gig started like any other. I saw an interesting ad on Craigslist and pitched for it. When I didn’t hear anything for a couple of days, I figured I hadn’t landed it.
Until I got an email asking for more information.
I quickly replied. Everything seemed fine, and I got the green light to get started.
Excitement sent me to my computer, as I started my first large project as a freelancer.
I needed to research and write 150-200 word real estate descriptions. The total of descriptions needed by the client was 109.
My client asked me to update her after I wrote number 25, so I quickly finished the first batch and delivered the spreadsheet. A prompt reply encouraged me to continue, and to submit the rest of the project as soon as possible.
I did. I stayed up late, and got up early. I researched, I wrote and knocked out the first 75 in just a couple of days. I submitted an updated spreadsheet after each batch of 25 descriptions. But when I began my final batch, I realized an address wasn’t matching with the property name. I fired off an email, skipped that property and moved onto the next one.
A day went by without a response.
Something wasn’t right. A knot started to form in my stomach.
I looked over all of my communication with this client, looking for a red flag. My initial assessment hadn’t turned anything up, so I dug a little deeper. Some web research led me to the company that my client was supposedly working for. I found a directory online, and noticed something immediately.
The email address format was wrong. My client used a dash; the company used a dot. I couldn’t believe it. I had fallen for a scam!
The knot in my stomach tightened; I definitely would not be seeing the money from this gig.
Paranoid about my identity, Trojan Horses on my computer, and a host of other fears, I ran all sorts of virus scans on my system. If I hadn’t already had a credit monitoring service in place, I probably would have signed up for one, just for some peace of mind.
Thankfully, it appears that I just produced free content and nothing more. The scam could have been worse.
I still felt the loss. I contemplated giving up. The frauds are getting harder to detect, the real jobs seemed out of reach for a newbie writer. I felt defeated.
Then I thought of my goal. Of the reasons I started writing in the first place. And I knew I couldn’t let a scam get me down.
I couldn’t give up. I just had to be more careful in the future. Here are the five ways to recover if you fall for a scam (they worked for me!).
1. A Final Attempt at Making Contact
I sent off a final email, stating simply that I had finished the work, and prior to sending the final section, I would require immediate payment at the agreed on rate. This let the client know that I had caught on, and wasn’t just going to keep handing over free content. It also helped me to know I had done what I could to recoup my losses.
If I had any sort of actual identity to use, I probably would have pursued this even more. Alas, all I had was a fake name and a fake email—not much for tracking someone down.
Do what you can.
2. Realize Your Time Is Sunk
You can’t get time back. No matter how much I wished I hadn’t spent almost 40 hours working on free content, I couldn’t do anything about it now.
I had to make a choice. Keep pouting and whining, and give this client more of my mental time. Or move on and find better gigs.
I chose the latter. I decided to up my pitching game, and try again.
3. View It as Excellent Writing Practice
What did I get out of this scam? I could say nothing but a headache and some pouting. But, that wouldn’t be true.
I did get something vital from the experience: Writing practice.
How do you improve a skill? You practice. A lot. Writing 109 150-200 word descriptions forced me to practice my research, my organization and my actual writing. It was good for me.
4. Tie the Experience into Your Writing
Without that scam, this post wouldn’t have been born.
Experiences (both positive and negative) are influential to our writing. If you’ve been scammed, try and find a way to write about the situation. Who knows, you may help someone else avoid a similar situation, or at least know what to do afterwards.
Your words are powerful. Use them to share. Use them to heal yourself emotionally.
5. Learn from the Situation
My experience taught me to pay better attention to the small details when responding to Craigslist ads. I don’t respond to as many ads, and I definitely check out responses more carefully.
Here are some things to look for:
- A phishy email address in a reply. This is what got me in trouble. Try to find a “Contact Us” Page on the website for the company, or a directory and see if the two email address formats match up.
- An ad with many misspellings and grammatical errors inside. I don’t expect the ads to be perfect (after all, they are looking for help with writing!). However, I’m discovering that companies that don’t take pride in their work won’t take pride in mine.
- An ad that looks too good to be true. You’ve heard this before for a reason. Anything offering big bucks for a little work is probably not going to work out like you’re hoping.
- External links to click, embedded in the ad. Links aren’t always bad, but they usually are on Craigslist. Be wary of what you click on.
- A gut feeling. Your gut can be your guide. Listen to it. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t.
Notice I Didn’t Put “Avoid Craigslist” on My List?
I still pitch Craigslist ads almost daily. I’ve gotten great gigs from there. I’m just a little more careful, and a little less trusting than I used to be.
I love responding to rather vague, random ads. I’ve found that people don’t always know how to write good ads. I take it as a sign that they are a real person struggling with writing that needs help from a pro.
What’s your experience with Craigslist? Do you have any other tips for avoiding scams?
Lisa Tanner is a writer for hire with a background in education. She earned a Master’s Degree in Elementary Reading & Literacy. She taught in the public schools of Washington prior to becoming a full-time homeschooling mom and writer. Lisa lives on a farm with her husband, their seven children, two milk cows and other animals.