The ad seems legitimate enough. It claims to be posted by an “Internet start-up” company, specializing in “niche content”, looking for “well-versed” writers who are comfortable writing “high quality content” about a variety of subjects. The company claims to pay “very competitive” rates for articles that are at least 400 words each, then lists the specific subjects you would be required to write about. The ad closes with a request: please send your resume and at least two original writing samples. Sound familiar?
Ads like this one are common on Craigslist and other job sites. Typically, they are quite specific about the subject and length of the sample of writing they require, but are not so clear about details of their own company, such as the name of their business, or even their contact information. Usually the only email address they reveal is the anonymous one provided by the job website. Who are these anonymous job posters? Much of the time, they are the very last people you would ever willingly trust with your writing. They are content thieves.
Consider a recent thread in a forum that is ostensibly for search engine optimizers, but which also seems to attract a lot of unsavory characters looking to make a quick dollar at your expense. The poster advocated the use of a clever scam that involved posting a phony job ad, claiming to be a start-up company in need of a freelance writer. If even ten writers respond to the ad with a few samples each, the poster gets dozens of short, original articles. What happens next? The poster withdraws the ad, or allows it to expire, and the writers are left with no contact information, and therefore no way to follow up on the status of their submissions. In the meantime, the scammer takes all his “free” writing samples, and posts them on content sites that pay minimal amounts per article, like Associated Content. The scammer might make a measly thirty bucks from all those short articles, but it’s thirty bucks that he didn’t have to earn himself.
How can you protect your writing from being hacked in this way? First of all, never send unpublished writing samples to a company you can’t check up on, especially companies advertising on free classified sites. You might even consider adopting a policy of never sending original writing samples to anyone at all. Legitimate companies can learn all they need to know about your writing style from published clips, either in print or online. Previously published clips are much easier to protect than original, unpublished writing.
It’s also a good idea to Google phrases from your articles periodically, to see if anything out of the ordinary pops up. Take a unique phrase from your article, enclose it in quotations, then paste it into Google’s search box. If it shows up on Associated Content, or anywhere else that you didn’t authorize, you can notify the owner of the website and request that the content be removed immediately.
You can also sign up for Google Alerts, and enter a unique phrase from your article as a topic you wish to monitor. You will be sent an alert via email anytime Google discovers that phrase being used on the web. This is a good way to catch future plagiarisms immediately, before they’ve sat on someone else’s site for months.
Remember, you are your own best protection against content theft. While there is legal action you can take against plagiarizers, it’s far easier to avoid giving them your original work in the first place.
Callie Lorentson believes the best things in life are free, or at least cheap. She currently writes a blog about frugal entertainment in Seattle, at http://www.frugaliciousseattle.blogspot.com/. She also writes for children and her work has appeared in Spider Magazine, Wild Outdoor World Magazine, and the e-zine, Eotu.