Cons and Scams. Oh Me, Oh My! By Karen Carver

When people are desperate for money they’re more likely than ever to “try anything”…to “take a chance.” That’s when they become ripe prey for con or scam artists.

There’s a reason the word “artist” follows the words con or scam. Just like a pedophile, if con artists looked and sounded sleazy they would be avoided like the plague. Unfortunately the best ones look just like you or your best friend. They’re so charming you want to have a beer with them or invite them with you to granny’s Thanksgiving dinner. They write emails with such skill Ebenezer Scrooge would donate to a fake charity or send money to Nigeria. It’s during these times that freelancers and book authors must be ever more vigilant to make certain of who they write for or sign contracts to publish periodicals and manuscripts.

One advantage today’s writers have over 20 years ago is a large one – search for information on any new prospective freelance employer or publisher online! Writers are finally becoming proactive in posting experiences in online forums about who is kosher and who isn’t. It’s becoming harder for someone to hide their cons and scams, but due diligence by the writer is always the most important first step. Due diligence should become automatic no matter how sparse your time is. In the long run it pays off while a con artist doesn’t.

Where the vigilance comes in is following the trail. When a con is uncovered he or she will quite often change the name of their business and start over. They then might use a maiden name or middle name along with the new business. It’s harder to change the last name, but that’s sometimes hard to find when only the business name is available. However at least one name is usually the same, whether it’s the first, middle, last, hyphenated, a combination of initials, phone number, business, or mailing address. Even online, cons eventually leave a blazing trail.

Whether someone is a new writer or one who’s been unable to hook an assignment for a while, the temptation is to think, “What’s the odds I’ll be the one to get taken by someone dishonest?” Unfortunately, there now seems to be a feeding frenzy out there for scam artists looking for someone to “take.”

One scam that seems to be run by the same people on different sites is definitely run to catch freelance writers and their bank accounts. If you come across any freelance websites advertising for writers and willing to pay hundreds of dollars if you pay a “small fee” for their info, run – don’t walk – to the next search. The sites are very official looking. And it’s very tempting to pay less than five dollars for just a little info. That’s where they reel you in, by getting your credit card info and then charging you around $50 for something you probably didn’t order. The reality is they really have no freelance writing work available.

Some writers receive unauthorized emails requesting they submit an article – or manuscript – for consideration. They’ve never heard of the person or company making the request. Their email address has probably been sold or gleaned from other companies the writer has worked for. Do online due diligence by looking them up before contacting them. Never submit something without first contacting the place with the offer. Legitimate editors are overloaded with submissions. They have no need to “troll” for writers. Get a name – and preferably who recommended you – plus the specs and any amount to be paid. Get it all in writing via email or snail mail. Never submit something without a contract to a total stranger. If you submit work without a contract under such conditions, it will probably be rejected – so they don’t have to pay you – and then published down the road either online or in hard copy. They count on you not realizing they are publishing it, or it being more expensive for you to get your work back through court than what it’s worth.

Don’t fall for the “pay to publish your work in an anthology” scam. Ultimately, you wind up having to buy the book or magazine you paid to have your story in. Publications are supposed to pay you for the story, even in anthologies. Then you will usually receive at least one free magazine with your payment or a free/reduced copy of the book.

If you are a victim of a scam – or place that accepted your work but didn’t pay – take time to post what happened in a writers’ forum. Don’t exaggerate or make untrue claims. Simply state what happened and post supporting documents. Since emails from someone else can be considered their property, you should just paraphrase what they have said – accurately – and state you have the supporting document. The reason you should post your experience is to not only help fellow writers but perhaps give the non-payer an incentive to pay. Keep all documentation at least until you are paid and the check clears. (Make a copy of the check.) Include names, brick and mortar address, mail address, phone number, and a business name in the complaint so all info can be looked for in a search. This will provide an online trail of warning to others doing their own due diligence.

Living in lean times is hard enough. Don’t compound it by not doing due diligence and getting scammed.

Karen Carver is a writer in the central US relieved her son finally found work after graduating law school 8 months earlier. A victim of one of the above scams, she now obsessively does due diligence on who she writes for.