The internet opens doors to a world-wide range of opportunities. But it can also open doors to a lot of scams. That’s why it’s important to learn what red flags to look out for. The last thing you want is to lose hard-earned money and waste valuable time with a dodgy company or client.
Earning money online can be a lengthy process, from sifting through information overload to deciphering what is legit. So, here are some tips on ways to avoid scams online:
Whether you’re looking for work or not, there are general precautions to take when using the internet:
Do Not Open Suspicious Emails or Links
When in doubt, delete it out. If an email or link doesn’t look legit, do not open it. Some alarms to look out for are poor graphics, bad spelling, foreign names or titles, and strangely worded links or email addresses (e.g. ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’). You can also research the company. If the email is claiming to be a well-known organisation, check the email address on their website’s contact details or ask their support team to confirm the email.
Do Not Use Same Passwords
This is standard advice that’s given for a good reason. If a hacker gets hold of your password, they can access many sites and platforms if you’re using the same details. If a site has a security breach, you don’t want to have to change your password everywhere. At any time if you come across a suspicious situation, it’s always wise to change your password just in case. Use a mixture of letters, numbers and characters for a strong password.
Do Not Share too Much Information on Social Media
It’s best to set your privacy to those you trust or limit the information you upload. Scammers can use your information to figure out passwords (e.g. pet’s name) or security questions you’ve set on other sites. They can learn more to target you with specific scams or commit fraud.
Avoid Giving Remote Access to Your Computer
If someone contacts you requesting remote access to your computer, do not allow this. Hackers can do this to install viruses on your computer or steal your info. Sometimes large companies need to use remote access (e.g. Telstra, Microsoft) to fix technical issues, but this is only when you’ve contacted them through their trusted channels. To eliminate the risk of hackers, it’s possible to disable Quick Assist/Remote Assistance on your PC, you can learn how here.
Avoid Investment Offers
Be careful of online investors offering unsolicited advice and guaranteeing returns for big investments. Sometimes they may start small but are quick to pressure for more and more money. You can check the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) for criminal misconduct and confirm if a company is registered as a financial advisor. International governments like the USA and UK usually enable you to check and report scams too.
Beware of Requests for Your ID or Payment Details
Never provide your identification and credit card details to users/websites you don’t know. Do thorough research on the company. Sometimes you’ll find a site requesting payment for services that all other sites offer for free. Check out the company’s website, see if their address is legit, review their policy pages etc. You can also search for reviews online to see if they have scammed others.
Signs to Look Out For:
- Generic greetings instead of addressing you personally
- Random offers you haven’t sought out yourself
- Fake organisation names that search engines don’t recognise
- Poor quality grammar and spelling
- Low-quality websites and email presentations
- Companies contacting you out of the blue, asking you to verify yourself to fix issues
If you’re looking to earn money freelancing, here’s some extra cautions to consider:
Research the Company
I can’t stress this enough, always check out the company before making any commitments. Some may be complete scams; others may be real companies, but they charge unnecessary fees or pay too low. Apply the same checks as mentioned above. By googling the company, you can read reviews of other people’s experiences with them.
I once applied for a site seeking freelance writers. Eventually, I received an email advising me they didn’t have any jobs available. However, the agent said she was impressed with my work. Apparently, she had recommended me to one of their associates who would contact me soon. She made it sound very promising…
I checked out the website she referred to, and the poor visual quality made me wary. I noticed they required a membership fee to access the writing job board. I searched reviews of the company, and sure enough, others had received the exact email as me word-for-word. They’d signed up only to find the job board was empty 90% of the time and they had trouble cancelling their subscription and getting refunds. Making an effort to investigate saved me money, time and stress.
Be Wary of Jobs Offering Great Pay for Little Work & Experience
Avoid ‘Get Rich Quick’ schemes. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Earning decent money online takes time, effort and consistency. Many legitimate freelancing sites require specialised skill-sets. If a company is offering high pay for little skills or giving vague job descriptions, treat it as suspicious.
(There are simple jobs online like surveys, but they don’t claim to supplement a full income).
Watch Out for Fake Job Postings
The same applies as above. Some sites will give you little detail on the poster, so it’s hard to establish if they’re a genuine client or a scam. One way to avoid this is to research if the site is known to have scam posts. Another way is to stick with official freelancing platforms that verify and rate clients.
Do Not Give Access to Your Freelance Accounts
Avoid sharing scams, where someone approaches you about sharing freelance accounts to increase work opportunities. By giving them access, they can steal your personal information, check out your work history and access funds in your accounts. Many freelance sites warn against this.
Be Wary of Unusual Payment Requests
For safe practice, all payments should be done via the freelancer platform. This way, you can track payments and report clients to the website if you have any issues. Beware of employers wanting to pay offsite using goods and services, or other methods like Bitcoin. Sites like freelancer offer a Milestone Payment system, where the client deposits funds which are held by the site until the freelancer completes the job.
Do Not Take on Jobs Requiring You to Purchase Items
Beware of clients asking you to purchase a product or software to do a job. They should provide you with all the resources necessary to complete the project. You’re the one providing service and supposed to be paid, not the other way around. You shouldn’t have to pay to submit freelance work, and it’s best to avoid pyramid schemes too.
Signs to look out for:
- Clients with no information on their profile
- Client profiles that show negative review or no reviews at all
- External links a client may send you to sign in with your personal details
- Clients requesting to communicate outside of the freelancer platform
- Clients being vague about payment methods and contract conditions
- Clients wanting you to write free ‘test articles’
- Clients refusing to have a contract
- Seek work through official job posting websites and freelancing platforms
- You can check suspicious profile pictures in Google images to see if it’s a stock photo
- Check out cybercrime resources like ReportCyber and StaySmartOnline
- You can sign up for Scamwatch radar alerts to be notified of latest scams by email
- Official freelance platforms give you the option to report a scam, suspicious project or user
- Only take work from clients who have a verified work history and good ratings
- Read user reviews on sites like Trustpilot, Glassdoor and Indeed. (Note: sometimes I found my experience different to other reviews, but its good to be aware of any common complaints)
Always be Vigilant
Remember, it’s always good practice to research the company/client before getting involved with them. Stay alert and sceptical of anything that doesn’t feel right. And report scams you’ve experienced to help others avoid the same trap.