Bidding on Elance: Here’s How Easily Freelancers Can Get Screwed

screw-1000pxFrom my very first blog post back in 2008, I’ve advocated that freelance writers avoid mass bidding sites such as oDesk and Elance.

This past week, I learned in an unexpected way just how easily freelancers can get ripped off doing writing work through impersonal, third-party platforms like Elance.

Because I got ripped off, big time.

Here’s how it happened…

My first sign something was wrong was a series of emails I got from several different India-based SEO writers applying for “the post of content writer.” Asking if I would hire them.

I assumed they were interested in my writer’s guidelines for guest posting here on the blog, so I sent those over.

But something about it was weird. Just the way they were phrasing it didn’t seem right to me.

But I didn’t write anything for you…

Next, on the day after a religious holiday when I was out of the office, I got this odd email:

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I assured her that I had never started article writing for her, and certainly wasn’t going to continue. I didn’t even have any idea what topics she was having articles written about!

When I asked what the deal was, I got this reply:

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So there you have it, sports fans: An imposter created an Elance profile using my name, my photo, and my writer website, and was trying to get writing clients based on my reputation.

And if this one client hadn’t smelled a rat, who knows how long this might have gone on.

How’d they pull that off? They used a different, London-based Skype number and a different email address than my real one, thereby funneling responses to them rather than me.

And Elance was clueless.

Obviously, I was pretty steamed, given how strongly I’ve advocated for writers to avoid using places like Elance! I was quick to post about it on Facebook and Twitter, and start spreading the word around that I am not really hiring writers on Elance, hoping to warn prospective clients that they weren’t really hiring me.

I was hoping that would help resolve the problem.

But instead, things got worse.

Writers get sucked in

If the news that I was being impersonated on Elance so that someone else could earn a few bucks made me mad, I can tell you I totally hit the roof when I saw the next set of emails and Facebook messages that came in:

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The complete picture emerged: Someone was impersonating me on Elance, getting clients, and then subcontracting out the work to other writers.

The final insult? The rates! This imposter was charging $20 a post…I opened that spreadsheet the client up top had sent over, and that was the per-piece rate.

I shudder to think what this person might have been paying the writers they hired to do the actual work. If, in fact, this fraud paid anyone at all.

Will writers get paid?

I contacted Elance immediately about all this, and it took them several days to get back to me. They let me know the bogus profile had been removed.

I think it’s notable that there wasn’t even an apology made for the damage to my reputation here. But OK — I’m breathing and letting go here, because suing is not a positive way to spend my time.

Who was the imposter? Elance isn’t saying. But I know they’re overseas, which would make legal action difficult to pursue anyway.

What about the writers who went busily to work, thinking they were writing for me? Given that Elance allowed this fraud to take place, will they be compensating the writers for their work?

Elance’s security team wouldn’t tell me how the writers would be dealt with…but one of the writers responded to me directly, saying they were told Elance’s payment protection policies would cover them — IF they could document their work to Elance’s satisfaction.

Here’s hoping Elance does the right thing and pays all of these freelancers for their writing.

Elance did indicate that it reached out to at least one freelance writer to warn them to stop writing for the imposter. But at least one other writer told me they got the word to stop work from the imposter, not Elance!

I guess it’s nice that Elance alerted at least one writer it was a bogus account, but from what the writers had to say above, it seems like the damage had already been done. Several writers had already wasted their time writing dozens of articles which may or may not be paid for.

It just makes me sick to think about how these writers were excited to be writing for me, and then had to find out it was all a scam. Even though I’m only an unwitting participant in this ripoff, it really rankles.

Fighting writer exploitation is the core of my mission here on the blog! And then, this mess happens. I run a Google alert on my name, but it never turned this up. Makes me wonder what more we can do to monitor our online reputations.

The bottom line

This whole experience was a sad reminder that when you go on platforms where it’s easy for clients to mask their identities, you really don’t know who you’re dealing with. Which means it’s easy for that client to disappear without paying you.

Just another reason to go out and find your own clients instead of hanging around bidding on Elance for gigs posted by clients who may not be who they appear.

Ever gotten scammed on a bid site? Leave a comment and tell us what happened.
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