How do you know if an online writer platform is legit? Since new sites are born every week — promising ample assignments and fat paychecks for beginning writers! — I can’t do investigations on all the possible writing scams out there (though I’ve certainly looked into some that turned out to be outright ripoffs).
This blog has other topics to cover besides writing scams, like finding courage to put your writing out there, self-publishing, blogging best practices, and finding great freelance clients. So it’s important to know how to do your own research.
This post takes you through easy, quick steps you can take online to gather information about websites you’re thinking of paying for access to resources, job boards, or publishing opportunities.
I’m going to use a site I learned about recently as an example: Master Writing Jobs (no, I’m not going to link to them in this story and give them a backlink that might drive more traffic to their site. You can Google them if you want.)
I spent perhaps 30 minutes tops, researching this site to see what I could learn. And it wasn’t tough to see they weren’t a good value, even at their current ‘sale’ price of $34 for lifetime access.
If you’d like to avoid writing scams and learn how to verify online offers, read on:
Visit the website and look for red flags
The first step with any website is to see what they show you — and more importantly, what they don’t — on their website. Master Writing Jobs throws up many red flags in this department:
- No ‘About’ page — It’s normal to be able to learn about a site’s owner, story, and mission. But MWJ gives you nothing.
- No free content — You cannot read any useful posts or articles, or consume any resources before joining. There is also no free trial option.
- No real person — You’re treated to an elaborate, expensive-looking, sketch-animation video by “James, the owner,” who is a cartoon. With no last name. Who’s behind this site? We don’t really know. It’s another hallmark of online writing scams.
- Contact form only — There is no listed email or phone number here. I filled out the contact form twice in recent months (it’s hidden in the Support section and not findable on the Home page), and never received a response, including to a request to talk to a happy MWJ customer earning over $10,000 a month, as the site claims.
- Outlandish claims — Do you believe that inexperienced writers can earn over $10,000 a month writing quick, easy assignments online? That’s the claim made in MWJ’s video. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. One of the lures to join is to “get my report on how I began effortlessly earning $10,000 a month from my freelance writing just 60 days after I started!” Maybe that’s was once true for one writer (though I’m skeptical), but that doesn’t mean it’s a replicatable system. Far from it.
- Guarantee — When I first checked MWJ out a few months back, there didn’t seem to be a refund guarantee. The only point I could find in their favor in terms of website evidence is that they now offer a 60-day refund satisfaction guarantee (though see below for whether they fulfill it).
- Bogus-sounding bonuses — One of the resources you get for joining MWJ is a tool that ‘checks Wikipedia for you’ for source info you need for assignments. Apparently, no one at MWJ knows that Wikipedia isn’t an appropriate place to cite for anything you’d write for any good-paying client. That rings a pretty loud warning bell that job listings are likely to be for low-quality, low-paying clients.
- Questionable testimonials — Freelance writers are usually easy to find online, even if their testimonials don’t include a website URL for them. But searches I made attempting to contact the six people who give testimonials on MWJ’s site turned up nothing. In one case, a $10-an-hour UpWork writer seems to bear the same name, but the photo doesn’t match. In most other cases, there doesn’t seem to be any such person in all the reaches of the Interwebs, writer or no, as with “Ella Mitchelle.” Even Clyde Wells, who says he has 10 years of experience, isn’t findable. There are no LinkedIn profiles, no writer websites, for any of these writers. In other words, the testimonials appear to be invented.
Add up all these issues and you get a questionable website. But let’s look a little further…
Give a Google
When you’re considering an online offer, it’s always a good idea to Google something along the lines of “WEBSITE NAME exposed” or “Is WEBSITE NAME a scam?” Here’s just a couple of the many results I got back when I plugged in Master Writing Jobs:
There was also this informative forum discussion on Absolute Write, among other results.
When you see multiple scam-exposé pieces about a website and negative forum chatter, it’s probably not a good opportunity. These posts go into detail about the poor quality of the ‘resources’ you get and other drawbacks of this offer.
It’s the work of a moment to run a search like this, and can save you so much wasted time, effort, and money. (You can also check on Glassdoor for negative company reviews, but there was nothing on MWJ there.)
Check social media
Social media is one of the top places people go to vent about bad customer experiences. As it happens, I didn’t have to look far on this front, as Master Writing Jobs brags on its Home page about its large Facebook audience.
Review recent posts
Which is fascinating, because there is no useful content posted on its Facebook page — it’s nothing but a series of MWJ logos. Which makes me wonder whether most ‘likes’ might be from fake profiles or bots…or people trapped liking it because once you do, the ‘like’ tab seems to disappear, making it impossible for you to unlike it. (I discovered this after ‘liking’ the page to make sure I saw all the content, only to find there seemed to be no way to undo it.)
Study comments from followers
More interestingly, most comments appear to have been spiked off, and there’s no way to leave comments anymore. For instance, the most recent post from MWJ — which is more than a year old — says it has 139 comments, but clicking ‘See all’ gets you only nine. This is an indicator that most comments are being hidden or removed by the site administrator. It doesn’t take much imagination to guess why…judging from the scores of still-showing angry-face ‘like’ emojis that they haven’t managed to erase.
I did spot a couple of visitor posts in the right-hand sidebar on their FB page (the other “it’s a scam” comment is a response to this one — I’ve linked the graphic so you can click through and view):
Final interesting note about Facebook — while their website had no phone number, the FB page did! So I called it. And it said, “A representative will be with you shortly.” As with their contact form, I left a voicemail message that went unreturned. That’s two attempts to reach MWJ via their contact form, and a third with a phone call and voice mail, with no response.
Compare profiles on other social media platforms
How about Twitter? Their Facebook said their handle was @masterwritingjobs, so I headed over to Twitter and plugged that into their search box. I didn’t find a profile for MWJ, but I did get these comments, including one about a requested refund that never came:
Final social-media red flag: This company has no LinkedIn profile at all.
Obviously, I could reach out to the names I found on social media and gather more intel…but I’m trying to keep this exercise to what you could do in a half-hour or less. And what you can get online quickly on MWJ should be plenty to conclude that it’s not a good investment.
My personal MWJ experience
How was I initially alerted that perhaps Master Writing Jobs wasn’t a legit platform? It happened because I received the two, sad letters below, from writers hoping to get hired by me:
Makes you want to cry, yes? To see a writer trying to cope with medically fragile kids, being duped that she was getting writing gigs from MWJ’s bogus leads.
It came to light, as I emailed with these writers, that Make a Living Writing was listed as an employer by MWJ. That’s inaccurate — though I do pay for guest posts, it is generally a one-off opportunity, not an ongoing gig. I also never read writer’s resumes, a tip-off that MWJ didn’t properly read or link to my guidelines. I can count on one hand the writers that have written more than one post for me.
One easy way to avoid writing scams
Hopefully, this has helped you see how bogus writer platforms can be, and how easy it is to research these offers before you buy.
In parting, let me give you one big rule to live by, when you encounter writer platforms that promise you big, easy, guaranteed income:
Set phasers to ignore.
At this point, my path has crossed with tens of thousands of writers. And here’s what I know:
- There are no clients who hire beginner writers and pay them a fortune for easy tasks.
- There is no mass platform that delivers terrific gigs to thousands of writers.
- Aggregating writers together on a job-finding platform is a recipe for low rates. Every time.
This is why I don’t make earnings promises for my Freelance Writers Den community. And why our emphasis is on training courses, and our job board is a tiny part of what we do. Because mass online job ads tend to be poor quality! Good clients don’t find writers that way.
Most good clients come from prospecting actively to targets you identify and reach out to. Period.
Have you fallen for a writing scam? Let’s discuss what you learned on Facebook.