Web Warnings for Writers

The Web offers an exciting world of adventure and exploration. But some of the opportunities you may encounter could be fraught with exploitation. Here are a few suggestions and links that may be of help.


Several months ago Mary Stephens (*not her real name) began browsing the Web for freelance work. A published author with magazine credits, Mary felt it was time to expand her search for writing jobs to Web-based employment sites.

Scanning telecommuting and freelance job lists, Mary tentatively contacted five or six organizations by submitting her resume as instructed or by sending an email indicating interest. Two days later a man named “Tom” emailed to say that her credentials looked like a match for his business project. Exchanging emails with his project details (a written business plan required editing and possible additions) and her work experience (certified business writer), Joe sent Mary a Word attachment of the plan after agreeing to her estimate of $400.

Two weeks later as agreed, Mary returned the semi-final plan to Joe’s email, but it bounced with a message that his address was invalid. Frantically searching earlier emails, she found one with a different address and re-sent the near-final business plan. Joe responded in a few days, saying the revision looked great and he might need further edits in keeping with suggestions by the funding brokers. Elated, Mary agreed to make additional changes for another $150. But a week later when she emailed the final version, she heard nothing from Tom. Soon a month had passed, with Mary sending weekly emails to Tom, without his acknowledgement. Finally she contacted the site administrator who had posted her work and Tom’s ad. He agreed to contact Tom, since privacy rules prohibited him from forwarding advertisers’ addresses. The administrator got back to Mary shortly, claiming that Tom reported his deal with the brokers fell through and he was filing bankruptcy. He would, however, try to see that Mary received payment for her work. That never happened, and Mary is out $550, sadder but wiser.

Job searching on the Web is a skyrocketing business. Nielsen/NetRatings reports that nearly 300 million Americans were actively using the Internet in Spring 2004, many in search of employment. (Nielsen/NetRatings)
http://www.clickz.com/stats/big_picture/geographics/article.php/3359691#table. Monster.com advertises 900,000 available jobs, while careerfish.com boasts five million. Sites like Elance and flipdog post alluring ads as well, with HotJob offering work paying $50 to $300 per hour. With an unemployment rate above five percent, job seekers are using every means possible to find that elusive paycheck. What better way to interview than in the privacy of your home, day or night, sitting in your pajamas before a computer screen?

But as Mary and others have learned, finding work on the Web can be tricky. Its strength is also its weakness. A lack of public space, nearby location, or ready references makes it difficult to determine just how valid a job offer might be. Like those who hunt for romance or buy unseen products on the Web, job hunters must use caution. Here are a few tips to keep in mind before jumping at that very attractive job offer. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

1. Study the job ad. Are there grammar and punctuation errors or misspellings? Is the job description vague or does it promise more than anyone can reasonably deliver:

“Work from home”

“Thousands of available jobs to match your skills”

“Earn $6,000 this month!”

Avoid jobs that just about anyone could apply for. Instead, respond to those that truly match your experience and skills:

“Writer with banking experience to write finance newsletters”

“Mid-size restaurant night manager for the Brookpark area.”

2. Look for specific contact information. While an email address may be enough to request job details, you need information about company location, job description, immediate supervisor, and salary options. After the first email, ask for a postal address so you can submit a resume or future invoices. Many freelancers keep a log or record file with each client’s contact info that includes company name, owner, manager/supervisor, street address, day and evening telephone numbers, fax number, Web address, and other data.

3. Clarify project details in writing. After discussing a business plan or report, for example, ask for a confirmation email or “agreement” (alias “contract”) that both of you will sign. Keep copies of everything for your file. Specify the exact nature of the work to be performed:

Not this:

Contractor will work on a business plan for the vendor.

But this:

Kelly Johnson, dba Pro-Edit, will review, edit, proofread, and correct errors in the 26-page report submitted by Marvin Seymour, Customer Relations, Wordsmith, Inc., 2719 Jarrell Road, Parma, New York, 11713. The revised and corrected report will be returned as a Word attachment (with disk mailed separately) no later than September 1, 2004. As agreed, the vendor will pay contractor the sum of $180 for this work, due and payable within thirty days of receipt of invoice.”

4. Confirm payment account and means up front. Discuss the scope of the project and be prepared to offer a written estimate for the work to be performed, with the understanding that the sum may fluctuate slightly if the project turns out to be easier or harder than expected. Agree to contact the vendor about any significant increase in cost. Also decide payment terms. Some freelancers prefer not to use personal home addresses. Instead, they use post office boxes or Paypal accounts. Be sure to indicate ahead of time which method(s) you will accept, with the understanding that a personal check, even after receipt, still may bounce. It’s a good idea to invoice your work, though not every vendor requests one.

5. Investigate job sources. Get in the habit of scanning job lists to identify recognizable companies or valid ad types. You may want to contact the site host to ask which postings are recommended. Visit well known sites you trust rather than random ads that appear in out of the way places. Don’t give out personal information like address and phone number to people you don’t know.

For more information, visit the U.S. government site on job scams (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/edcams/jobscams/). You also might want to check out Consumer Reports at Comsumerreports.org. About.com offers useful information on work-at-home scams (http://jobsearchtech.about.com/library/weekly/aa042699-3.htm ). A telework (“telecommute”) site in the United Kingdom lists helpful tips about job scams at http://www.eto.org.uk/faq/faqschem.htm.

Beware those Web weasels! Arm yourself with facts and details to avoid unscrupulous sharpsters.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

+ 5 = nine