Scammers. Tips from experienced freelancers.
We can not claim that there is an absolute way to be protected from online scams, however, here is what experienced freelancers advise.
First of all, you should try to find out as much information as possible about your potential employer at the early stage of negotiations. You should determine the whereabouts of your employer. Normally, the employer sends you a letter or a message with his coordinates: address and a phone number. If a letter or a message arrives without this information, then you should immediately request it. Often fraudsters immediately terminate negotiations with you, as they begin to understand that it will be difficult to scam you. Sometimes they start to use ridiculous excuses, such as «we are moving to another office» or «the phone will be connected only next week».
After you receive a phone number and address - verify it. Try calling and finding their office (if it is a big city). If they are present in your city, then arrange a visit. Also, you can ask for assistance in finding a coworking space. Another tip when visiting the office, pay attention to how long this company has actually been there. Go to their neighbours (if it is a large office building), and make sure neighbours know who is located next to them.
If they are located in another city and you found their location, then again you can use a trick mentioned before and call their neighbours in the office building to make sure they have heard about that company. Also you can try using Google Maps and browse street views to look at the exterior of an office building. Sometimes Google Maps stores photos of the buildings and you might get lucky and find all necessary information you need and confirm that this company indeed exists.
Another possible sign of a scam is the behaviour of a potential employer, when on the one hand he demands detailed resume and other information from you, but on the other hand does not provide anything about himself, despite your requests. Usually in this way a scammer tries to protect himself. He wants to make sure that you are from another city or even from another country, and that you yourself are not a fraud and will not submit a stolen job/project for which he will be responsible.
To find out exactly from which city you are from, scammers usually invite you for a personal meeting in their «office». If you write back to them saying that it is not possible due to your location, then they will definitely know that you are from another city. Later they will inform you that after all it is not necessary to meet in person and will offer to continue negotiations by email or through the internal messaging system of the freelance website.
Therefore, if a potential employer is inviting you to their office, always answer that you are ready to come; find out the address and agree on a time. If they provide necessary information on your first request and specify the name of the person who will greet you, then most likely they are not scammers. And again if you are from another city, then you can always refuse a meeting due to your busy schedule. If they are from your city, we advise you to go for a personal meeting.
In addition, you can always try to look up information on the potential employer online through search engines using their email address or a company name. Or you can ask your fellow freelancers for any information you need using forums. Surely some of these people have already dealt with this company and can tell you some positive or negative information about them.
Finally, you can browse the Internet for the so-called «blacklist of employers». Such blacklists exist both on individual websites, as on dedicated sites for job search, freelancing, etc. Likewise this information can be found on specialized sites for some specific types of work, for example, forums for translators, designer communities, etc.
If you have fallen victim to a scam - be a responsible citizen and make sure you report it. Leave your feedback on at least one of these forums or webpages. After all, some other freelancers did it before and added many dishonored employers to such «blacklists» and therefore perhaps helped you or another person not to become a victim of scammers. So help others too!
But of course blacklists can be fabricated likewise. Sometimes competitors give false feedback, using methods of unfair competition, so called negative PR, in order to tarnish other companies reputation. If a forum has the «blacklist» then it would be useful to read the comment section to see what exactly has happened and why this particular employer was added to the «Most Wanted» list.
Frequently scammers behave extremely aggressive towards the person who blacklisted them and towards the website itself. In order to be removed from the list, they can use threats both in relation to the one who reported them and to the administration of the website. There are known cases of hackers taking down the webpages or temporarily removing the access to site contents to its visitors if site administration declined their request to be removed from the list.
If the employer is not a fraud and was included in the «blacklist» due to a misunderstanding or competitors unfair methods, then such an employer behaves appropriately and constructively trying to either correct this misjudgement and make sure it will not happen again, or reasonably prove wrongful behaviour from competitors side. Naturally, such an employer will soon be removed from the «blacklist» and therefore information you find there can be trusted.