I’m going to share a personal experience with you.
It was a humiliating, embarrassing, frustrating and panic inducing experience.
I got scammed on a Content Mill.
There, I said it.
I’m not the first person who has had this horrible experience and I certainly won’t be the last. However, by sharing my experience, I can give you some pointers on how to avoid it.
Newbies are Vulnerable
Let’s just start by saying that when this happened to me, I was not a newbie, rookie or beginner by any means. So yes, if it can happen to me, it can certainly happen to a newbie and I really don’t want you to have to go through this. It’s not nice.
Where Did This Happen?
The Content Mill happened to be Elance but I’m sure that this imposter has done the rounds of other bidding sites. I have written for Elance, on and off, since 2010 – with absolutely no problems at all. I had some regular clients who were lovely, gave me lots of work and paid me promptly.
A lot of people write for Content Mills. Some make reasonable money – some don’t. I’ll be looking at Content Mills in a future post.
When I got scammed, I was not a full time Freelance Writer. I had a part time job in a Supermarket in Scotland. I worked on the Customer Service Desk and loved my customers. That was the only thing I loved about it and I spent every moment of my free time working my little socks off to get out.
The Dream Job – That Wasn’t…
I was off sick from work with a chest infection when I saw the job that I thought would give me enough earning power to leave my Supermarket job. This is what I saw:
Looking back, there was a clue which I didn’t pick up on. We’ll come back to that.
Reasonable Money – That Wasn’t…
What I did see was $15 an hour ($600 per week) for 40 hours per week, for 4 – 6 months. Not an amazing income but certainly enough to get me out of my Supermarket job.
An Amazing Client – That Wasn’t…
I also noticed the client’s name: carolticeseo. Only weeks before, I had signed up for Carol Tice’s newsletter. I did see that the person who had posted the job was called Troy but I figured he was working for Carol. This is not unusual on Elance.
So I went for it. And I got it and so did four other unfortunate Elancers.
I Talk to “Carol”
Then “Carol” wanted to talk on Skype, so we did. I even said that I couldn’t believe I was working for “her.” I knew that Real Carol lived near Seattle and asked “Carol” about being in London. “She” said – very smoothly – that she was just there for a few months.
I Give Up My Job
I wrote out my notice and got ready to be a Full Time Freelancer.
We Start Work
Then the work began and right from the get go it was punishing. “She” wanted to start at 7am every morning and the projects were relentless. Looking back, it’s obvious that the imposter wanted to get as much free work out of me as possible before “she” was discovered.
On the plus side, I can now crank out a 1,000 word article in an hour and I ended up with a HUGE portfolio.
On the negative side, I was exhausted within three days but I kept at it because I was earning $600 that week, right?
Then something happened which should have been a GIANT RED FLAG for me. It wasn’t a giant red flag because of how “Carol” handled it.
Here is the conversation which I saved from Skype, exactly as it happened:
[16:44:15] Carol Tice: hi
[16:44:20] Carol Tice: i need to clarify something
[16:44:21] Mary Collings: hiya
[16:44:22] Mary Collings: ok
[16:44:35] Carol Tice: you got a message on elance right about work from me?
[16:44:44] Mary Collings: today?
[16:45:45] Carol Tice: now
So, I went to look at it – as you would…and saw this:
And freaked out – as you would.
[16:45:55] Mary Collings: aaaaaaaaaah. I’ve just seen it. Yikes!!!!
But “Carol” had an explanation…
[16:45:58] Carol Tice: Okay , i know why. The message has come to you by mistake because you were hired on the same contract as with another writer whom i filled a dispute against because he over billed me. So the message was to go to the writer whom i filled a dispute against but not you. You contract is till active and that has no implication on your contract and neither wont affect any payments. Sorry about that
I look back now and cringe because alarm bells should have been ringing louder than 1,000 fire trucks.
a) Would the real Carol Tice have said “as with another writer”, spelled filed as filled, written “You contract” instead of Your contract or said “neither wont affect any payments”. No, of course not.
b) Did I pick up on any of this? No.
I was just so relieved that Elance weren’t after me for some imagined faux pas. My default setting is guilty. I’m a Mother. What can I tell you?
[16:46:40] Mary Collings: Oh, thank goodness for that. Thank you so much for letting me know. Is there any way of getting that off my elance?
See how pathetically grateful I was to “Carol”? *Goes to hide in dark corner in shame*
So, the exhaustion-inducing work continued. And continued…and then I put my first invoice in for $600. And didn’t get paid.
I went to the Elance Forum, called The Water Cooler and posted about my experience in hope of advice. The other writers on the Forum were kind and supportive but one of them gently broke the news to me that my client was a “Coffee Cup”. A whaaaaaaat?
Back To Those Clues
Remember I said there was a clue in that job post? It was cleverly hidden because “Carol” had somehow got the job post to show “her” as a client who had already paid others. I had hovered over that and seen the following:
So “she” was a client who’s payment of $945 to someone, had been verified. Safe, right?
The Client information shows that “she” had been a Member since October 2014. The job was posted on October 4th, so “she” would have spent a lot of money very quickly.
That is NOT usual on Elance and at that point, I should have clicked on carolticeseo to find out more about “her”.
If I had, I would have discovered that “she” was a “coffee cup” – just as the kind people on the forum told me.
Alarm Bells Finally Ring
At that point, I was very tired and not pleased to have received zilch, nada, niet and I was very worried about the Coffee Cup development. So I finally did what I should have done on Day One. I Googled Carol Tice and found a thread on the real Carol Tice’s website, Make a Living Writing. The post was called
“Bidding on Elance: Here’s How Easily Freelancers Can Get Screwed”
With growing horror, I read comments from so many people
who had been scammed by this imposter.
Just like me.
I had been scammed.
I left a comment and the real Carol replied.
My Initial Reaction
I cried. A lot. And then got VERY angry.
I Don’t Turn Up For “Work” on Monday…Then on Tuesday – The Showdown
[12:28:51] Carol Tice: My God, finnaly you reappreared? (Seriously? Unreal…)
[12:28:56] Carol Tice: what happened?
[12:29:13] Mary Collings: I found out that you’re an imposter, that’s what happened.
[12:29:22] Mary Collings: and you haven’t paid me
[12:29:26] Carol Tice: what do you mean?
[12:29:34] Mary Collings: you’re not Carol Tice
[12:30:03] Carol Tice: that’s a lie
[12:30:10] Carol Tice: where did you get that?
[12:31:40] Mary Collings: Right here – on the real Carol Tice’s blog
[12:31:44] Mary Collings: http://www.makealivingwriting.com/bidding-on-elance-how-freelancers-get-screwed/
[12:32:00] Mary Collings: You’ve been busy scamming a lot of people.
[12:32:06] Mary Collings: How do you sleep at night?
[12:32:59] Mary Collings: If you’re on the level, which I doubt, then you can explain why you haven’t paid me
[12:33:08] Mary Collings: and tell me when you’re going to
At that point, “Carol Tice” left the conversation and removed themselves from my Skype at the same time.
I took real Carol’s advice and contacted Elance but there were two issues.
1) The job was an hourly one. Clients don’t put money into escrow for hourly contracts.
What is Escrow? Putting money into escrow means that the client puts the payment into an account “up front” and it is held there until the project is finished to the client’s satisfaction. At that point, they release it from escrow, to you, the writer).
2) Even though I had meticulously used the Elance stopwatch to record all of my work and time spent – Elance wouldn’t recognize it because they had sent me a message to stop working on the project.
Remember the Elance Dispute message that “Carol” explained away? It wasn’t from “Carol” – it was from Elance. So because I hadn’t heeded their warning, they didn’t pay me.
I did $600 worth of writing and didn’t see a penny.
I have to say at this point, that it wasn’t in any way Elance’s fault that I didn’t get paid. They (like other Content Mills) have clear rules. The problem is, that until something like this happens to you, you’re not always aware of the rules and processes.
The Silver Lining
The real Carol Tice was absolutely lovely and gave me 30 minutes of free mentoring on Skype. During our talk, she mentioned a certain Jon Morrow. At that point, I had never heard of Jon but I Googled him (what did we do before Google? Seriously) and discovered that he was offering an Apprenticeship for Guest Posting. I pulled up my big girl’s panties and signed up.
Life Gets Better
I’m now a Full Time Freelance Writer. To be honest, if I had waited for “the right time” to leave my job, that day would never have come. So now I have three websites – WriteHacks.com, MaryCollings.com and NewbiePsychic.com
I recently published my first Kindle Book,
I’m still trying to work my way through Jon Morrow’s Guest Blogging Apprenticeship,
I’m a member of Serious Bloggers Only,
I’ve been offered a Blog on LinkedIn and
I’m currently working for a lovely client.
5 Ways to Avoid Getting Scammed
I am now uber aware. Here’s how you can be uber aware too.
1. Don’t bid on hourly jobs. This is the one sure fire way of knowing that you will get paid as the Client must put payment into Escrow for non-hourly projects.
2. Always click on the Client’s name to see their previous projects. If you see a Coffee Cup – run fast in the opposite direction.
3. If possible, only bid for projects that have feedback from other writers. This shows that the Client has completed projects before.
4. Don’t talk to potential clients on Skype, on Facebook or any other external chat. All Content Mills have message boards which you can use to communicate with your Client. Use them – for your own protection.
5. Don’t EVER part with any money. There is a known scam where Clients ask to talk to you via IM (on Yahoo or other IMs). They then interview you in a very professional manner for more than an hour and then ask you for money to purchase “software that you will need to work for them”.
NO Client on a Content Mill will ever ask you for money. Don’t EVER give someone money. The reason they ask to IM with you is because you are out with the Content Mills protection. You have not officially been signed up by the Client via the Content Mill and you’re on your own.
Has This Happened To You?
I do hope that it hasn’t but I’d be interested to hear your experiences.
I've been a freelance writer for ten years. You name it - I've probably written it. I love working from home and I want to help you so that you can love it too. Hook up with me on Social Media and let's enjoy the journey together.