5 Ways to Recover if You Fall for a Scam

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Lisa Tanner stops by the blog today to share lessons she learned (the hard way) after receiving a writing gig on Craigslist that seemed too good to be true.

It turns out, it wasn’t real. (I’ve gotten many gigs via Craigslist that have worked out and have never gotten scammed personally.) Lisa shares her five step process to recovery after falling for a scam (plus warning signs to look for so it doesn’t happen to you!).

Thank you for openly and honestly sharing your experience, Lisa!

The gig started like any other. I saw an interesting ad on Craigslist and pitched for it. When I didn’t hear anything for a couple of days, I figured I hadn’t landed it.

Until I got an email asking for more information.

I quickly replied. Everything seemed fine, and I got the green light to get started.

Excitement sent me to my computer, as I started my first large project as a freelancer.

I needed to research and write 150-200 word real estate descriptions. The total of descriptions needed by the client was 109.

My client asked me to update her after I wrote number 25, so I quickly finished the first batch and delivered the spreadsheet. A prompt reply encouraged me to continue, and to submit the rest of the project as soon as possible.

I did. I stayed up late, and got up early. I researched, I wrote and knocked out the first 75 in just a couple of days. I submitted an updated spreadsheet after each batch of 25 descriptions. But when I began my final batch, I realized an address wasn’t matching with the property name. I fired off an email, skipped that property and moved onto the next one.

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A day went by without a response.

Then two.

And three.

Something wasn’t right. A knot started to form in my stomach.

I looked over all of my communication with this client, looking for a red flag. My initial assessment hadn’t turned anything up, so I dug a little deeper. Some web research led me to the company that my client was supposedly working for. I found a directory online, and noticed something immediately.

The email address format was wrong. My client used a dash; the company used a dot. I couldn’t believe it. I had fallen for a scam!

The knot in my stomach tightened; I definitely would not be seeing the money from this gig.

Paranoid about my identity, Trojan Horses on my computer, and a host of other fears, I ran all sorts of virus scans on my system. If I hadn’t already had a credit monitoring service in place, I probably would have signed up for one, just for some peace of mind.

Thankfully, it appears that I just produced free content and nothing more. The scam could have been worse.

I still felt the loss. I contemplated giving up. The frauds are getting harder to detect, the real jobs seemed out of reach for a newbie writer. I felt defeated.

Then I thought of my goal. Of the reasons I started writing in the first place. And I knew I couldn’t let a scam get me down.

I couldn’t give up. I just had to be more careful in the future. Here are the five ways to recover if you fall for a scam (they worked for me!).

1. A Final Attempt at Making Contact

I sent off a final email, stating simply that I had finished the work, and prior to sending the final section, I would require immediate payment at the agreed on rate. This let the client know that I had caught on, and wasn’t just going to keep handing over free content. It also helped me to know I had done what I could to recoup my losses.

If I had any sort of actual identity to use, I probably would have pursued this even more. Alas, all I had was a fake name and a fake email—not much for tracking someone down.

Do what you can.

2. Realize Your Time Is Sunk

You can’t get time back. No matter how much I wished I hadn’t spent almost 40 hours working on free content, I couldn’t do anything about it now.

I had to make a choice. Keep pouting and whining, and give this client more of my mental time. Or move on and find better gigs.

I chose the latter. I decided to up my pitching game, and try again.

3. View It as Excellent Writing Practice

What did I get out of this scam? I could say nothing but a headache and some pouting. But, that wouldn’t be true.

I did get something vital from the experience: Writing practice.

How do you improve a skill? You practice. A lot. Writing 109 150-200 word descriptions forced me to practice my research, my organization and my actual writing. It was good for me.

4. Tie the Experience into Your Writing

Without that scam, this post wouldn’t have been born.

Experiences (both positive and negative) are influential to our writing. If you’ve been scammed, try and find a way to write about the situation. Who knows, you may help someone else avoid a similar situation, or at least know what to do afterwards.

Your words are powerful. Use them to share. Use them to heal yourself emotionally.

5. Learn from the Situation

My experience taught me to pay better attention to the small details when responding to Craigslist ads. I don’t respond to as many ads, and I definitely check out responses more carefully.

Here are some things to look for:

  • A phishy email address in a reply. This is what got me in trouble. Try to find a “Contact Us” Page on the website for the company, or a directory and see if the two email address formats match up.
  • An ad with many misspellings and grammatical errors inside. I don’t expect the ads to be perfect (after all, they are looking for help with writing!). However, I’m discovering that companies that don’t take pride in their work won’t take pride in mine.
  • An ad that looks too good to be true. You’ve heard this before for a reason. Anything offering big bucks for a little work is probably not going to work out like you’re hoping.
  • External links to click, embedded in the ad. Links aren’t always bad, but they usually are on Craigslist. Be wary of what you click on.
  • A gut feeling. Your gut can be your guide. Listen to it. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t.

Notice I Didn’t Put “Avoid Craigslist” on My List?

I still pitch Craigslist ads almost daily. I’ve gotten great gigs from there. I’m just a little more careful, and a little less trusting than I used to be.

I love responding to rather vague, random ads. I’ve found that people don’t always know how to write good ads. I take it as a sign that they are a real person struggling with writing that needs help from a pro.

What’s your experience with Craigslist? Do you have any other tips for avoiding scams?

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5 Ways to Recover from a Scam

Lisa Tanner is a writer for hire with a background in education. She earned a Master’s Degree in Elementary Reading & Literacy. She taught in the public schools of Washington prior to becoming a full-time homeschooling mom and writer. Lisa lives on a farm with her husband, their seven children, two milk cows and other animals.

22 thoughts on “5 Ways to Recover if You Fall for a Scam”

  1. I love your attitude about seeing this in a positive light, Lisa. And the joke’s on them, it just made you better. Thank you for sharing. Writing is such a great scrub brush to the soul, isn’t it? 🙂 Onward and upward!

  2. I’ve applied to a few Craigslist jobs but haven’t gotten any yet. It does make me nervous when I see something that looks phishy, and yet it’s hard to know. I always at least google the company, but you showed us it might require being a little more careful. Thanks for this advice!

  3. Great article! I’ve never been able to snag any jobs off craigslist. I’ve had a few people respond in interest but no one has actually hired me from there yet.

    I no longer take on jobs that want me to produce content mill like work. I worked with someone who wanted me to write like 20+ articles in one week. It took up all my time and then the jerk didn’t pay me. On my second week, I was like, dude you must pay me. And I never heard from him again.

  4. Yikes! I have actually been asking this question a lot as a newbie…how to know if the ads are legit. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  5. Yikes! Sorry that happened to you but seems like you found a positive way to look at the situation. I’d also add ask for a deposit and references from other writers. Set your payment terms from the beginning and don’t get started until the money is in the bank.

  6. Lisa,

    Thanks for your story.

    I’ve never come across a scam and I haven’t landed a gig on Craigslist either (but I do know there are plenty of awesome gigs advertised there).

    Have you tried a paid job board like Paid to Blog? Most of those ads are from Craigslist but they are sourced from Tom’s crew so I don’t think the chance of getting scammed is high.

    It’s also a good idea for those starting out to draft up a service agreement. It gives you peace of mind and holds the client accountable.

    Glad you spun a positive out of this icky situation!

    • Hi Elna,

      I have not yet tried a paid job board. I’ve been trying to keep my expenses minimal while starting up my career, but it’s definitely something I’ll keep in mind for the future.

      I also like your idea of drafting a service contract.

      Thanks for adding your suggestions to the discussion!

  7. Can you retool the article and pitch it to another legit company?

    I feel for you. One time when I needed a job I applied for one from Craigslist but when I went to their site, they had a poorly developed website. That tipped me off because a lot of companies these days even small ones will work on their site as a major priority.

    Your site is everything these days. Then I researched them online and others had complained about them. So I backed out.

  8. Hello Lisa,
    I admire the courage you took into writing this honest post, it shows how transparent you are.

    I’m sure that must have been a very bitter experience but the main thing is that you learnt some hard core lessons from it and that is golden.

    I would have had such an ugly experience before but thank God that i was able to spot it early enough.

    Lets just always keep a watch at such people.

    Thanks for sharing.

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