Freelance Superpowers: Scam Spotting

When you work with the same product day in and day out, noticing a fake is second nature. Sell designer purses? When the shade of a bag or the look of the hardware is “off,” you notice it immediately. Sell video games? You likely unconsciously know the weight and balance of a game console box without even opening it. It’s a familiarity with the materials we need to do our jobs, and when something doesn’t add up, it’s very likely not going to pass us unnoticed.

Writers have a superpower too, believe it or not. We can spot a written scam a mile away.

I recently received a request to interview for a position on Upwork. Have a look:

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-11-36-54-am

Three red flags immediately went up:

  • Nothing in my work history indicates that I’m looking to be an assistant. My profile is created to reflect my skills – namely, that I’m a writer.
  • “Loyal” is a strange quality to be looking for. When a client puts “loyal” out there on the forefront, it indicates that a previous assistant was somehow “disloyal.”
  • Note to the right there that “Monir” is interviewing a lot of people, but this is his/her only posting ever on the site, they have no confirmed payment methods, and they have no money in escrow. Strike 3, you’re out.

But hell, this is an educational blog, so let’s take a fake bite of that bait, for curiosity’s sake. Here’s the response:

I have been a local and international relative successful entrepreneur and sometimes invest in the real estate market which makes me travel often within and outside the states working on various independent projects. This is why i need someone who can help keep me up to date with some my activities, especially while i am away and amidst my busy schedule. My previous personal assistant is currently unavailable due to health reasons and i am keen on finding an efficient, motivated, organized individual who can communicate well and is able to multi-task. This position is home-based and flexible. Working for me is a test of following instructions and as my personal assistant, your activities among others will includes:
. Writing articles and speech
. Receiving Donations from sponsors
· Receiving Phone Calls from my clients when am busy.
· Making Regular Drop offs at FedEx Stores for letters meant for my clients.
· Handling and monitoring some of my financial activities.
· Basic wage is $300 weekly.
. Working 5 hours Daily, and 3 Days weekly. ( you can choose your working days because it is flexible )
I am sure you should have understood how busy my schedule could be on a daily basis. Currently, I am in Canada meeting with partners. I will be back in two weeks
to arrange a formal interview with you. I think you are the right person for this position. Please note that this position is not office-based for now because of my frequent travels and tight schedules. It is a part-time job, and some weeks you will be busier than others, though pay stays constant.
NB: you have to be checking your email regularly, and also i want you to add me to your email contact list as soon as you receive this email.
Like i said, I think you are the right person for this job, and think we should get a head start next week. I have some little works piled up that i will need help catching up on immediately. I would like to use next week to test your efficiency and diligence, and to work your schedule around mine. I am hard of hearing and usually stay in touch through email and text messages, but if you would like me to call, I will be glad to do that at my earliest convenience, I am glad you responded to my ad in such a timely manner and look forward to working with you and promise to be a good boss.
If Interested in being my personal assistant, get back to me through email and we can move forward with the first task.
Warm Regards.
 Now, for my lovely freelance fledglings that are familiar with my “spot the scam words” game, you’ve probably already seen enough red flags pop up here to send a bull into a fit.
  • Keen
  • Works
  • Bad (unusual) Grammar in general (relative successful, will includes, should have understood / could be, have to be checking, etc.)
Additionally, for such a short message, “Monir” sure is putting in a lot of qualifiers for how unavailable they are. Hard of hearing, they’re in Canada, oh such a busy schedule…this is a scammer laying the groundwork for being out of touch, and thus unable to soothe genuine fears you’ll have when doing their scammy work.

Additionally, the overly formal speech is a side-effect of a careful translation. We have a lot of contractions and similar functions in our language, and it’s hard to mimic the casual tone without the translation sounding stiff or forced. Notice also that there isn’t a single contraction in this entire posting and response – what American do you know that doesn’t use any contractions at all?

In this case, this scammer is setting up a popular check-cashing scam: he or she will send you money orders or checks that look genuine, but are actually very high-resolution forgeries or copies. The idea is that you’d deposit that faux check in your personal bank account, the bank would front the money because you’re likely a good customer with a halfway decent track record, and your “boss” would instruct you to wire/Western Union them the just-deposited money, after you take out your “cut,” of course. Later, your bank would discover the fraud, and your account would go negative to recoup the losses…which you’ve just sent on a one-way trip overseas. How do I know this?

As I’ve mentioned in my Debunking a Craigslist Scam post, the easiest way is simply to cut and paste a line of the questionable text and Google it in quotation marks. In this case, I found nearly the entirety of this message on Scamwarners, word for word, with a wholly different name attached – apparently “Monir Lisir” is also “Chris Crosby”. Ding ding ding – we have a scam!

So voila – now you know: you have a secret scam-spotting superpower as writers, so be on the lookout to protect friends and family!

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