The overpayment scam that targets proofreaders15
There's a scam doing the rounds among proofreaders at the moment, I'm sorry to say. It has affected at least 20 of our advertisers in the past fortnight, and I have fallen foul of it directly via my own proofreading website, too. Luckily, the scammers failed to extract money from any of us, but they did waste a few hours of our time as we proofread their documents in good faith. In this article I will explain how the scammers operate so that anyone reading this can avoid falling into the same trap.
It starts with an email. The scammer claims to have several projects that require proofreading and editing to a high standard. The English in the email is very poor, which may set alarm bells ringing in itself (think of all the spam emails that clog up your junk folder every day), but then in our line of work it's very common to receive emails with poor grammar, isn't it? And as these emails are specifically requesting a proofreading service, you'd be forgiven for not instantly filing it in the junk folder along with the generic spam emails about rich Nigerian princes. I received the email last Friday, and I suspected nothing untoward at this point. After all, I've been freelancing for nine years and have never been scammed like this before, so why would I?
Next comes the hook. Every con has a hook to it, as anyone who ever watched BBC Three's The Real Hustle knows, and this scam is no different. When the scammer emails you the documents that need proofreading, they also inform you that they have up to £200 to spend on these projects, which is rather generous considering the documents only equate to 6,000 words. 'If something seems too good to be true, it probably is' was the frequently repeated catchphrase on The Real Hustle, but sadly these wise words weren't ringing in my ears at this point. Instead I proceeded without caution. Until the banker's draft arrived in the post a few days later.
The banker's draft was for £1325, well over a thousand pounds more than I had quoted. I queried it with the scammer who apologised and said that her colleague was supposed to send most of the amount to a Chinese interpreter and the rest to me. At last the alarm bells began to chime, and when the scammer advised me to still pay the draft in, keep my portion and then wire her the rest, the bells were positively clanging.
Luckily for me, I was prevented from wasting any more time on the issue, as a Find a Proofreader advertiser kindly rang me to inform me that he had been scammed via our website. As he relayed his experience, I soon realised I had been scammed by the same person. He'd received an inflated amount via banker's draft that morning, just like I had.
So, other than wasting proofreaders' time, what's the point of this scam? How do the criminals actually benefit? Well, presumably they expect the proofreader to pay the banker's draft in, and then wire them over £1000 to an offshore bank account. The banker's draft fails to go through because it's counterfeit, leaving the proofreader out of pocket to the tune of around a grand.
How to prevent this scam happening to you
To protect yourself against this unpleasant and potentially expensive experience, follow these steps:
- Never trust someone who openly tells you their budget, especially if that budget is overly generous.
- Always insist on payment (or at least a deposit) upfront.
- Always discuss payment methods at the outset. This scam relies on the use of cheques or banker's drafts, so if someone insists on sending you payment in the post, trust those clanging alarm bells and proceed with extreme caution.
I hope this blog helps prevent other proofreaders and editors wasting their precious time (or worse still, hundreds of pounds of their hard-earned money) with this scam. Please share this article with any proofreaders, copy-editors and indeed any other freelancers you know. According to this website, the scam has been around for some time and often targets interpreters, so I suspect they are widening their net these days to include all forms of freelancers working with words.
About Nick Jones
Nick Jones is a proofreader, editor and copywriter. He is the owner of Full Proof, an editorial company based in Cheshire, UK, and Find a Proofreader, a business directory for freelancers working with words.