The overpayment scam that targets proofreaders


shutterstock_130473632There’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.

14/08/2013 | Nick Jones

15 thoughts on “The overpayment scam that targets proofreaders

  1. C Tremble says:

    Thanks for this information. Thankfully I haven’t been targeted by these people yet but it’s good to have the facts in case they do. I only ever accept payment via Paypal or international bank transfer so I think I’m safe from this kind of thing. At least, I hope so. I usually accept payment after the work is complete, however. Not sure if I should change that or not though.

  2. This is a worrying development and I’m sorry so many people have been affected.

    I’m not sure if this will help, but I was advised early on that it’s important always to ask any potential new client for their full postal address and, if possible, a telephone number. Even when working remotely, I still ask for this address and explain it’s part of the records I need to keep for tax purposes (and that it won’t be passed on to anyone else). I don’t start work without it. No one has ever refused and, if they did, it would set off all sorts of warning bells.

  3. This is an infuriating scam, but it isn’t uncommon or new. It started out in places like craigslist and ebay, on purchases of anything from a stuffed toy to a car, and with rental listings.

    I wouldn’t automatically distrust someone who tells me their budget upfront, although an “overly generous” one might make me a tad cautious. The time to worry is when someone sends, or offers to send, more than the agreed-upon amount.

  4. Wendy says:

    I received a scam query like this based on an old email I had once listed with the Editorial Freelancers Association (so EFA members, beware, they are probably going through the directory listings). I was also told, when I shared this post on Facebook, that a friend had been approached with this scam in an entirely different freelance industry. Seems all of us independent professionals are at risk.

  5. Joanne Asala says:

    I receive a few suspicious-sounding inquiries a year, but most turn out to be legitimate jobs for ESL clients. I received one this month from a professor who had a tight deadline for a paper to be presented at a conference. His English was very poor, but because he did send a manuscript with the initial query, I didn’t immediately suspect that it was an overpayment scam—not until a third-party check arrived for eight times the amount we negotiated. *Sigh*

  6. Alison Lees says:

    I got caught too. Of course, the amount of time spent was quite small, and I had time in hand, so I’ve not lost out. It was only when the over-priced banker’s draft came in that I knew it was a scam, from what other people have been saying, but I expect a lot of people don’t know that banker’s drafts can bounce?

  7. Admin says:

    Thanks everyone for your comments. The scam has clearly affected a lot of proofreaders, editors and indeed other freelancers, so it’s important that we all remain vigilant (of this scam and any other fraudulent activity that you hear about). I agree with Lesley that getting the customer’s address and phone number will help deter these people, although of course you would need to validate that information in some way before you could trust it.

    If anyone has any concerns about enquiries they receive via our website, whether they come directly to you via your profile page or whether they’re Get a Quote enquiries, please let us know. And if you hear about or are affected by any other scams like this, please share them with us so we can all protect ourselves!

  8. […] The overpayment scam that targets proofreaders […]

  9. Ira Zadikow says:

    This happened to me about four months ago (early 2013). I’m in the U.S., the person trying to scam me was named (supposedly) Nicholas DePina, from Massachusetts. Same thing, it was a tiny job, and I received a check by either UPS or FedEx for an amount much larger than the agreed upon price. The UPS envelope was addressed from someone else, and the company’s name on the check and the person who signed was by someone else again. I didn’t deposit the check because it was obviously very fishy.

  10. Thanks for the heads up! Fortunately, this one hasn’t happened to our editing services yet, though we’ve had similar sort of strange encounters via email. Like you say, “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

  11. Thanks for the heads-up, Nick. I received one of these sketchy inquiries today and was able to find out everything I need to know about it right here, quick and easy.

  12. Admin says:

    You’re welcome, Stephanie! Glad it helped you. :)

  13. […] We wrote an article in 2013 about an email scam that was doing the rounds at the time. It was targeting proofreaders, although apparently the general idea for the scam had been around for a while before that and has previously preyed upon other types of freelancers, too. You can read our previous article here. […]

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