Author: Darren Di Lieto · Illustrator: Richard Dearing · 14th January 2022
Scams take many forms and they’re not always easy to spot. According to the Cambridge Business English Dictionary, the definition of a scam is:
an illegal way of making money, usually by tricking people
Nice and simple right? Well, yes, but not if you’re a potential victim of one of these criminals. It’s not always easy to spot a scam when you’re the target and it can be hard to tell if a message or email is a legitimate job offer. In today’s interconnected world, scams have become more prolific and sophisticated, while at the same time the entry bar into the world of business and freelancing is lower.
You may have a potential client you are separated from by an ocean and 4000 miles, with English not being their first, second or even a third language. In some cases, you might be communicating by way of Google Translate. You can see how difficulties with communication may raise an unnecessary red flag in those circumstances.
In addition, you could have an entirely legitimate job offer that you may suspect is a scam, but not because of language barriers. Perceived issues can also relate to a person’s background or age and what they consider an acceptable way to communicate with their peers. This means that a social or generational barrier could also raise needless concerns. What you’ve got to look out for when assessing whether a new contact is a scam artist or not are patterns and risks.
i need a draw quick
The above example is from an Instagram message sent by a young up-and-coming musician many years ago. The job turned into a t-shirt commission worth several thousand dollars and the musician’s syntax and grammar never changed in later conversations, not that that was an issue. Below is a message I received via LinkedIn for a commercial job that came to nothing and was worth maybe only three to four hundred pounds.
Dear Mr Di Lieto, I’m looking for an artist with an authentic style for an upcoming project, the deadline is the 3rd December. I look forward to hearing from you and your artists.
The point is, you can’t judge the quality of a client by the way they write, nor will it tell you if the communication is a scam. Language evolves and you need to be more forgiving of how people communicate; the world of freelancing has changed over the years too. The digital revolution has indeed turned formality and tradition on its head and no matter how much you want to hold onto the old ways, the old ways are what they are. Adapt or die.
Now, being a freelancer and a member of the arts community makes you potentially an easy target for scams. You’re reliant on strangers to make a living and pay your bills. Plus, scammers will prey on an illustrator’s ever lingering want for success and recognition. It’s almost a perfect storm and creates easy pickings for a scammer.
How do I know if I’m being scammed?
You should ask yourself, is the job offer too good to be true? Is the job realistically the sort of thing you were expecting to come across your (virtual) desk? If not, there’s your first red flag. The next thing you should do is search the internet – use your ‘Google-fu’. Take a generic segment of the communiqué, but a large enough segment that makes it identifiable, and search Google for an exact or close match. If it’s a scam that’s done the rounds it’s likely to show up in your search with other people asking whether it’s a scam or not, and this typically means it is a scam. You can also search for the email address it was sent from, although scammers frequently change their email addresses.
With email addresses, you need to look for a company name after the at symbol (@) that is misspelt on purpose or uses a slightly different name to fool you into thinking that the email came from a legitimate company. If they don’t match the actual company’s website address, that’s another red flag right there. Also, beware of any company (with a website) that emails you using third-party email providers like Yahoo or Gmail. They have access to custom/branded email addresses if they have a website and legitimate companies and employees will almost always use one of these, simple-as. On occasions, they may have a slightly different domain name in their email address to their primary website domain because they use a separate mail server, but I won’t bore you with the technical reasons for that. Visiting the mail server URL in your browser should redirect you to their primary website (with no typos). If that doesn’t happen or the browser shows you a warning of any description, close the tab and run.
Another reason to put up your guard is if they want to get you on a call or instant chat. Scammers will typically want to engage you in a live conversation as soon as possible as they’re able to put a lot more pressure on you and give you less time to think, which works in their favour. Some legitimate clients like to chat with an illustrator before hiring them, but trust your gut. If it feels like they’re working from a script, you’re likely being scammed.
The next thing to evaluate is the risk. Is the scammer asking you to buy something from them to allow you to do your job? If so, that’s a big warning sign. What usually happens is the client will send you money to buy the hardware required for the job, or they may tell you that the hardware costs will be returned as part of your first paycheck. Either way, you purchase this hardware with your own money, it never turns up and neither does that first paycheck. Or if they’ve sent you money then it gets returned to them for some reason, or if it’s a cheque (check) it bounces. All in all, you’ve been scammed.
Another trick related to cheques is that they’ll send you one for more than the agreed amount and ask you to pay them back the overpayment by making an instant payment or direct transfer. Regardless of whether you make this payment or not, the cheque they’ve sent you will never clear. If you’ve transferred money to them that’s the scam and it’s coming out of your pocket. We’ve personally not sent or received cheques for business or personal payments for almost two decades as they’re old hat with plenty of more secure alternatives available these days. Considering the risk, we have to ask, why are people still using cheques?
Here are some abbreviated examples of scam emails:
My budget for the job is $650 per piece. Let me know if that’s fine. If it’s not please get back to me with the price quote and what would be your preferred mode of payment? I’m proposing a certified bank draft, a cashier’s check or bank certified check considering the amount involved. I look forward to reading from you soon.
$55 – $65 an hour
Job Types: Full-time, Part-time.
Work location: One location (remote)
About the Job:
We are looking for a talented 2D & 3D artist who will work closely with our concept, environment and design teams to create levels that are visually stunning. You can also apply if you don’t have any experience as we provide some online training if desired.
Our HR team would like to have an online interview/orientation with you Via TEXT Dillon at +1 (206) 672-9031 to get started.
I have been on the lookout for some artworks lately in regard to me and my wife’s anniversary which is just around the corner. I stormed on some of your works which I found quite impressive and intriguing. I must admit you are doing quite an impressive job. You are undoubtedly good at what you do.
With that being said, I would like to purchase some of your works as a surprise gift to my wife in honor of our upcoming wedding anniversary. It would be of help if you could send some pictures of your piece of works, with their respective prices and sizes, which are ready for immediate (or close to immediate) sales.
My budget for this is within the price range of $1500 to $7000. I look forward to reading from you in view of knowing more about your pieces of inventory. As a matter of importance, I would also like to know if you accept a check as a means of payment.
I got your contact details online, I need the service of an artist or illustrator/cartoonist to work on a project for an upcoming workshop, I’ll give the idea of what I need to be illustrated/drawn and you can get back to me with the price to get it done, I’ll pay your fees up front if you want.
I need your services as an illustrator
Do you do figurative,landscape,still life or animal? Apart from watercolor,acrylic and digital what other medium do you work with? Also how much do you charge per hour. Kindly get back to me if you are available to send you details.
I am an academic event organizer and an Apraxia patient. I got your contact details online. I need the service of artist or illustrator/ cartoonist to work on a project for an upcoming workshop. I will give the idea of what I need to be illustrated/drawn and you an get back to me with the price to get it done. I will pay your fees in up front if you want.
I am an academic event organizer and I’m hearing impaired, I hope you treat me like any of your other customers and my disability doesn’t affect our dealings.
As you can see, they come in all shapes and sizes. Some are obvious, others are not. We do what we can at Hireillo to block known scammers from messaging our members but at the same time we don’t want to be blocking legitimate clients, meaning the occasional scam will slip through the gaps. Use your judgement or make an educated guess as to whether an email is a scam or not. Never reply to a scam message if you can help it; all you’re doing is telling them there’s a person on the other end and giving them another email address to add to their ill-gotten database.
If your marketing is on point, you should expect scammers and con artists to notice you. The bad always comes with the good; that’s part of freelancing. Stay vigilant, trust but verify.
If you’re a member of Hireillo, when in doubt send us an email about any potential scam whether it came through Hireillo, your email account or a social media messaging system and we’ll look into it on your behalf. We’re a community and we protect our members.
Illustrations by Richard Dearing