Last week, I saw a Craiglist ad placed by someone looking for well-researched web content. The poster didn't reveal a name or say anything about the subject. Payment was a bit higher than average, however, so I responded with my resume and said I'd happily provide relevant samples if I were given more information about what they were looking for.
A few days later, I received an email expressing interest in my application and requesting an original sample article of 250 to 500 words on a particular topic. It came from a Hotmail account whose owner I couldn't trace. The writer gave only her first name and didn't name the company, though she claimed to represent several successful websites. All this made me very wary. I replied with a second request for information.
I wasn't expecting another response, but it came surprisingly swiftly. The respondent still would not reveal her full name and said it was her policy not to disclose the company name, as she didn't want to be bombarded with phone calls about the ad. I immediately replied that I wasn't happy investing the time in an original sample without knowing the name of the company and having some verifiable contact details.
I don't know for certain it was a scam, but at the very least the procedure was highly unprofessional. On the other hand, I've had one or two jobs from Craigslist's freelance job listings; I found my first regular writing gig in Canada on the site. There's an awful lot of dross on the site, but you can find decent work if you observe a few tips for sorting out the cons from the legitimate writing opportunities.
Tips for Finding Freelance Writing Jobs on Craigslist
First, go to Craigslist.org, and find your region, if your browser doesn't automatically take you to the regional site. Find the Jobs category, then Writing/Editing. Craigslist has RSS feeds, so you can subscribe to the freelance writing category in your area through a blog reader such as Google Reader (my preference).
Here's what to look for in a listing:
1. Look for signs of a scam. Poor grammar and spelling don't bode well. Don't trust exaggerated guarantees of money-making. When mention of payment is conspicuously absent , but enthusiastic promises of "exposure" or "getting published" abound, expect the worst. (They want you to work for free.)
2. Research the company or individual who placed the ad. Follow the links provided or type names into Google to see what you can find out. You might immediately find evidence of a bad reputation, or it might be clear straight away you're dealing with a legitimate client. Either is useful to you.
3. Ask for more information. If the ad is vague and it's hard to identify the name of the client, ask directly for a company name and contact information.
4. Check the email address once you are in contact with the client. Legitimate companies tend to avoid free services such as Yahoo! and Hotmail. GMail is a rare exception, as it tends to be favoured by younger, web-savvy professionals. Don't trust email addresses with a username that uses slang or looks like spam, eg, zara999. If you're suspicious, type the email address into a search engine and see what comes up.
5. Politely decline at any point if, assuming the ad was worthy of a response in the first place, the client asks you to do something you're not comfortable with, such as a request for an original sample or an unpaid trial period.
6. Flag the post (top right) if a listing is wrongly categorized, in violation of the rules, or a scam. An unpaid opportunity advertised in the jobs section is always a case of miscategorization.