There are many unsavory people out there who just love to take advantage of unwary writers. Today's advice is about protecting yourself.
This advice is based on case experiences I've read where people with PayPal accounts got screwed.
Open a PayPal account with an email totally unconnected to any other email names, blog identities, etc. that you may have. Use it only for your PayPal account and for registering that account to get payment from online sources. If you never use that email address for anything else, you'll never receive the scam emails purportedly from PayPal. Then you won't spend a lot of your time trying to verify whether said email is legitimate or a con.
Also, if you start getting junk email to that address, you'll know that one of your freelance sites sold that email despite their claims not to do so.
Create a complex password for your PayPal account and the respective email registered to it. Make it upper and lower case letters, numbers, and accepted symbols. Don't ever make it a date someone can hack or a word of any kind. Write down the password. (See my blog post Memory's Secret Weapon.)
Spend several days analyzing job listings before you start applying. Read the listing carefully. Legitimate jobs should say exactly what they want, when they want it, and how much they'll pay. Unfortunately, many legit jobs don't. So you have to develop a sense about what's real and what's a scam. Don't hesitate to write and ask questions to clarify and to get a sense of the legitimacy of a job.
Recently, I did that with a Craig's list ad for short article writers, $15 for anything. Well, any writer I know can crank out 50 words on something all day long. So I responded and asked questions. Answer I received was, "many will think this is a scam and complain to Craig's list...." He went on to tell me if I thought so then don't bother him.
Other misuse of a writer's skill are clients who want you to write an article for a buck. Some even say that any idiot can write captivating copy in 30 minutes so if you can't do that and want more than wages that amount to a penny a word, then don't reply.
I could go on and on with general and specific examples. The bottom line is don't agree to write anything for so little money that you'd be embarrassed to tell someone else what you worked for.
If you want a carpenter to build you a fence, do you ask him to build the gate first free? Would he if you did? I don't think so.
Then why should a writer submit multiple samples of articles for how they would write a client's blog or article samples of the content they would use for a client's newsletter?
If you have to submit samples, limit it to as few as possible. If you can, use something you've written before so they can't rip off what you send and use it without paying you. Yes, people do that. Tell the client this is content you wrote for such and such and that it has been used and copyrighted by the client who paid you for it. Anybody with a brain will realize if they use it, they run the risk of Copyscape catching it.
If the sample they want is specific and esoteric, then do what you can to verify the client's dependability and go with your gut feeling.
When To Write For Free
Yes, there are times you may actually write something for free or very little pay. This is when you knowingly contract with someone to do this with it written into the contract that with the next article, your fee escalates to whatever you can negotiate. Sometimes, in order to get a better deal, we do have to audition, but try not to do it for free and try not to audition on a long involved piece. Keep it short and sweet if you can. That way, if you don't get the deal you want, you won't be kicking yourself for wasting weeks of your time in research and writing.
Always have a contract that spells out what you will deliver and what the client's responsibilities are to pay you - when, how, how much. Nail down the important points before you do the work. A simple contract is easy to write, and you can email it to the client. If you want an actual signature, then fax it to the client with instructions to fax it or mail it back to you.
When you find job listings that are scams, file a complaint against the person who listed it.
People take advantage of writers because they can. It's easy to do. Arm yourself with knowledge. Do your research. Get a contract. When all else fails and your client won't pay, find out what legal actions you can take even to getting a lawyer if the amount warrants it.
Find the websites where you can file complaints against clients and do so but be sure you have the paper trail documentation to back it up.
Avoid ads that say: "No compensation." Especially if this is tacked on: "but you have the chance to be published on the Internet and be read by millions." I can't believe anybody falls for this, but they must since I see it frequently. Hey, my friend's dog with a blog is published on the Internet and has the chance to be read by millions.
Avoid ads that want to pay you by revenue sharing unless the site is willing to send you some real data, not a stat count reading, showing what they're traffic is.
I'm sure I could give you a ton more warnings, but you get the picture. It's not all bad news. If you pursue freelance writing, you'll make some client relationships that will last for years. They'll always turn to you first because they know you're good - you write well, you meet deadlines, and you're professional.
The old caveat, let the buyer beware, should be rephrased and adopted by writers: Let the writer beware.