It started out innocently enough. It was an ad on Craigslist: “Creative Writer Needed.” Or at least that’s what I think it said. I’ve answered so many job ads, I can’t keep them straight. It was a short ad stating they needed a creative writer to write articles.
I had seen that sort before, usually the pay is mere pittance for these types of jobs (See Pay Writers What They’re Worth). So, I read with skepticism. The grammar and punctuation weren’t that great, but I figured maybe that’s why they were hiring a writer. Then I saw the pay: $550/week.
I was impressed. That was a small fortune compared to some of the other ads I was reading. But, it wasn’t out of the question. When I had worked as a telecommuting writer for a local news site, I made about that much. I shrugged, shot off a resume and cover letter and moved to the next ad. Two days later, I received an e-mail from “Tawler Jenkins.”
This email is to confirm your appointment as our writer.
What? Without an interview or even phone call? Besides, don’t I have a choice in this?
We are not an established company already otherwise we wouldn’t be
looking for our first writer online.
OUCH! I was turned off by the insult. But, perhaps they were not native English speakers, and their culture was just more direct in its expression. Tawler explained they were four ex-Microsoft game employees creating a social and urban magazine. At present they didn’t have an office or website, but they were working on that. Okay, I thought, maybe they were just a disorganized start-up. Tawler went on to explain that I would write articles on whatever I wanted but spent several paragraphs admonishing me that:
As our only writer, you must be hard working, extremely creative and
flexible in order to make our work easier. You can be sure that you will be dully compensated as time goes on.What we expect from you is a job professionally done by ensuring you pull through with your experience and skill.
My spam meter was going off at this point. Sure, I sent you a link to my online portfolio in my cover letter, but you want to hire me as your only writer without even speaking to me? I’m flattered, but uh…I don’t buy it. I kept reading simply for amusement.
We have no experience in writing articles and we are not interested in
it so it is your business to make a great impression of yourself with
your first and other jobs for us.
What?! You want to start a magazine and you have no interest in the articles? Definitely spam. Not only that, a Google search on Tawler Jenkins produced no results, and he flat-out stated they didn’t have a company name yet. But, what were they getting out of this deal?
It seemed the worst they could do was not pay. But, they were talking about two articles a week. If I wrote them and they didn’t pay, I will have written two brand new well-researched pieces. I’ve still got them on my hard drive and could quickly publish them somewhere else.
What would they get out of the deal? Was there that much of a black market for original web content? Really, if they wanted to steal articles, it would be much easier to copy and paste.
Remember we are new to this and want to take the world by surprise.
I was starting to see the picture here. You’re a little band of gamers that saw an opportunity to make money in advertisement. You decided you would use an online magazine as your vehicle. You got some investors, and have spent all your time and energy making a super cool website that’s still not perfect enough for you, so you haven’t launched it. In the meantime, you have given no thought to what you actually wanted to put on the site—which is where I come in. I could actually see that happening and I kinda felt sorry for the guys.
I also realized it could be a genuine opportunity for me to write whatever I wanted, and get paid well–at least as long as the investor money lasted. I sent another e-mail asking specific questions to nail down some details. If they were spam it would come out. The next day, I got a weird response beginning with:
We have just finished reviewing your email and we think you might be
the writer we would be working with,so here is the deal in detail.
Wait. I thought you already hired me. I’m confused, but it does make more sense. He went on to describe the required length of the articles, a couple of guidelines (no porn related, and had to have questions at the end to keep the readers engaged and hopefully commenting). He talked about insurance and raises and that it was work-at-home until further notice. He was starting to sound more like an employer. My skepticism slowly began to fade.
Please attach specific articles that you have written that incorporate
what we are looking for so we can be sure to reach an agreement with
Okay, then I haven’t been hired. But the guidelines were so vague, it was hard to figure out what samples to send. It’s my personal standard that sending Word attachments as writing samples is bulky and not very professional. Your best articles should already be published online anyway. So, I linked three articles I had published online and hoped for the best.
The next day I received an e-mail with no comment on my samples, but telling me they only wanted to communicate by e-mail, and that I would be paid via certified check unless I wanted to give my bank information for direct deposit. My scam alarm went off at all levels. Certified check?!
I have written for many legitimate online-only companies, and the standard protocol for payment is PayPal. And There was no way I was giving my bank account number to someone who refuses to speak to me.
On the .001% chance that this really was just an amateur start-up run by gamers lush with investor money but low in common sense, I sent them a final e-mail kindly but firmly insisting to be paid via PayPal. I also pointed out that surely they understood how bad this looked. I explained that I was fine with an e-mail only relationship, but I needed a phone call to verify legitimacy and to ensure that all of my questions were answered to my satisfaction.
I never heard from them again. I’m not happy that they have my resume, but it had an old address and the one-page summary of my employment history largely consisted of freelance publishing credits. I don’t think they could do too much damage with that. They didn’t get any writing from me. Everything I sent them is publicly available online and has been for years. if they wanted to steal it, well, anyone takes that risk publishing anything online.
The only other thing I can think of, is that they were trying to create actual work, so that I would readily give them my bank information. I have since Googled around for this type of scam, and found that Craigslist is rife with job scams, and that job hunters should beware. What a shame, when unemployment is so rampant to take advantage of the desperate.