There’s no doubt about it – the world of working online is here to stay. From writers who bid small copywriting gigs to graphic designers creating websites, to counselors and professionals of all types meeting clients through video conferencing, plenty of people are out there doing work on the World Wide Web.
Working that way, however, means you may not get the luxury of "feeling people out" to determine whether you’ll want to continue doing work with them – or to even begin an initial arrangement. You also won’t have the benefit of working in a cash economy, and will have to find other ways to receive payments reliably. Whether you work online part-time or it’s the only way you get paid, here are some ways to figure out who to trust.
Beware the standard scams
New methods of scamming people for their money pop up all the time, but here’s a common one: asking you to receive a large amount of money and then to return part of the funds later on. It’s called a "Nigeria scam" because it’s thought to have originated in Nigeria – or at least to be proffered often by people located in Nigeria. Anytime someone asks you to work for free, to put up money before you can get paid or to receive excess funds, beware. Also have spam filters and virus protection software installed onto your computers, so you’ll be alerted if you’re about to visit a suspicious site. To stay up-to-date on the current scamming and phishing trends, visit sites such as the National Cyber Security Alliance on a regular basis.
Use a guaranteed payment method
Reliable businesses and individuals will want your transactions with them to go smoothly, and won’t balk at using a third-party service to transfer funds to you. If you’re working with a new client, they should be OK with you asking for a deposit upfront, or even half of your standard fee before you begin work. They also won’t mind you using PayPal, Google Wallet or another reliable online payment method to send money. If a client promises to pay you via one of these methods, don’t send the client the work until you see the funds cleared. If you’re working through a site such as Elance or Fiverr, the sites will require the client to pay upfront, ensuring you’ll get paid too. If you’re working on another site in which the client has to approve your work before you get paid, you might do a "test" job to ensure everything goes smoothly before continuing that relationship.
Vet the person online
Trustworthy clients who do work online will often have strong online presences themselves. This allows you to "vet" the person or company by checking them out online. Look for the person’s professional profile on LinkedIn, or visit their website and look for the "About Us" page. If you can’t find any information about the person or company, it could be a red flag.
Ask for a video conference
If you’re seeing red flags or you can’t vet the person any other way, ask them to meet you via video chat. You’ll then have the opportunity to glean information from the person’s demeanor, the way he presents himself and even the scene in the background.
Trust your instincts
If you’re still seeing red flags after attempting these other vetting methods, trust your instincts. You may not be aware of every scam out there, but you will know when you’re getting that bad feeling about a prospective client. When you get that feeling, it’s probably time to say no.
Working online is a totally viable way of making money and earning a living, and there are many reliable, trustworthy people out there to work with – just take these steps to ensure you’re not falling victim to scammers or people not willing to pay you what you’re worth.