How I Almost Got Scammed After Only 2 Weeks of Freelancing

Two weeks ago I officially registered my freelance graphic design business in my new home in Minneapolis. Studio name: check. Branding: check. Website: check. So exciting! I had everything ready to go and started putting my name out there via Facebook, freelancer sites, and anything else I could think of. 

I got a couple of prospective client emails, but nothing had really panned out. I wasn't expecting anything after only two weeks anyways - I hadn't even sent out my cold emails list. So when I received the following email, you could say my interest was piqued.

So... okay. I was interested but I was also confused. Two things:

  1. The grammar is questionable, but maybe Mike isn't a native english speaker. Or maybe he's just not a written communications type-o'-guy. (About an hour after I received this email he texted the exact same message to my phone.)
  2. The all lowercase name and the unprofessional email address caught my eye.

These things aren't red flags on their own, of course. So I replied:

Straightforward enough. This is how I would respond to any client request and at this point Mike could've been an average future client. He then replied with:

He attached pictures to this email of some furniture company logos and brochure designs that used the black and red colors he mentioned.

Cool! Logo design, brochure, and the promise of future work! What freelancer would pass this up? The hope in me was definitely trying to overpower my hesitations. So I got a quote for the brochure from my printer, drafted a proposal, and sent it to him.

In the meantime, I decided to do some research on Mike Lawson and his company. Hey, Google: "Premier Furniture Minneapolis"... nothing. "Premier Furniture Minnesota Mike Lawson"... nope. I went to Facebook: "Mike Lawson".... oh right, yeah, there's a lot of those. Hmm.

And then I got another email:

Reading through this, the $1000 payment confused me. The proposal said 50% upfront, and that was definitely more than 50%. Maybe he didn't understand?

Then I got to "my credit does not work with some credit card processor."

That's when I immediately remembered reading about this very thing happening to other freelancing graphic and web designers about two years ago on Reddit. 

Just to see what he would say, I sent him a very short email asking the mailing address of his business. He replied:

"I was detained at the hospital today." Yeeaaah, sure. I've seen Catfish on MTV before, dude. Though I have to say, I'm one of the most internet savvy people I know and even I was close to believing this could be real just because I really wanted it to be.

Oh, and the point of the scam is basically this:

"You'll get overpaid via credit card, then you have to pay the "consultant" via cash or some other unrefundable method, and then you find out the [credit card] was stolen." (via reddit)

There's something creatively cruel about targeting freelancing creatives just trying to get a foothold in the industry. We're so desperate for good work and a stable income that maybe we'll set aside our better judgement for a suspicious promise of a future client.

If you know any web or graphic designers starting their freelancing journey, please make sure they're aware of this common scam. I've heard they target people on Behance and freelancer sites like Freelancer and Upwork.

Anyways... first freelance stumbling block: check.


- Jules