Home : Scam Alert: Editors Beware

scammerI was contacted by a not-so-articulate person who requested my services as an editor for an article. I looked at his document and found a ten-page paragraph that needed plenty of help. I wrote a polite response explaining that this piece would be time-consuming and expensive to edit, but the author seemed intent on having me rewrite it. He readily agreed to my price, explained his 30-day deadline and told me he’d send a check.

If this doesn’t sound suspicious to you, it should.

Pay attention and stay safe.

In a relationship-based business like editing or design, a new client is almost always a referral.

“I saw the work you did for Jim Smith. I was wondering if you ….”

If you publish a website or blog, introductions invariably start with,

“I read the article you posted about ….”

This client volunteered no point of reference.

When I receive a manuscript that needs major surgery, I encourage the writer to do the rough cleanup on his own. Editing is valuable, but not cheap. Why pay someone to do what your spelling and grammar checker is already screaming at you about? Tools like AutoCrit.com save money and improve your writing. You can’t replace a professional editor, but you can do quite a bit to prepare yourself to maximize the value of your relationship with one.

Real clients want to know what they’re getting for their money. They don’t want to spend it; they want to invest it. In this case, the client showed little interest in the piece being edited. He volunteered no information about the type of publication, audience, or intended result of the piece. He agreed to a high price without questions or negotiation.

I work with clients all over the world. The farther away they are, the more likely it is they’ll pay me electronically. I get paid by check about 10% of the time; the rest is PayPal. If your check doesn’t clear, my bank charges me—the victim—a $35 fee. I accept checks from trusted sources only. Usually, I’m paid by check when a company’s bookkeeping department is managing transactions, or by older people who tend to be less engaged with Internet-based payment options. When possible, I take them to the sender’s bank and cash them directly.

The next day, my “new client” wrote to tell me the payment was on its way, but that it had “accidentally” been written for an amount much larger than the agreed price. Would I be so good as to deduct my fee and send back a check for the difference?

Here’s how the scam works:

The operator sends a fake check—one that looks authentic. You deposit that check and it clears quickly. With cash in hand, what do you have to lose? You send the operator his “refund” (less your generous compensation) and move on with your life. Weeks later, the bank detects the fraud and pulls the money out of your account. You’re officially hosed.

I politely explained I’d be happy to return the check and wait for a new one to be cut for the correct amount.

I received a final email appeal about how important the money was to the “starving children,” but  when I assured him I would not be writing checks to anyone, he disappeared.

This scam is widespread; not only editors are being targeted, but remember: excellent work is done for excellent clients, and if it sounds too good to be true ….


Scam Alert: Editors Beware — 15 Comments

  1. This is a variation on a common scam. I offered something fairly valuable and large for sale for sale. Received an offer, then large cheque for far more than it was. The extra was supposedly to pay for shipping. I was to cash the cheque then send remainder to shipping company, but being scam aware, I researched shipping company, a real name given but not at the address supplied. Then took cheque, not into my bank, but branch of purchaser’s bank and asked them to check it was a genuine account. That branch’s fraud officer soon appeared because, as suspected, it was a fake.
    So here’s the tip. You can take any cheque into a branch of the bank named on the cheque and ask them to confirm that it is genuine. Better than paying it into your own bank and waiting for it to run through the system, as the fraudsters rely on you doing.

  2. I ran afoul of one of these creeps last year. This scammer’s MO was virtually the same as the one you ran into, Dave, except that he asked me if I could be paid via a “cashier’s check” and wanted me to inform him once I got the payment. I did not discover the check was bad until it bounced.

    I talked about what happened to me in this guest blog post I submitted to “The Mess That Is Me”:

  3. same type of scam is being sent to second hand shops and dealers. We get them all the time requesting information on a fairly expensive piece of furniture. They state a cheque will be sent and a courier designated to collect the item. The bank told me that after the furniture is collected, the money is reclaimed… they fall down with their nonsensical emails (at least as far as I am concerned) as they all say the same thing. When you get 5-6 with identical wording (I am working in New Zealand, the item is for my son…) with different names on them, it’s a bit of a giveaway. Standard answer, we do not accept cheques, credit cards or paypal. Come to the shop with the cash and you can have it. Meantime be warned we are collecting addresses for the Fraud Squad. It’s stopped a lot of them, but you have to be on your guard all the time.

  4. This has happened to me about a year ago for an editing job too, but thankfully, the scam was exposed before any money was refunded. I also got a sob story, though not about any starving children. 🙂

  5. Dave, thanks for sharing. This sounds like the fictional stories I write, where sincere people are seeking romance on-line, but end up meeting scammers looking to empty their bank accounts. As a rule, I edit my work and have someone proofread for me. And you are right, nothing beats a spell/grammar check.

  6. So they are targeting editors now. My husband was exhibiting his photography at a gallery several years ago and someone tried the same thing. They claimed to love a particular image that sold for $1200 framed. Same scenario. They were sending a check but it was drawn for a higher amount. The gallery was alert to this scam and refused the sale.

    Then my sister who runs a guest house had the same experience with someone who claimed their company would send a check for a month’s rent in advance. Of course it was drawn for too much. All she had to do was send them a check for the difference and the guest would be there within a few days. She also avoided getting taken.

    I guess they stop at nothing if they think they have a new pigeon. Thanks for the alert.

  7. “Excellent work is done for excellent clients.”

    Yup. We don’t work with anyone just because they have money. I have to like what they’re doing, like THEM, to give them my valuable time.

    Setting a high standard for clients keeps us from dealing with jerks, weasels, and losers (the people your post is about.)

  8. This is exactly how the Nigerian letter works. The problem for you, the time-waster, started as soon as you got the manuscript. First, this person could have had it edited in their own language. I would insist on that first. Then, invite them to write me with a request to edit it and I will look to see if it fits into my schedule. You knew they were trying to scam you. Take your time, wait for the check to truly clear the bank and tell them that with a check, the high cost of editing this particular manuscript, the check must clear the bank bank first. If they need it so fast, send it electronically via Paypal. The decision is made. I saw a sign in a business when checks were still being used often. It said something like only credit cards and cash accepted and for the amount of the purchase (they try it with stolen credit cards for more than the purchase amount and want a refund on the difference in cash right there as well). If I can cash your check, so can you (with “before you try to make a purchase here” being understood). Your time is valuable and this person started wasting it from the beginning. No one has ever had a gun held to their head with a demand that their story be published or even edited within a tight time frame (or they die). They may have wanted it in 30 days but there will be no loss of life if you wait to be paid first. End of story. Or shall I say “End of sob story” (theirs). Yes this sounds mean but they were trying to steal from you. There is no longer a need to be nice to them. Waste their time by taking your time getting your money first. I ALWAYS intentionally waste as much a scam artists time as I can without wasting mine. They’ve tried it on Skype with me and I request a bathroom break that sometimes lasts for hours. I go do things I need to do and sometimes I come back to ask how I can send them money. I never send anything except for “I wasn’t born yesterday.”

    • The problem is that the check WILL clear the bank. Often the bank doesn’t realize the check is a fraud until weeks after you’ve drawn on it. You’re right; plenty of variations on the “Nigerian Dictator” scam, but in this case, editors are being targeted. I figured it was worth a shout-out. I didn’t get nailed but someone else might.

  9. This same scam exists in other places, for other services, and even for items on Dubizzle, EBay, and other such online shopping sites. My sister almost fell for it too, after receiving ‘mistakenly’ too large check for some items of furniture. They asked for the change to be sent to them once she cashed the check, and she that could take a nice tip for her trouble. It was the tip on top of the stupid amount they offered for the furniture, which made her stop. Of course, this might have made her complicit with their crime of fraud. Scammers are everywhere.

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