How Can Academic Freelance Writers and Companies Deal with Dishonest Customers?
This article explores the risks academic writers and companies face, how they are at greater risk of being scammed by dishonest customers, and what can be done to mitigate risk while preserving the freelancer's reputation, growing one's client list, and increasing profits. Freelancers and companies often face the same types of risks and many of the solutions presented in this article can be applied by both.
Being a freelance writer can be rewarding as it offers flexibility in scheduling and the types of projects the writer accepts. Freelance writing can also be frustrating or complex when the writer's predominant work focuses on academic writing. Having worked in the academic writing industry for nearly 20 years, this writer has seen a plethora of good and bad events. While most customers are legitimate, there are certain to be those whose underlying plan is to obtain free services. By free services, this is not to imply the customer simply wants a discount or lowered rate but that they initiated the order with the sole intent of later creating issues where they could receive the product or service for free. Perhaps you are or have been a victim of fraud or a scam by a dishonest customer. Read on-this article is designed to help you recognize and reduce risks, which will ultimately aid to increase your clientele and profit margin.
How Is This Niche / Academic Writing Industry at Greater Risk of Being Scammed by Customers?
Academic freelance writers specialize in academic or education-based projects. While some clients are educators seeking samples to handout to students, the majority are college-aged students whose academic weakness might be research and writing or they might be overloaded with classes and assignments while some have sought assistance because of a family or medical emergency. Many academic writers focus on specific subject areas while others are diversified and cover more than just research or term paper-type projects (e.g. business reports, usability studies, blog posts, web copy). Whether you are an academic writer or you specialize in another type of writing, the tips presented in this article will help you to reduce the risk of being scammed by dishonest customers and learn ways to respond when you have been scammed.
The academic writing industry as a whole caters to a broad range of academic clientele from high school students to doctorate level customers, including some educators who seek sample to use in teaching. The diversity of clients compound the diversity of possible scams. Companies are at greater risk because of the legalities of providing research and writing services (e.g. money back guarantees, satisfaction guarantees). While companies should want all customers to be satisfied, what constitutes a legitimate level of satisfaction can be confusing.
Common Issues and Complaints
- Insists on free/sample pages
- Initial questions too focused on refund and revision policies
- Excessive or unsubstantiated revision requests
- I'm not satisfied
- Bullying for free work
- Filing disputes/Chargebacks
- Using multiple emails to receive "new customer discounts"
- Past difficult customers using different email to order
Free / Sample pages
While not all requests for free or samples pages indicates a future problem, providing a free or sample page risks the writer spending valuable time researching and writing only to have the customer take the free pages and never proceed with the order. If a writer gives free pages all the time, this can add up to a lot of lost time and money. Most freelance writers rely on writing as their predominant source of income and giving free work can cause serious financial problems.
Some options include offering the first 1-2 pages at a lower rate (like a paid trial) where the customer can see the writer's quality before committing to the full project. It also gives the customer a chance to see that the writer is on topic and make suggestions for areas the customer would like to see expanded or presented in a different way.
Initial Questions Too Intrusive
Customers have a right to know more about the individuals and companies with whom they do business, but there are some warning signs that freelancers and companies want to recognize.
When a potential customer seems too focused on refund and revision policies, possibly to the point of insisting on unlimited free revisions, this indicates a potential future problem or even the onset of a planned scam. Sadly, some customers order academic projects with the initial intent of receiving the project and complaining that the project fails to meet their expectations and then insist on a refund. When faced with any doubt about whether a potential customer might be dishonest, it's best to choose not to accept the project, require the customer to provide a written agreement that they will accept the project and a set number of complimentary revisions (2 free revisions is most common), require payment via a method that cannot be disputed, and/or include a clear note that no refund will be granted under any circumstance.
Excessive or Unsubstantiated Revision Requests
As covered under the previous point, excessive or unsubstantiated revisions are a common practice of a customer whose initial intent was to deceive the writer or company. Ways to avoid revision issues is to carefully review and reiterate the instructions before proceeding with the order. When the customer has confirmed the instructions in writing via email, you can feel more confident about moving forward. If the customer fails to clarify or says something like "read my instructions" or "I gave the instructions already", it might be better to let the customer know you cannot or will not proceed without clear answers. Otherwise, you risk the customer later claiming you failed to follow their instructions and give them possible grounds for a refund.
"I'm Not Satisfied"
The phrase "I'm not satisfied" might be short but it can be the spark of a long, drawn-out problem that stems from the commonly used "100% Satisfaction Guarantee" many companies offer. In academic writing, there can never be 100% satisfaction no matter how great or experienced the writer. Academic writing is subjective in that all eyes that view a finished academic project come with varied opinions. What is excellent to one person might be mediocre to another. As such, guarantees should only apply to whether the work followed the order instructions and other specifications (i.e. word or page count, format, et al). A simple "I don't like it" is not grounds for a refund.
Some customer might claim they only used a portion of a completed project. Whether a customer chooses to use all or part is their discretion but does not negate the fact that the writer or writers have completed a full project in good faith. For example, when buying a home, you can live in any room you choose. If you choose to live only in the bedroom and never use the other rooms, you remain obligated to pay the full monthly mortgage payment. The same premise applies in academic writing. If a customer orders 5 chapters and only uses 1, they remain liable for all 5 chapters.
Bullying for Free Work
Bullies are everywhere. Much like the bullies who harass and threaten individuals online, in the workplace, and in schools, bullies are present in the form of fraudulent customers. This type of customer is overly aggressive to the point that he or she will harshly berate or verbally put down a writer or company. For example, some dishonest customers will make comments like "this is the worst writing I've ever seen" or "a 10 year old could write better than this" to degrade and lower the writer's confidence causing him or her to question their abilities. In some cases, the writer is so taken aback that they might instinctively offer to revise or rewrite before finding out specifically what the customer feels is written poorly.
Instead of responding immediately, the writer (or company if the complaint is being sent about a writer or project) should pull the original order. Carefully review the original instructions against the completed project. Did the writer meet the order requirements? Does the wording flow? Are there grammar or other errors? If no specific issue can be found, then reply to the customer and clearly outline what was found when reviewing the order against the paper. Ask the customer to point out the specific areas in the project that he or she feels is not written to the requested standards. If the customer refuses to provide clear examples, it is likely that they are seeking a refund while wanting to keep and use the completed project (a common scam tactic).
Threats / Slander
Dishonest customers not only love to bully and often have no clear issue or issues that can be pointed out, but they will also threaten the freelancer or the company. For example, a customer might say "If you don't give my money back, I will post this experience online and/or file a complaint with the BBB" (Better Business Bureau). While the BBB exists to ensure customers have positive experiences with service or product providers, it is also used as a negative tool by scammers. Freelancers and companies want to be careful that they don't impulsively give in to these threats. If there is any indication the project doesn't meet all or the majority of the order requirements, a partial refund might be warranted. Depending on the amount or percentage of the refund, the customer might not be able to obtain the full rights to the complete project, a choice that would be the discretion of the individual freelancer or company.
In cases where a customer posts negative information about a freelancer or company online, the individual or company has the right to dispute the claims. Whether they will or should would be determined on a case by case basis as some responses might make a bad situation worse. Sometimes no reply is the best reply. Better yet, striving for positive outcomes often yields positive testimonials and enhances the individual's or company's reputation.
In the automated technological world today, filing a dispute has never been easier. Most customers pay for academic writing services via PayPal or credit card. Both methods are easily disputed and pose serious implications for the freelancer and company. Both PayPal and most card issuing banks monitor the number of complaints or disputes a company has received in a given period. Too many issues could result in the freelancer or company being banned from using a specific payment service for their products or services. As such, it is important to respond to and resolve disputes as quickly as possible.
In the event of a dispute or chargeback where the customer does not cancel the complaint, there are steps one can take to protect their rights and, more pointedly, the work they provided to the customer. One such method is to let the customer know that the dispute means the project is not paid and the rights to the project belongs to the writer or writers. The writers can do with the project as they wish, unless the customer does pay or repay for the ordered project. If the customer refuses or not compromise can be met, the project can be posted online and in various academic databases to ensure no one can claim ownership to a project that has not been paid.
Using Multiple Emails to Receive "New Customer Discounts"
The majority of customers are honest, but some do seek out any loop hole to get discounts and freebies. In my years of freelance writing, I've seen customers order under a different email every time so they can quality for new customer discounts. How can you tell is someone is trying to scam for freebies or discounts? The first step is to have an order system that collects or notes the user's IP address. Then check the IP address by doing a search in your email (works great with Gmail). The results will show all emails that have ordered or contacted you from the IP. If you find that a customer is trying to deceive you into repeated "new customer discounts", it is okay to call them out on it-tactfully, of course. I recommend something like, "Dear Jane, I see you ordered on January 1 and received a new student discount. While we can't apply a new customer discount to your current order, we are happy to offer 5% off on a future order." This will let the customer know you are on to her tricks and also present something that will entice her to come back. Most importantly, you don't want to push away a potential long-term customer over a few dollars, but you also don't want to be a victim.
Past Difficult Customers Using Different Emails to Order
The same email strategies used to receive repeated discounts are also used by some customers who were problem customers in the past. It's always good to check the IP address with every order to help project yourself. If you use Gmail, it is good to use the enhanced or extra perks available through Google. Use all the available stars to sort and flag certain types of orders, customers, and other factors or issues. For example, customers you want to avoid in the future would be assigned a red star. When you get a new order, you would then check your red-starred messages to see if they have ordered in the past and to see what the issue was. If you choose to work with the customer again, you might want to proceed differently (e.g. require payment via Western Union versus a method where they can file a dispute or chargeback). In these cases, you would want to offer the customer some assurances, such as a limited number of free revisions, but overall you want to protect yourself and the time and work you put forth for the customer. Lastly, you can also set labels using Gmail features where specific emails will show a label such as "dishonest customer", "past issues" or other title that works best for you and helps you sort potential problems so you can focus on working hard for your legitimate customers.
Steps to Take Before Accepting a Project
- Check the customer's IP address. Does it match the email IP and payment IP? Has the customer ordered under a different or multiple emails in the past?
- When a payment is received, call the customer to confirm the payment and order details before proceeding.
- Does the customer's order email match the payment email? If not, research both emails and keep clear notes of what is found.
- Is the customer outside the freelancer's or company's location (e.g. foreign customers)? Again check IPs and search for email to see if any past issues have occurred.
- Are the order instructions clear? If any part of the instructions seem vague or if they can be interpreted more than one way, have the customer clarify. If the customer refused to clarify, it might not be worth proceeding as they could later claim you failed to meet their requirements.
- For editing/rewriting orders, is the customer requesting editing or a rewrite of something that appears to be a cut/paste of someone else's work or an online source/article? If the customer orders "paraphrasing" this is a red flag as the content is likely cut/paste of sources. These issues indicate the customer plagiarized and the freelancer's edits might not be sufficient to remove plagiarized material; in turn, the customer could later claim the writer plagiarized.
- Keep a record of all conversations, correspondence, and the original order details and files (if applicable).
- Post clear policies on free revisions or rewrites; money back guarantees; working with customers outside your country or origin.
When the freelancer or company is clear in outlining policies, the chance of being scammed is greatly reduced. In academic writing, it is advisable to limit free or courtesy revisions to no more than two and note that changes will apply only to the original instructions, not to anything the customer might request to be added.