This isn’t a post I planned on, but it’s fresh, and I need to get it out there. When you are side-hustling and freelancing to survive, you directly open yourself up to a world of money scams – moreso than you would, say, at an office job. There’s many ways these a**holes can try to con you out of your money, and when you’re dependent on the income they’re promising, you may become blind to the red flags. Thumbtack, Upwork, Craigslist, and the like: they’re all breeding grounds for money scams, but they’re easy enough to avoid.
Until I win the Powerball, my main money-making side hustle is face-painting. This particular money scam and scammer, ‘S’ for short, came to me through Thumbtack.com. For those of you unfamiliar with how it works, potential clients fill out canned questionnaires about their event, open it up to bids from five potential freelancers, and pick out the professional they wish.
So, ‘S’ put in a job request, I bid, he accepted, and we went from there.
Red Flag #1: the request itself was odd
Whatever your specialty in the side hustle world, become familiar with what a ‘normal’ request is. Recognize the patterns and don’t be afraid to question a client when something is abnormal. For this particular face-painting request, four things were amiss:
- He had a ridiculously high budget, as far as face-painting goes
- It was incredibly last minute, only two days before the date of the party
- The length of the party was seven hours – ain’t no birthday party in the world lasts for seven hours straight on a school night.
- It was the wrong demographic, a birthday party for a 16-year-old boy. Now, face-painting is certainly timeless and knows no age, but in the eleven years that I’ve been face-painting, never once have I been requested specifically for a teenaged boy’s party.
These alone wouldn’t have suggested ‘S’ was a money scammer, but there was more:
Red Flag #2: he would only communicate through text messaging
I get it. Talking on the phone sucks, especially with strangers. Texting and emailing is the way to go, plus a written account is good protection against liabilities. I don’t pressure clients to call me if they would clearly rather text/email, but this guy’s texts were somewhat incomprehensible. When I was able to understand what was going on…
Red Flag #3: the details weren’t lining up
It was relatively easy to get ‘S’ to confirm he wanted to hire me, and he seemed fine with the
hella expensive quoted price. When I asked for details about the party itself, he would go radio silent for hours or days on end. Eventually, he said that the ‘party’ was on a different date than what he originally requested through the website. I asked three separate times where the party would be held, and when he finally told me, it was a different city altogether.
If that wasn’t confirmation enough that something sketchy was going on, this sealed the deal: the house address was empty and listed for sale on Zillow. The property owner’s name (per the county website) was not this man’s name.
Well, then. Glad I Googled it beforehand.
Red Flag #4: insistent on pre-paying
Even if he’d gained my confidence as a normal client and there were no red flags waving up to now, this point on its own is a dealbreaker:
‘S’ asked about a deposit. Normally, I require one, but the ‘MONEY SCAMMER’ klaxon was blaring. To test the waters, I said that no deposit would be necessary. He then insisted on paying me ahead of time (which, red flag #4.1: no normal customer insists on paying a ridiculous price for services not yet rendered). I suggested Paypal or Square. No good. He says his prepaid credit card would not work with those.
He asked for my bank details.
There it is. Whole lotta nope. Nuh uh. No way, Jose. Hard pass.
At this point, I politely told him to pound sand, blocked his number, and reported him to Thumbtack (who rock, by the way – they responded in less than twelve hours, blocked him from the site, and refunded the credits I spent to bid on the job).
What was the plan, scam?
It’s called check fraud:
I agree to pre-payment, and I give him information on how to wire/transfer money to my bank account. He transfers the money, however it would be more than the agreed upon amount. He had ‘accidentally’ overpaid by, let’s say, a hundred dollars. Oh, what a silly mistake! I, naively, would’ve said, “No problem! Let me transfer you the difference right back.” I send him the hundred dollars. All seems well.
If he hadn’t ghosted me at this point, and it actually came to the day of the party, I would have showed up to the house. But, it’s empty! I must have the address wrong… let me text and call the guy… wait, why isn’t he answering?? He paid for my services! This is definitely the address he sent me. I don’t want to screw him out of his money.
A few days later, the original transfer of money doesn’t process, the funds get pulled from my account, and I’m out the hundred dollars I sent him.
While I’m angry at the f**king gall of this scammer and shittiness of some people, hopefully channeling that anger into this post will help other people avoid check fraud scheme and money scams down the road.
Why was I a target? It wasn’t just me, I’m sure. Thumbtack and similar sites are breeding grounds for money scammers: it’s literally a directory of thousands of self-employed freelancers and side-hustlers, and there’s going to be people who are more likely to ignore warning signs in favor of some desperately needed business and cash.
Unfortunately, there’s no good way to extinguish them from the Internet entirely, and the due-diligence falls to the free-lancer.
- Never EVER give your bank details to get paid for a job. If you’re taking payment through a credit card, there’s just no good reason at all to give out your personal bank information. There’s safer methods like Paypal or Square. Thumbtack even has credit card processing services. When you give out your bank info, not only is it a possibility that you’ll get scammed out of the money, you could actually, unwittingly, be part of something illegal like money laundering.
- Trust your instincts. My gut was rumbling pretty loudly throughout this whole ordeal. Even if this guy hadn’t been attempting a money scam, I didn’t exactly like the idea of showing up somewhere amidst all the sketchiness. At first, I didn’t want to be rude and drop him abruptly, but I reasoned it like this: temporary discomfort is worth personal safety. Plus, that’s the beauty of Thumbtack: if he actually needed a last-minute face-painter because I ditched him, then he could have put in a new request and found someone else.
- Google is your friend!! I Googled this man’s name and the address he sent me. Nothing was adding up. I couldn’t find any record of him, and, as mentioned, the address he sent me was an empty house listed for sale. Seriously, even if your client doesn’t seem sketchy, keep in mind that they’re still perfect strangers you met online and Google. That. Shit. For better or worse, we live in the information age: use it to keep yourself safe.
And to the scammer: go f**k yourself.
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