The story here is simple: I hired a content writer to work on a 2,500-word article for me, I paid him, and he did the work. But it turned out 42% of his article was plagiarized (WTF!).
It nearly cost me a good client!
So what did I learn, how did all this happen, and most importantly, how can you avoid getting scammed when hiring a contractor or doing business online? With scammers becoming exponentially more clever and alarmingly deceitful, you must do business online cautiously.
How to avoid getting scammed? First, hire through a reputable platform that supports an escrow program. This helps protect the seller as well as the buyer. Second, inspect the work performed as soon as you receive it for potential infringement or piracy. Lastly, avoid paying someone directly unless you have a prior working relationship with the person.
What prompted me to check for plagiarism?
That day, I received an email from my customer saying “can you please confirm this article was written in your own words”. This note threw me off as I had never been asked that before. In hindsight, however, it was the best thing that happened for the sake of my small business; its reputation and credibility.
Without this email, I would have never been prompted to search for a plagiarism software or to run this guy’s article through a plagiarism test.
So how in the hell did I end in this mess? How did I get scammed by a content writer? Let me go back to the beginning.
A 2,500-word article
I’ve been doing content marketing for a long time. I have worked for different companies in different industries. But I always wrote my own content for them.
Last year I finally made the decision to start my own digital marketing agency and quickly started to work with different clients. Creating regular content is a natural part of a good marketing strategy.
Around June of last year, I had fallen behind in writing a 2,500-word article for the client mentioned above (the one who sent me that email). I was so far behind I was forced to find help writing this piece, and I needed the help fast!
I had worked with a couple of other writers in the months before, and they were good. But this particular article had a very specific topic and required an expert writer. I was willing to pay for the expertise and expedited service, and I did. It was Saturday morning and I needed this done within the following 48 hours.
How I found this “content writer”
I started my search on the standard outsourcing platforms like Upwork, ProBlogger, Speedlancer, and even had a look around Craigslist and Fiverr.
Without giving too many details, I was able to find a content writer willing to work through the rest of the weekend as long as I paid him upfront. The platform in which I found him was a reputable one and he had many 5-star reviews. He seemed to be well educated, lived in the USA, and had graduated with honors.
I did whatever research I could on this guy, given the time constraint, and decided to move forward. I honestly had very little reason to doubt the work he would provide for me. I even asked for his phone number, he didn’t hesitate and we talked for about 20 minutes about the project. He had some great input on the article. So far everything was looking good.
I sent him the full payment of $350 USD prior to starting his work, without a second thought. He got to working (according to me). And within 48 hours he sent me the finished article he supposedly had written.
Received. Looked it over. Sent to my client.
As soon as I received the article I quickly read through it. It seemed he’d done a good job. I was already familiar with the topic and his content made sense. I was actually proud and finally felt relieved of the anxiety of falling behind. Everything up to this point was good.
Once I looked over the article I sent it directly to my client for approval. I was already behind so I didn’t want to waste too much time editing and decided to let the customer do that part. They did, and that’s when I received that email I mentioned at the beginning of this post.
When I received that email from my client (after I had sent him the finished article), I got a bit worried and decided to look into it. I almost made the [huge] mistake of replying and saying “yes, those are my words”. I’m so glad I did not!
Before replying to my client I decided to have the article checked. After all, what could possibly be wrong?
My first stop was Copyscape only because I knew about it from the past. However, their website looked exactly as it did 10 years ago (to me) so I wasn’t sure if it was still maintained. I became a bit skeptical and decided to continue my search (side note: I do use Copyscape now. It turned out they just haven’t updated their design much, similar to Craigslist, but their service still works!).
I went back to Google and started searching for other plagiarism checkers. I came across a few, but Grammarly looked the most promising. Did some research and quickly learned the plagiarism feature was only available in the premium version.
Due to the circumstances and the situation I found myself in, I didn’t hesitate and decided to sign up for a full year. I figured the value I could get from such a tool would be well worth it. And it definitely was. 100%!
I’m such a Grammarly believer now, that my next post will be a guide on how to use Grammarly. I want to help others, who regularly hire writers, to have the ability to quickly check other people’s work for plagiarism.
This was a painful experience for me and I want to help others avoid getting scammed online. Or anywhere for that matter!
Grammarly catches plagiarism
As soon as I uploaded this guy’s article to Grammarly and clicked on the plagiarism option, it returned 42% of content matches several sources. In other words, almost 50% of the article I had outsourced to this content writer was plagiarized. I was shocked, to say the least.
At this point, I quietly realized I had been scammed by the writer (sigh).
I could not believe it. I kept looking at my screen and comparing the text to the other websites they were copied from. This guy had literally stolen (copied & pasted) content from other websites on the internet. Other very reputable websites mind you!
At first, I was shocked. A few minutes later the anxiety crept into my body again and all kinds of negative thoughts started running through my head.
Soon I started pacing back and forth in my basement’s home office. First thinking how in the hell I was going to get out of this one. I had already sent this article to my client for their approval!
Soon I started to get angry. I wasn’t even sure how to approach this guy to ask him. But one thing quickly became clear to me thanks to my formal training in business; I needed to stop focusing on the problem and start looking for solutions.
Confrontation with the content scammer
After pacing back and forth for twenty or so minutes (can’t exactly recall), I decided to sit back down at my desk and call this guy.
I confronted him about the plagiarized content he had provided me and he readily admitted to doing it.
I asked him why he did that? “I trusted you” – I said. He tried to raise his voice and said: “well your expectations were unrealistic!” Well, why didn’t you tell me that, before you took my money I said? Why couldn’t you be honest and say “I need at least 4 to 5 days for a project like this?” Do you not have integrity?
I was calm throughout the short conversation. There was no reason to become agitated since there was little I could do at that point. I really just needed to focus on a solution.
Before our conversation was over the guy said: “well I can give you half of your money back if you want!” I took a deep breath and said “No…! Keep it. I know that I will make a lot more money from this experience.”
Focus on the solution, not the problem
After hanging up the phone, I stared at the dark ceramic floor for a few minutes, feeling like shit. Soon after I went back to my computer, pulled up the article and spent the next 6 hours rewriting half of it.
I knew that in order to make things right and not raise suspicions, I would have to rewrite the entire article and send back to my client no later than the following day. Remember, I had already sent my client the initial version of the article which they had started to edit. So I need it to move quickly and present this as a “more polished” version.
The next day I got up early and went to visit a different client I had on my schedule. As soon as I got back home I continued working on rewriting the second half of the article. It took a lot of research, many hours and a lot of coffee.
At around 1 a.m. that night, I was finally finished and I prepared an email for my client which included the new version I had just finished. I did not send the email at that time, but instead left in my drafts folder and got up early to send it.
Luckily for me, the client liked my version of the article better and thanked me for “making the content stronger”. If he only knew!
Getting Scammed… Again!
Situations such as this one, where I got scammed by a content writer who plagiarized most of the content I paid him to actually write, are not pleasant. But unfortunately, they are part of the learning process and part of building a successful business.
Building a business is never a “straight forward” or “linear” process. There are always ups and downs. All of us in business must develop (as quickly as possible) our bullshit detector and learn to trust our instincts.
Did I learn my lesson? Not exactly. Ouch!
Although I was able to recover from this situation quickly, I did not learn to avoid getting scammed online 100%. Four months after this event, I walked right into another scam. This time when buying a website from someone overseas. However, this story on how I got scammed buying a website will have to wait for next time.