I got a message from someone on LinkedIn that I couldn’t make sense of.
“I’ve been sending you messages on XXX for two days. The copy you turned into me was (expletive). Rewrite the article so that it is actually intelligible, or I’m going to call customer support personally and get you banned from their platform.”
I was stunned and sat there staring at my screen for about two minutes, not able to figure out who this person was. To make things even more confusing, I never even did any work on that particular platform. I worked exclusively on another website.
I finally started typing my response, explaining to the irate “customer” of mine that I sincerely had no idea who he was or what he was talking about. I further explained that I did not even have an account on that website.
He replied back with a link to a profile, and lo and behold, there was my mug staring right back at me on my screen.
That’s when it dawned on me that I’d been a victim of identity theft. Only this time it wasn’t money that was stolen, but my portfolio of work that someone was trying to use to make money on a freelancing website.
I stay active on social media and will sometimes even blog or post on social media some of my better work. Apparently this person had been stalking me long enough to collect a decent amount of work of mine that they could showcase on this other website and started getting orders.
Unfortunately, their actual skill left a lot to be desired and they had racked up some pretty terrible reviews. And my name was the one at the top of the profile.
Are You a Victim?
It today’s world, it is easier than ever for someone to steal your identity. Unfortunately, the onus is on you to stay vigilant and protect yourself.
If you are a freelancer who relies on online platforms for a large portion of your income, it is especially important that you protect your identity and reputation with all you’ve got.
The easiest step you can take is to simply Google yourself and see what comes up. After I finally got everything cleared up with my angry not-customer, I did just that and sure enough, my profile on that particular platform appeared. Luckily, it was buried on page 3 of Google, but still, there it was.
Fortunately, I didn’t see any other faux profiles. But my next step was to go to any freelancing website I could think of and search for my own name. I hit about 7 of them, and luckily, nothing popped up.
How to Stop It
No matter what you do, no amount of proactive deterrence will be 100% effective, but there are steps you should be taking to make sure this doesn’t happen to you.
Be sure to link any of your other profiles such as Google+, Facebook, and LinkedIn to your freelancer profile and be sure to let people know that they can always reach you there as well. It adds a level of trust for the client and the potential thief may skip right on by you if it appears you have an active online professional presence.
Secondly, even if you don’t intend to actively work on them, you should definitely create profiles on as many of the freelance websites as possible. This obviously will prevent someone from using your exact screen name, though they may still try to use a variant of your name should they decide to attempt to steal your identity.
To state the obvious, if gone unnoticed, your professional reputation can be absolutely ruined. And that will have disastrous effects if freelancing is your sole source of income.
But not just you. The clients who hire the fraudster are hurt as well. They have been defrauded and may not be able to recoup the money that they spent on hiring “you.”
Finally, the platform and the online freelance industry as a whole is damaged by fraudulent activities. If clients do not feel confident that they are hiring a true professional and that they are in jeopardy of losing their money, they will stop turning online for hiring and will move into the terrestrial world to find help.
If you are a client, when hiring a worker through an online platform, interview the potential freelancer if at all possible. It can be over the phone, or preferably via Skype. This can also serve as a way to see if the two of you click and will work well together.
A freelancer must always be vigilant, but not paranoid. Set a routine for yourself that every so often, you’ll do a thorough scrub of various websites where you think someone posing as you may attempt to set up a fraudulent account.
If you do find what you believe to be fraud, you can take advantage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) Takedown Notice
It is beyond the scope of this article, but read the .pdf at the link and educate yourself on it. It is essentially a way for someone to file a complaint if they believe their copyrighted material is being used without their consent.
Finally, freelancers, platforms, and clients alike must all be committed and dedicated to preventing this type of fraud if the online marketplace is to remain vibrant and thriving.
Executec is committed to carefully screening each and every one of our contractors and freelancers, but also our clients. Our vetting process ensures that the person you hire meets your requirements and will be a fit for your company.
Call Executec today and let’s get your company moving.