Beware Upwork Scams “Please Send us a Test Article!”

Writing for online content sites (or any other contractor) when you apply for a freelance writing role you will undoubtedly get emails along the lines of “we like the samples you have sent. However, as a test could you please send us one article in the region of 400 words on the subject of…”

Some of these are paid and I have no problem with this. However, I am usually concerned about those that expect a freebie as a test (and I received a request this afternoon for two such free “test” articles). My concern is that if they have 20 applicants and ask two articles from each candidate, they have 40 pieces of work that they haven’t paid for. Of course, we want to get hired so we might send it and eagerly await a response.

At the back of your mind is always the concern that you will never hear from them again, that they will take your work and run. Here is what you can do to protect yourself:

  • Before writing anything, check if they will pay you in retrospect if they decide to hire you at the end
  • Ask for assurance that the articles will not be used if they decide not to hire you
  • Don’t be afraid to assert your legal ownership in the above case

When you write for somebody and they do not pay you, in most cases they have no leg to stand on and can claim no ownership over the document. In fact, even if they do pay you, you legally own the copyright to that work (unless they have a legally binding agreement from you that you are surrendering the copyright). What they do have though is something called implied rights and a court is likely to find in their favour if you deliver, they pay and you later choose (for whatever reason) to renege on the contract. They have hired you to do a job and have recompensed you so technically it is theirs; however you have copyright because it is your creation but no writer would enforce this due to matters of fairness and the chivalry of the agreement.

Before I send anything to these contractors who ask for an unpaid “test” article, I send a brief email saying something like this:

May I have your written assurance that these “test” articles will not appear on your website, please? I retain copyright of anything I send you that I do not receive payment for.

Please advise,

Some you will never hear from again. Those who are genuine will be happy to give those assurances and, in come cases, I have received payment for the article when I have been hired. There are unscrupulous contractors out there so do all you can to cover yourself.


2 thoughts on “Beware Upwork Scams “Please Send us a Test Article!”

  1. Fair warning and good advice. I like that you simply ask for their assurance. I wouldn’t have thought of that and would have just fretted in ignorance.

    1. I bet that most people don’t think about it and that unscrupulous contractors take advantage of their eagerness to clinch a contract. If they offer to pay me for a test article, even a small fee, I don’t tend to ask because they are paying me for my time whether I eventually get hired or not.

      This one yesterday had 12 applicants and the contractor was “interviewing” (which on odesk basically means they have sent email enquiries) to all 12. I can only assume they made the same request to all of us. If everybody accepted, that would be 24 articles in their possession that they have not paid for.

      Does it surprise you to learn that I have yet to receive a response to my query? I don’t have “mug” written across my forehead 🙂

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