"This can't be happening to me," were the first words that came to my mind as I buried my face into my hands and burst into tears.
I had recently taken the huge leap of faith and decided to attempt to give freelance writing full-time a try - at least for now. This was my dream. I had worked so long side hustling as a writer in order to identify potential clients and now this was finally my time to really do what I love. But, this wasn't looking good. My dream, this thing I had worked so hard to convince my husband would be a good move, was suddenly turning into a nightmare that I hadn't signed up for.
It was just a couple of days before Christmas and I, much like any other freelancer, spent the day trying to make a little extra money to splurge on for the holidays because if you're a freelancer or entrepreneur you know that the holidays don't mean vacation time. In fact, it means grind time is in full effect.
Over the last few years, I had built a solid relationship with a very credible content mill (a company that employs large numbers of freelance writers to generate large amounts of textual content) and decided to reach out to them to see if they needed help over the holidays. What I thought would turn into a resounding "yes", turned into a response that I had been locked out of my writing account. No big deal right?
As opposed to just letting it go I decided to give this particular company a call and thank God I did.
"You've been locked out of your account because you changed your login information," said the representative over the phone.
No I didn't.
I sat in silence and listened and the more the rep talked, the more confused I got so I simply asked for proof of the situation she was explaining, and that's when my heart broke into pieces.
I couldn't believe my eyes. Someone had not only created an email address using my name, but had also sent this company a picture of my photo ID to "prove" to them that they were in fact really me (which they weren't). As I expressed my concern to the rep, her tone instantly changed as she made me aware that I had been a victim of online identity theft.
This is so unreal.
As I picked my brain trying to figure out how I of all people could have been a victim of identity theft, I began to recount an experience I had with a client on another popular and very credible freelance writing site. The client, who pretended to represent a very credible brand, had reached out to me to offer me an opportunity to ghostwrite with their team and I couldn't turn the opportunity down. In what I now know was a plot to ruin my life, I very innocently provided the client with the same personal information any job hunter would supply to a potential employer and months later, I realize that was the worst mistake of my freelance career.
After some much deeper digging not only were we able to find out that my identity had been stolen, but that this individual had been able to secure employment for several work from home jobs under my name.
They were getting paid and I would be responsible for the taxes during tax season when I need my refund.
As much as this may sound like a Lifetime movie, online identity theft is not unheard of and has become a pretty common occurrence in the freelance community.
In fact, one unsuspecting freelancer shared her story online that someone had been using her name and online portfolio in order to obtain new clients under false pretenses. Not only did the thief get away with stealing her identity, he or she also was able to make a large amount of money in upfront payments. Causing many of these clients to come after her when she has no idea what was going on.
We live in a crazy world.
As a freelancer or entrepreneur there are ways to protect yourself, but how? By simply being super careful and following these tips:
Don’t Be Blinded By “New Clients”
While taking on new clients can be exciting, you have to make sure to always use caution in your interactions. Never give out personal information to anyone you don't know or trust, even if they say they represent a particular brand. Always confirm everything. When I was first approached by this “new client”, I was in such awe that this client had reached out to me that I didn’t think to question it, after all I was using a credible freelance site in order to interact with them. While using credible freelance sites to secure clients does give you an extra layer of security, never assume everyone on these sites have good intentions.
Google Alerts Can Be the Real MVP
Another way to protect yourself from online identity theft is to make sure you set up constant alerts on not only your name, but also your images. By setting up alerts, you are allowing yourself to be notified every time a new profile or social media site is created under your name or image.
If It Sounds Too Good To Be True, It Might Be
This is one piece of advice I wish I had followed, even in my freelance journey. If it sounds too good to be true, trust your instincts. One of the most amazing things in the world is being able to follow your dream as a freelancer or entrepreneur, but not everyone cares about your amazing experiences. There are literally people out there who spend their nights and days looking for the opportunity to prey on budding new freelancers and entrepreneurs that can easily be taken advantage of.
[Tweet "If it sounds too good to be true, trust your instincts."]
Monitor Your Credit Profile
As a freelancer, the one thing always on your mind is making sure you’re doing everything necessary to secure your next coin (sometimes literally the coin) because of this, you really don’t have much time to think about your credit or your credit score, but just because you aren’t thinking about it, doesn’t mean nobody else is.
Free Annual Credit Report allows you to monitor your credit report with all three credit bureaus, which will make it easier for you to be notified when fishy activity has taken place on your credit, including new inquiries, new accounts, and sometimes new employment.
Watermark Your Photos With Ways to Contact You
I used to silently judged those on social media who would watermark their photo “quotables” online. I used to think it was a way to shamelessly plug their brands, now I am realizing this is done to protect their intellectual property.
According to my newfound friends at the FTC, this is also something you as an online entrepreneur should consider doing when posting photos of yourself online, especially on freelance sites.
While this may appear as if you are doing the most, it can actually help discourage thieves from wanting to steal your identity because they’ll realize that if they steal your identity, proof will always come back to you.
I am far from being a newbie in freelancing, but I allowed my eagerness to get the better of me.
I was her.
Don't be that girl.
Protect yourself and your identity. Your life and your brand depends on it.
Have you ever had issues with identity theft? Let us know in the comments below.
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