This is a very long post, but the information contained in it is potentially very important, so please bear with me.
On Monday I read a very alarming post on Denver's Craigslist, by a writer who felt he may have been scammed by Freelance Work Exchange. For those of you who don't know, Freelance Work Exchange is a job board for freelance writers - they've been advertising a lot lately, particularly for a $2.95 trial membership. This writer decided to try it out, but quickly found that the site was not useful, and tried to cancel the membership.
So here's the catch: how do you make money off trial memberships? The dishonest answer to this question is, "Make it impossible to cancel before the trial is over, of course!"
Unfortunately, the writer's post - which I feel contained some very important information for other writers - was flagged and removed. He posted again with the same complaint against Freelance Work Exchange, but no doubt the new post will be removed, as well, so I am going to copy and paste it (I have his permission) here:
"Here's what happened to me... www.freelanceworkexchange.com offers a trial of their web service for $2.95 for 7 days, with an "easy/no hassle" cancellation policy. I did not find the service of value - in my opinion, there's very little in the way of listings for freelance advertising copywriters. So on the 6th day I tried to cancel, but the website simply does not allow you to do it. When you make an attempt, it keeps sending you to different links, trying to convince you to stay. Finally you end up back on the home page with no way of canceling. It is so obviously set up this way so people get bounced around so much they become frustrated and give in. In my opinion and only my opinion, it is an out and out scam.
"I emailed the person in charge of their support department, Matt Corke and told him of the problem. He sent me back an email with the same link to try to cancel. I wrote him back and said that the link didn't work and I needed confirmation from him that I was officially cancelled. The next day I called and a woman named Tracy told me I would definitely be cancelled and no charge would show up on my card. Well, a few days later my VISA debit card was charged $29.95. The problem was that the charge put my account into overdraft and I was charged $30 from my bank on top of the $29.95 charge. I wrote Matt Corke back, but he did not reply. I called the next day and a woman named Stacey promised I'd get a return from Matt but again he did not reply. The next day I called a guy named Robert who gave me the same BS line. Today I emailed Mr. Corke for the last time, notifying that I would contact several consumer agencies if he didn't reply. All I asked for was the courtesy of a simple reply and a refund of my money. Once again, no reply. It is my opinion that this company is committing fraud and needs to be stopped. I have all my emails and all calls logged. People who complained on the various websites have been charged consecutive months and can't stop it. I had to go thru the trouble of canceling my debit card and applying for a new one."
I emailed this writer in response to his first post, and suggested that he email Angela Hoy at Writers Weekly. He sent out a mass email today; I guess I was not the only one who suggested this line of attack. And although Angela did not mention Freelance Work Exchange's name, this article was included in her weekly ezine: "Beware When Joining Writing Sites With Your Credit Card!" The article is a blanket warning to writers about joining sites that require a membership fee and request a credit card number in order to fill it.
The writer's mass email also includes quotes from other responses he has gotten, people who have had similar experiences with Freelance Work Exchange:
"I'm a fellow writer and I had the same experience with Freelanceworkexchange... and trying to cancel my subscription through them - to be honest, from the start I could never even log on, my password never worked and I never go an answer from my inquiries on that, let alone anything else."
"Oh boy, it wasn't just me then... They were a nightmare to deal with. I let them know the day after the trial started that I wanted to cancel, but to no avail (or response from them) I called numerous times, left messages, and finally stumbled on the link myself and managed to cancel, but only after $29.95 had been billed to my PayPal account. To date, I've not been able to get a refund."
"I wanted to let you know that I also fell for the Freelance Work Exchange scheme. I paid the 2.95 and found that the website was completely useless. I sent an e-mail to the customer service department, and had no response whatsoever. Somehow, however, I found a phone number to call about the $29.95 charge, and after waiting on hold for about half an hour, I was able to cancel my subscription. I did not go through the hassle you did, but I wanted to write and tell you that I agree with you that Freelance Work Exchange is a total rip off."
"Thank you for posting your complaint on Craigslist. I, too, have experienced, and am still experiencing, problems cancelling my membership with Freelance Work Exchange. I have now been charged for three or four months in a row, since I informed Matt twice that I wished to cancel... I didn't find the business to be helpful either; for one thing, I never saw ads on FWE that weren't listed on other freelance job sites that are free."
"Thank God I didn't give this company my credit card number! I am a writer, and I clicked on the post for this company last week; however, as I was looking through their site, I couldn't figure out why they asked for my CC, when in their original post it had stated FREE SERVICE."
"I initially signed up for the trial offer, with the cost taken out of my bank account. I got a bad feeling after the first emails they sent. I was not happy with them having my bank info. I cancelled and it was OK. But they operate like a scam. There enough resources for freelance writers that are free and that consumer watch for us struggling writers."
"Something similar happened to me with that site. I signed up for the same 7 day trial and when it was over, I was automatically signed up for a membership and charged $29.95 for the next month."
"I, too, came across this Web site but wasn't willing to give them $2.95 for a trial. I expect FREE for a trial offer - when they charge, alarm bells should go off."
"The password I was issued didn’t work and I had difficulty contacting someone to help me.The experience was frustrating. Eventually, the password that I was issue worked, but only after a couple of days emailing, AND, after I had cancelled my subscription. That is what I did once I realized that I may be on the verge of being ripped off."
"I signed on for one of their services too because the ad I say said it was "free service". It was only after I got their confirmation e-mail that I saw anything saying you had to pay to join, just one more LIE."
"I had signed up for the 'trial' from Freelanceworkexchange.com as well, and did the cancel run-around with their 'unsubscribe' bullshit. After reading your post, I checked my bank account, and sure enough, $29.95 was missing."
The warnings contained in these people's words are alarming, to say the least. Moreover, it seems there are two scams here: the "free trial" offer ad, which immediately takes you to a page on their site offering a paid trial offer, and the difficulty (or impossibility?) trial members have apparently experienced in attempting to cancel their subscription.
I myself ran across one of their ads; I think it was at the end of last week. It was an offer for a free trial membership, much as others I have quoted have mentioned. I was confused as to why I was suddenly staring at a page that was requesting $2.95 for this "free" membership, but I didn't think about it long; I simply returned to my normal job search.
Since reading about this apparent scam on Monday, I did a little research on my own. At first, all my Google search pulled up was testimonials in the company's favor, but eventually I realized that it all seemed to be the same one or two testimonials, reprinted everywhere. Interesting. Then I ran across this: a complaint about Freelance Work Exchange on My3cents.com.
I don't know if this is really fraud or not, but it sure seems like it to me. I wanted to make all of the information I have available to other writers; it's your right to know what's going on in the freelance world and make the decision for yourself.
I have to say, though, in my opinion no one should ever charge a writer for work. There are, as one of these victims and near-victims pointed out, plenty of resources available for writers for free. Regardless of whether this site is authentic, it's still - in my opinion - a scam to charge someone for the same thing they can get elsewhere for free.
Regardless of what you think about Freelance Work Exchange, please take to heart the general warning that Angela Hoy and others are trying to communicate, and be very careful who you give your credit card information to, regardless what they are promising you!