Monday, December 26, 2016

THE DANGERS OF FREELANCING SITES LIKE GURU.COM - Is There A New Battle Space for Identity Theft?

By: Kaeru
(Originally published at Techlens, republished on The Information Station with prior permission of the author)

Image result for identity theft Writing Jobs for “Skilled” Freelancers

On November 14, 2016 “FERVENT A”, a prospective Employer on, created a new Jobs Listing account with the Freelance Writing website.  The job posting stated,
“Proficient Writers Wanted
Greetings to all writers,
We need highly experienced native English writers to help us create high-quality web content and blog posts for our clients. We provide unique topics and keywords, from which we expect writers to conduct thorough research and come up with interesting, informative articles.”
On December 04, 2016, “APPEALING A” posted this on
“We’re Looking for Efficient Writers
We are looking to work with Highly experienced native English article writers who find it easy to work under minimum or supervision and deliver high-quality work. We cover a wide range of niches and believe in carrying out thorough research and producing unique informative and interesting content.”
On December 05, 2016, another jobs posting by “EXQUISITE A” posted,
“Reliable Writers Needed
We are looking for US-based writers who can write quality articles and deliver work even before stipulated deadlines. Our articles cover a huge range of niches and come with different types of keywords, which we expect writers to use naturally for content optimization.”
Each posting promising $10-25k fixed price budget and regular work.
SITREP: Freelance Writer was accepted by the “FERVENT A” Employer. A reply message was sent by Helen Stone, Lead Author Services Administrator, Fervent Articles next day. also sent a duplicate message to the writer via email seen below. As can be seen within the document, the “Administrator” is explaining compensation for work done and required documents and information needed by the Employer to move forward.
Below is a message from Fervent for Project ID: 1304967, “Proficient Writers Wanted”.
Please note that in order to write us, you must be a US citizen or permanent resident who is at least 18 years of age. To fully induct you into our team, your resume and writing sample, which can be one or two of your previous jobs. We also require clear, readable pictures of your government-issued US driver license (front&back) and/or passport and a separate photo of you holding the ID/passport.
We pay $65 per 500 words and payments are made every Friday. As project managers, we are required by the IRS to ask you for your W-9 form, which can be downloaded at in order to pay you your money. This form confirms that you are a US person (citizen or resident) and subject to US tax rules. Once it’s received, we’ll be in a good position to always process your weekly payments smoothly throughout our working relationship. Please don’t hesitate to let us know if we can be of further assistance.”
Helen Stone
Lead Author Services Administrator
Fervent Articles
Your friends at Guru 
When replying to this message:
– Do not modify the subject line or your message may not be delivered to the appropriate party.
– Max 5,000 characters, 10MB of attachments.© 2016 Guru | 5001 Baum Blvd, Suite 760, Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Guru Answers | Help Center | Contact Us | Facebook | Twitter
The Writer complied with the instructions, with the exception of the U.S. Federal Form W9 because the Writer believed provided that service. A second message was sent to the writer.
“Fervent Articles                                
Hello Writer,
Thank you for your prompt reply. You seem to have forgotten to submit your W9. Plus, pleas provide a clearer copy of you holding your ID because the one we have is blurry.”
The Writer was suspicious about the message because there was no send name or Admin tag attached. The Writer complied anyway by sending new pictures and a completed U.S. Federal Form W9.
The Writer did not hear back from the prospective employer for a week. The Writer sent an internal message to the prospective Employer by the end of the week and a subsequent one next day. There was no reply. All communications were done via the Writer’s profile website.
A day later, the Writer reported the “FERVENT A” job posting as “fraud” and began a communication line with the Administrator. The Writer expressed concerns of Identity Theft and requested to provide minimal company information in an attempt to communicate directly with the Employer. The Writer also gave the similar profiles “APPEALING A” and “EXQUISITE A” to investigate. The Writer also communicated concerns of employer legitimacy and requested information on how to vet the Employer source to prove it is a legitimate business or person. responded via private email to the Writer and explained they cannot release any information about employers since there is anonymity between employer-writer relationship; only maintains private information on both parties. did mention they would look into the fraud complaint and “kick off” the Employer profile.
Further communication revealed insisted they do not recommend writers provide employers any personal information (such as W9 with Social Security numbers) but does offer a 1099 service through their website. also stated that if the Writer was concerned about Identity Theft, then they should notify authorities. refused to help the writer contact the Employer or contact the Employer on the Writer’s behalf.
The Writer did file police reports as well as a Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Internet Crime Complaint IC3 Form.
Comments: is a Freelance Writer platform which boasts a neutral relationship between Freelance Writers and Employers. Anyone who needs a writing job done can apply as an Employer describing themselves as a business or a person. Freelance Writers can apply to for work. Employers post job descriptions and often a “Budget” amount to pay writers from. Writers “bid” for a posting and wait for a response from a prospective Employer. Employers can instant message Writers through their profile and Writers can ask questions on the open posting forum. Writers can only contact an Employer if the Employer contacts them first.
An internal investigation by ActivePerception to test the viability of employment connections for legitimate work revealed startling results. ActivePerception analyzed results through both a Freelance Writer and Employer lens by opening accounts for each respectively. Results revealed Writers could not see any information about Employers that the Employers did not provide. Employers could create their profile however they wanted to without providing legitimate information. For example, ActivePerception was able to apply as an Employer with a fictitious company name, fictitious contact information, and false address and other information.
This is concerning to the Freelance Writer because these people are looking for legitimate work. If they want to get paid, they need to create legitimate profiles in order to appropriately document work and pay for reporting purposes. Of course, certain outliers such as those seeking to get paid work without reporting income is a factor, most honest Freelance Writers expect Employers to be legitimate in order to be consistently paid.
Content Analysis of the three reported job postings above indicate a similar pattern of language including, word choice, syntax, and tone which could indicate these “Employers” are all from the same source. Although not shown here, data revealed each posting had a small photo attached to the job description which included a single female smiling in a warm setting. Obvious indications stem from the Employer names as well; i.e. first word is a descriptive adjective, all capital letters, “A” for “article(s)” at the end. Other indicators are the lack of Employer details and communications to Writers without sender names at bottom of messages. ActivePerception is highly confident the source may be looking to data mine personal information such as Social Security numbers, Driver’s Licenses information, photos, addresses, and other information only for Identity Theft purposes.
It is not uncommon for U.S. based Employers to request personal information for employment. Freelance Writer platforms like and others, however, provide a cyber battlespace for potential Identity Theft.
A separate investigation revealed Employers taking on Writers for work, work being completed by the Writers, and Employers failing to pay.  These Employers seemed to stem from Chinese or other foreign article/blog writing mills where the Employer accepts a (or other Freelance Writer platform) Writer, promises to pay an above average price-per-article, does not pay and when questioned by the Writer, the Employer dumps the Writer after work has been received.
At the time of this report,’s Terms and Services do not mention a W9 as the Writer had thought but does mention 1099 services. maintains the position they will not let Writers know any Employer information which clearly indicates, like other platforms, protects the Employer, not the legitimate Writer looking for paid work. states to Writers who complain about Employer legitimacy that the only way Writers can protect themselves is by communicating through their profile. In our case study, the Writer was communicating solely through with the belief vets Employers to protect the Writer. responded by also stating communication through Writers’ profiles leave a “paper trail” for Administrators to follow in any investigation. ActivePerception is not confident this is enough security for the Writer based on the ease it was to create a fake Employer profile.
Further analysis of two other Freelance Writer platforms, Writer’s Career and UpWork.comrespectively, have revealed similar results. For example,, formerly Odesk, allows Employers to post similar job postings as we have seen with Guru and, like Guru, does not vet employer legitimacy or provide protections to the freelancer in case of fraud.
Writer’s Career is actually a front company website for, which, in turn is owned by a third party company called FrogProg Limited located in Cyprus, who in turn also own TranslateShark. FrogProg boasts IT support only from Kenya, Pakistan, India, Ukraine, and Cyprus; but it is clear they seek Westerners, specifically Americans proficient in English with higher education degrees for Freelance Content Writing subgroups. Our investigation into UpWork revealed similar results of platform failure to vet Employer persons and businesses as legitimate. Investigation and analysis from revealed same results. All three investigations also indicated that the "work required by Employers” may not receive the pay they claimed if not at all.

No comments:

Post a Comment