Eva van Emden, Freelance Editor

Certified Copy Editor and Proofreader


November 29, 2011

A scam that targets editors

[Updated February 2021.]

This morning I got a scam request to write an article for an upcoming workshop. The writer mentioned having a speech-distorting condition called apraxia to explain why they preferred to use email and SMS rather than phone conversations. This is fine, but once I asked for more information about the project, the classic characteristics of the scam started to become clear, and when I Googled a few key items in the message plus the word “scam,” I found other people talking about this exact format of scam.

This isn’t the first time I or an editor I know has been approached for a cheque overpayment scam. Here’s how it works: the message is about an editing or translation job, typically with a very quick turnaround time. The client pays by cheque. After the payment has been made, the client “discovers” that they have overpaid and asks the editor to send back the overpayment, or the payer asks the editor to send some money on to another payee. After the editor cashes the client’s cheque, it turns out to be invalid.

Signs that an editing job might be a scam

  • There are signs that the client is contacting many people at the same time. The email you receive might not be addressed to you by name, or you are bcc’d on an email addressed to someone else.
  • The information about the client is incomplete or inconsistent. For example, it’s signed “Sandy Smith” but the email address is “joe-bloggs@domain.com.” Or the email is signed with a different name than the byline of the attached article that they claim to have written. (Real example.)
  • The client doesn’t seem to care about who you are and what your qualifications are, and they don’t seem to care about the quality or details of the project. In my experience, this has been the tip-off. Real clients who want to pay you to work for them really care about their project and are anxious to hire someone who will do a good job. The scammers seem strangely hurried and indifferent.

How to protect yourself

Be observant when you get email from a potential new client. Try searching online for the name and email address and see whether they are connected to an existing person. Look for details that show that the project is a real project. Be cautious with cheques from new clients you don’t have complete confidence in.
  • Make sure the name of the issuer of the cheque matches the name of the client. Do a web search on the name of the client and name of the cheque issuer.
  • The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre recommends against accepting any cheque for more than you are owed.
  • Be aware that just because the money is made available in your bank account, that doesn’t mean the cheque was valid. According to a CBC article on this scam, “Depending on how good the counterfeit is, it can take weeks for a financial institution to detect the fraud. By then, the scammers are long gone with the money, and the victim is on the hook for the amount on the cheque.”
  • If your business takes on many one-time clients and bad cheques are a concern, consider PayPal, Interac e-transfer (within Canada), or bank transfers.

Further reading

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