Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What Can You Do When a Freelance Writing Client Doesn’t Pay?

UPDATE: A few hours after I published this post, I was contacted by the VP of Workforce for Crowdsource.com, Jayme O'Renic. She volunteered to call me and discuss my non-payment complaint, so I made an appointment for her to call me today, 5 June 2013. Ms. O'Renic apologized profusely and assured me that she had spoken with Amazon on my behalf to resolve my payment issue. At the time of this writing, almost half of the money ($476) has been deposited into my Amazon Payments account. I am scheduled to speak with Ms. O'Renic again tomorrow to make sure that the rest of the money comes through.

UPDATE: The rest of the money was deposited in my Amazon Payments account as promised in the days following my initial phone call with Ms. O'Renic. It has now been transferred safely into my bank account. Ms. O'Renic was very apologetic and polite and I feel she worked very hard to resolve my issue.

I don’t talk much about my freelance writing work over here, but today I’m going to take the time to share an experience I’ve had recently. Some of you will probably be aware that, over the past six months, I’ve been having some payment issues with a corporate client, Write.com, which is a subsidiary of Crowdsource. I’ve made the decision to go public with this story, for the sake of others who also depend on writing work for some or all of their incomes. While it doesn’t look like Crowdsource is going to pay what they owe at this point, I hope that I can at least protect others.

I started working for Crowdsource/Write.com on 26 January 2013. They use the Amazon Mechanical Turk system to handle content creation and management, and they pay via Amazon Payments. On 24 February, Amazon closed my MTurk and Amazon Payments accounts, for reasons of which I remain ignorant. I have been in touch with Amazon about it (more on that later), but they didn’t give me their reasons. I think it hardly matters at this point.

After realizing that my accounts had been closed, I contacted Crowdsource/Write.com to ask about alternative payment methods. I was pretty concerned about it because I was (and still am) owed $973.00 for more than 90 articles I wrote or edited between 31 January and 21 February, 2013. Someone named Kristin responded to tell me that, “Unfortunately, this is a decision that we cannot bypass. This is an issue with Amazon. Thank you.”

I let Kristin know that I still expected payment for the work I did. She did not respond.
So, I posted some angry messages on their Facebook page about it. Not much later I received a message to my Gmail account from a Sammie Schweissguth, Director of Client Services. She said, among other things, “CrowdSource is in absolutely no way withholding your funds. We have done our duty to make payment on behalf of your work.”

Some back-and-forth ensued, in which I endeavored to make Ms. Schweissguth understand the following points:

  1. You will have done your duty to make payment when, you know, the payment is actually made;
  2. I did the work, you accepted the work, and now you owe me the agreed-upon payment;
  3. You owe me the payment whether or not I have an Amazon Payments account;
  4. You cannot convince me that Crowdsource/Write.com isn’t capable of writing a check.

Ms. Schweissguth continually insisted that it was Amazon, not Crowdsource, withholding my payments, which strikes me as funny since I’ve never received any of these alleged payments to my Amazon Payments account in the first place. After a few days of arguing about it, she asked me to contact Amazon and see if they wouldn’t reopen my Amazon Payments account. I called them on 11 March; they apologized and re-opened my account the next day, 12 March 2013.

I contacted Ms. Schweissguth right away to let her know that my Amazon Payments account had been re-opened. She made noises about paying me and asked me to forward my worker ID number, assignment ID numbers, and screenshots of failed payments (there were two, totaling $503, which, you’ll notice, is a number considerably smaller than $973). I did so. Three weeks passed and I received no payments, no re-issued payments, and no further word from Ms. Schweissguth or anyone else at Crowdsource. I contacted Ms. Schweissguth again, and she responded that I had been paid in full. I have not, obviously.

At this point, I contacted Angela Hoy at WritersWeekly.com, because I was aware that, in the past, she has investigated nonpayment complaints lodged by freelance writers. She doesn’t do that anymore, but she did answer my complaint with a lovely email detailing some further steps to take. In a nutshell, Ms. Hoy advised me to write a final letter to Crowdsource/Write.com, in which I’d lay forth my complaint one last time, with the caveat that if I didn’t receive payment within five business days, I’d send my complaints to the authorities and go public with them. I wrote and sent such a letter, but I decided to give them ten business days, just so no one could say I didn’t give them enough time. I sent this letter on 26 April 2013, a couple of weeks after I’d heard from Ms. Hoy, because I needed some time to cool down.

Ms. Schweissguth did not deign to respond to this final letter, but I did receive a response from someone named Sam. He or she assured me that he or she had checked into the matter and that all but three of the assignments in question had been paid for. You will notice a slight variation in Crowdsource/Write.com’s story here.

Since I still hadn’t been paid, I was left with no choice but to carry out the threats I made in my final nonpayment complaint to Crowdsource/Write.com, namely, to begin contacting the authorities and go public with my story. At this point, I have reported the incident to the Illinois State Attorney General, since Crowdsource/Write.com has its offices in Swansea, Illinois, as well as the FBI Internet Crime Division. I’ve also filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau, Writer Beware (haven’t heard back from them yet), Preditors & Editors (don’t know if they’re going to post about it or not), RipOff Report, and Freelancers Union. I’m also, of course, posting about it here.

So, that’s my story. Please keep it in mind if you or someone you know is working for Crowdsource/Write.com, or considering working for them. I’m sorry this post wasn’t funny, but I promise to return to your regularly scheduled content shortly.