The online extortion scam is a modern version of the classic blackmail scheme. The perpetrator either obtains or claims to have something damaging about you. They threaten to use that item or piece of information in a way that will harm you if you do not give them what they want.
Online blackmail is old news, but today’s version has taken on a frightening twist. In the older version, the scammer contacts you claiming to already have something damaging. They may insist they have hacked into your computer, or that a link you recently clicked on gave them access to your files. Those are easily dealt with by letting the site administrator of the website where the message was received know what is going on, and deleting and blocking the scammer accounts without replying. But in the newer twist, the scammer first gains the victim’s trust, and manipulates them into providing materials that are then used in the blackmail scheme. This is often referred to as “sextortion,” (sex, texting, and extortion), because the material the victim is either persuaded to send, or blackmailed into sending, is often sexual or revealing in nature. In an especially chilling twist, the FBI has recently reported a spike in these crimes aimed at teens and children.
Here are some warning signs:
Classic “catfishing” signs
The MTV show “Catfish” has some flaws. Host Nev Schulman often gives dangerous advice, suggesting scam victims befriend their scammers, behaving as though being scammed is something that can be brushed off, and giving the impression that romance scammers are just losers who deserve a second chance. In reality, romance scammers are often dangerous people, and being the victim of a romance scam can cause serious psychological and financial damage. But Schulman does deserve credit for publicizing the fact that people often pretend to be someone they are not on the internet, and the warning signs that this may be happening.
Never trust someone who resists meeting offline and in public in a situation where meeting would be the logical next step. There is no good reason why two adults in an online dating relationship but residing in the same town would not be able to meet for coffee, two adults discussing a job should not be able to connect for an interview before the job is accepted, or the parents of children who are chatting online would not be able to talk, or even meet up in public.
Look out for differences in the life the person presents and the one they appear to lead. Parents of babies do not have unlimited time to be on the computer. Nobody is tall one day and short the next. All who “catfish” are not planning extortion, but if you are seeing these signs, there is a good chance you’re talking to a person who is not online for the reason they claim, and their real reason may be extortion.
Pressure to move to another online space
Everyone has online spaces where they are more or less comfortable. Some people don’t care for chatting via facebook messenger, and would rather keep in touch with friends using old-fashioned email, or vice-versa. But when your friend of thirty years says, “Hey, let’s go on Facebook, so we can chat in real time instead of waiting for email,” it’s a very different situation than when someone you only met a few minutes, hours, or days ago wants to leave the platform.
Scammers…especially extortion scammers….want to leave the platform where they first met you because they want to get you in an environment where it is more comfortable for them to carry out their scheme. They may want to go someplace where it is easier to send and receive pictures, have longer chats, or learn your email address, location, or phone number.
Uncomfortable or inappropriately intimate conversation
Extortion scammers are fishing for information or material they can use for blackmail. One way to get this information or material is to get into an intimate conversation with their victim. And a scammer is going to want to get this information as fast as they can. They will often initiate, and pressure their victim into, providing personal information or materials.
Engaging in “sexting,” the exchange of sexual dialogue, messages, or photos as an online sexual encounter, is of course the most obvious. But don’t be lulled into a false sense of security just because you are happily monogamous with the love of your life, fully aware of the potential dangers of sexting, and/or someone who finds the whole idea of this behavior distasteful and would never do this. It is far from the only kind of private or intimate information that can be shared or obtained online.
Scammers who realize you are not going to “sext” with them can obtain other types of private information. They may pose as a platonic friend available for venting, a professional “mentor” who gets you to open up about your work history and finances, or someone going through the same health issues as you or a family member, persuading you to share private medical or mental health information.
Overly friendly and attentive behavior
A common warning sign among all types of scams, this one is met with the most resistance. It sounds like nobody can even be friendly and compassionate toward someone else on the internet without everybody accusing them of being a scammer.
Compassionate, friendly behavior is not a red flag itself. Friendly behavior becomes a warning sign when it is behavior that would read as overly friendly in any situation. Look out for the person who wants you to think they would do anything for you, even though they just met you, responds with a flood of compliments to anything and everything you say, or has all the time in the world to “mentor” or coach you.
Promises of rewards or benefits
In case you are still tempted to sit back and say, “MY child would never share anything private. They aren’t even interested in that part of life yet.” or “I’m happily married and would never betray my spouse in any way,” or “I do not go on the internet and share any of my personal life, intimate or not, with strangers,” know that the scammers already thought people like you would be out there, and planned for it.
Your child may be approached by someone pretending to be casting for a modeling or acting job, and told that they must send photos of themselves or information about their appearance for their “portfolio.” Or they might be made to believe they will win a prize for participating in “a silly dare” or “social media challenge” by someone pretending to be their own age.
Adult targets will see right through these, but far too many adults are willing to engage in online conversations with strangers about jobs and investment opportunities. And some of these strangers may be fishing for your banking information, your unfiltered opinion of your boss, or other information you would not want to get out.
Should these red flags begin to pile up, do not engage with the person any further. Block them from contacting you. Any explicit conversation with a child or teen under the age of consent, or credible threats containing information that could lead the person to a victim of any age should be reported to law enforcement.
While we spend more and more time socializing, networking, and working online, let’s not forget to look out for ourselves and each other.
S Someone on your facebook feed is disabled or sick. They regularly post about their daily struggles, medical appointments, therapy appointments, and emergencies. In most cases, these situations are genuine. But sometimes, it is all a lie.
The term “Munchausen's Syndrome by Internet” was coined in 2000 by Dr. Marc Feldman, a leading authority in Munchausen’s Syndrome and Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy, now called Factitious Disorder and Factitious Disorder by Proxy in medical literature. Munchausen’s Syndrome describes a pattern in which a person induces, creates, exaggerates, deliberately worsens, or lies about having one or more illnesses or disabilities. In Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy, the person displays the same behavior, only the illness or disability is created, exaggerated, worsened, or lied about in someone else. Munchausen’s Syndrome by Internet occurs when a person uses the internet to perpetuate one of these disorders.
As with the other forms of Factitious disorder, Munchausen’s Syndrome by Internet is carried out with the primary goal of controlling others, and/or gaining attention, sympathy, nurturing, or pity. While the person may have a secondary goal of getting money, gifts, or time off from work or school, this will not be their primary motivation. A person who makes themselves or someone else out to be in worse shape than they are with the primary goal of gaining resources or avoiding any type of work is “malingering,” not engaging in Munchausen’s behavior.
Here are just a few of the most common signs of Munchausen’s Syndrome by Internet.
The condition is “too textbook.”
In any medical condition, the patient has to have a certain number of symptoms of the disability or illness, as judged by a medical professional qualified to make the diagnosis, in order to be diagnosed with something. The specifics, including the specific number and pattern of symptoms, will vary according to the condition. However, almost no medical problem requires absolutely every, or even most, of the possible symptoms or signs for a diagnosis.
Those using the internet to exaggerate or falsify a condition often claim too many symptoms. They seem to have everything wrong with them that a person could possibly experience with the disorder or disability they claim. Sometimes, the posts are more realistic, but sound as though they're copied from case studies in a textbook, or are in such a different voice than the person's normal tone, they seem copied from another website or a book.
Posts contain contradictions
Despite their careful attention to faking or exaggerating a condition, Munchausen by Internet perpetrators tend to get caught up in the drama they create and make mistakes. A person who claims they have debilitating allergies and respiratory problems may claim they cannot be around any type of fumes, then post photos of themselves getting a chemical treatment at a salon when urged to “treat yourself.” Or they might make one post about their condition making them unable to eat, then post a photo, but forget to edit the edge of their dinner plate out of the shot.
Claims go to extremes, and often swing from one to the other
People with genuine disabilities and illnesses cope with a wide variety of experiences. Some are dramatic, but many are mundane. They must cope with everyday challenges and issues, that may or may not be interesting to their followers on social media.
In falsified or overblown situations, the perpetrator often behaves as though their condition is made up entirely of extremes. They may repeatedly claim a miraculous healing followed by a life-threatening or dramatic emergency. New, intense symptoms might develop regularly.
Something seems to happen to them anytime something happens to anybody else.
This sign is the easiest to see in online support groups. The Munchausen’s Syndrome by Internet perpetrator will often post about an illness or disability related tragedy or a miraculous improvement immediately after anyone else gains attention for something they post. But the person may also post to their personal page anytime anyone on their friends or contact list posts anything that gains attention. Watch for dramatic posts soon after a mutual friend gains attention online, or for the suspected Munchausen’s by Internet perpetrator to comment on a post, and then add something attention-getting to their own page.
The person’s life is full of tragedy of all kinds
Because the person’s primary goal is to gain attention, they are often willing to expand their efforts outside of their alleged illness or disability. Watch out for people whose lives are not only a constant battle against an illness or disability, but a series of serious issues or tragedies.
Friends, family members and other supporters sound suspiciously like the individual in question.
Some Munchausen’s by Internet perpetrators go so far as to create fake accounts. These are designed to make their condition seem more real, and because they know that we tend to follow virtual crowds on social media. Seeing somebody else offer encouragement or sympathy is likely to encourage us to add our comment. One of the most telltale signs of these invented family members, friends, and other supporters is that they sound an awful lot like the person they’re supposedly talking to. They may use the same terms, make similar word choices, or talk about the exact same topics.
Anyone who suspects someone else of Munchausen’s Syndrome by Internet can only look out for themselves and others. Quietly withdraw your attention from the person’s posts or page. Reach out to others privately if they seem to be getting drawn in. Openly challenging or arguing with the suspected perpetrator will only get you cast as the villain in their narrative.
by Jess Szabo'
originally published on Artist Cafe Utica
We like to differentiate between “real life” and “online,” but the truth is, the internet is very much a part of real life. Those are real people we are communicating with, and our actions can have real consequences, both desirable ones and things we truly wished had never happened. Far from being outside of reality, our online communities are actually vast public or semi-public spaces, with some unique features. You can’t scroll past people offline, or have a three hour conversation with somebody without knowing what they look like, or save a conversation and come back later when you ran into someone at the coffeehouse, as you can when you stumbled across them online.
But you can have an impact on someone else no matter where you encounter them, and the internet is too much a part of our lives to brush online interactions off as “just on the internet” anymore. Treating people with kindness and compassion shouldn’t stop at the keyboard.
One of the most common ways to interact with people online is through joining online groups. Facebook groups are available for everything from health issues to careers to hobbies to having a favorite dog breed or television show. And like offline support groups, meetup groups, or meetings, there are some things to keep in mind to help them run smoothly and benefit everyone as much as possible.
Scroll past posts that are simply unpleasant, annoying, or unhelpful to you personally.
In any group, somebody is going to bring up something you don’t want to talk about at some point. If you go out to dinner, two sports fans might start chatting about the game, even though you haven’t paid attention to sports in years. You might have to listen to the boring story about somebody’s kids getting ready for school while you’re in a meeting at the office. The internet is no different. Maybe you don’t like all the posts about gardening in your healthy living group, or you’re in a group for musicians, and somebody keeps posting about a band you don’t listen to. This is where the internet’s unique features come in handy. Offline, it would be quite rude to just turn and walk away mid conversation. Online, you can just scroll past. There is no need to comment and inform people that this is a topic you don’t care to talk about. If someone wants to know if anyone else is into whatever they’re talking about, they will ask.
Defund and dismantle the political correctness police.
Just as no one truly needs to know that you do not like gardening or cutesy kid stories or sports, everyone who chooses the same online group as you does not need to be informed that you “evolved past” caring about the way you look, or that you’re “too enlightened” to like a particular song or movie.
Before commenting, sit back and ask yourself, “Is this thread, this online conversation, truly harmful to others? Is someone honestly in some kind of danger if they participate in this? Or am I just trying to ruin things for somebody else because they aren’t to my liking?”
The prime example of this is “celebrity crush” or “hot celebrities” threads intended for group members to get to know one another in a lighthearted fun way. Those who simply aren’t into celebrities, crushes, celebrity crushes, or getting to know people in a lighthearted fun way scroll past. Others offer up their lists. But there always has to be that one person who joins the conversation just to inform everybody else that this conversation is beneath them, it should be beneath everyone else too, and they should all be talking about something else. Don’t be that person. This may feel evolved and enlightened and righteous, but to everyone whose conversation you just ruined, you only come across as a spoiled brat who can’t handle exposure to anything not to their liking.
The “reporting” function is for things that truly disrupt the group, not things that you and you alone don’t find helpful.
The option to report posts and comments to the moderators or administrators is there to keep the group running smoothly. It should be used if the group begins to be filled with spam posts, or if somebody is posting things that frighten or sicken others to the point that they can no longer participate in the group. It is not there to report people for bringing up topics that are relevant to the group, but not to you personally, for letting the administrators or moderators know that you do not like someone, or for getting back at somebody who argued with you in another thread.
Even if you declined to comment, reporting a post to tell the moderators that you don’t think John Z’s post about sleep problems is taking the anxiety group in the right direction, or that you are afraid others won’t relate to Jane Y’s post about indoor planting in your gardening group is still disruptive. Your best course of action is to simply join in on other conversations without a word to or about the ones you do not find useful.
Respect the privacy of everyone…including those who displease you.
In any large group, there are going to be jerks. It doesn’t matter what the interest or the issue might be, if you get a large group together online or offline or a mix of both, there will be somebody in there who has to start trouble for others.
Should you become the focus of this person, it may be tempting to “put them on blast,” or share their content, including their name and profile picture, if applicable, in a way that people outside the group can see them. The goal, of course, is to get everyone to back you up, and agree with you that the person is in fact, quite the toad.
Don’t do it. You may think you’re “exposing” a bad person, but all you’re really doing is showing everyone that you’re willing to break confidences and humiliate anybody who upsets you.
Do speak up and reach out if you see someone getting into a dangerous situation.
There is no point in forming any type of community, online or offline, if we’re not going to look out for the members of that community. If you see someone planning or seeking something dangerous, giving out a risky amount of personal information, or giving advice that could lead to harm to someone else…speak up. Comment, private message, flag, or do whatever you need to in order to keep people safe.
The unique features of the internet do not make it any less real than a large public space anywhere else. But they do make it a bit different than other public spaces. And while those differences can bring problems, they can also provide the means to sidestep or avoid problems. Whether meeting online, offline, or a little bit of both, do all you can to make things run smoothly for yourself and everyone else in the group.
by Jess Szabo'
originally published on Artist Cafe Utica
Scammers are not typically intelligent, creative, or wise people. They’re just opportunistic, and either devoid of a conscience or skilled at making excuses for themselves as to why humiliating people and taking their money is justified. Most “new” scams are nothing more than old scams adapted to new tragedies or problems people face, and the most commonly seen scams in Utica today are no exception.
The “Anyone willing to work a night shift?” scam has been around since at least 2018. It may have gone by other names, but in mid to late March 2022, the scam…with that exact title or line in the post… became a trend among the scammers targeting Utica residents online.
Some of these posts are obviously scams. The rest of the post says things like “Pack candy boxes at home for Amazone. The pay is $980 per week.” Others may be vague enough to look like legitimate, local shift work or scheduled online work to someone whose screen has not yet been flooded with them.
Like all work scams, it plays on both our material needs and our emotions.
Suppose you are struggling financially. The basic expenses simply are not being met before the available cash runs out anymore. You need to pay for your internet and cell phone in order to keep working, but by the time the rest of the bills are paid, there is no money left. Or maybe you have some old credit card debt rising faster than you can pay it down.
Or maybe you’re okay, but just okay. You can meet your basic expenses. You sleep in a safe, clean home, bathe, and eat every day, as long as you stick to Dollar Tree for your personal hygiene and cleaning products, and hot dogs instead of steak. You could really use a little something extra, even if it’s just the means to take the kids out for ice cream once in a while this summer, or a little care package for yourself.
All the ideas from the couponing, money saving, and “getting free stuff” YouTube channels, TikToks, blogs, and Facebook groups have been exhausted. You need some additional cash, and you don’t have the time in your day left to “just go out and get another job.” The one or two you have already takes it all up.
Browsing through your online groups one evening, you keep seeing an ad asking local residents if they are willing to work an overnight shift. The ad is typically accompanied by a stock photo of happy people working. This looks like an opportunity to work a single shift locally, doing something like cleaning up after an event, striking the stage following a local performing arts production, or preparing an area or business for an event the next day.
Once you read the ad, you learn that the job is not local, but an online job working for Amazon. This is even better. You haven’t joined Uber or DoorDash or GrubHub because you cannot spare the time away from home. But this will fit into your schedule beautifully. You will still be here, but you’ll be earning that extra cash, at $20.00 per hour.
Except the cash…and the work…will not be there. As soon as you are “hired” you will either be asked to purchase a $200 “enrollment kit,” install company software that enables you to clock in and out and get your paycheck, or both. The “fee” will only line the scammer’s pocket. The job and your money will be gone. Any software they ask you to install, or links they tell you to open, will contain malware that allows the scammer access to your computer. One you install what may look like a time clock, or click on that link that looks like it only offers you some paperwork for a new job, you will have granted the scammers access to anything you have access to when you open your desktop or laptop computer. They may drain your bank account, use your credit cards, or even open up new accounts in your name. All of this will be done without your consent or awareness.
Legitimate job openings for corporations like Amazon will be posted on the company’s official website. They may also be listed on Indeed dot com, but major corporations do not send random people out into cyberspace to beg others to work for them.
While it would be great if there were something we could do to earn a steady wage that is also easy, flexible, and guaranteed, that type of work simply does not exist. You can reach out to local business people and build a client base for your home based business and schedule your hours whenever you want. But that is going to take time and effort, and the income will not be guaranteed. Going the gig work route is going to leave you dependent on demand. And of course, getting a side job or day job that is actually a night job will require you to stick to a schedule and do regular shift work. Beware of anyone promising otherwise.
And if you were already aware of this scam and knew not to fall for it, remember that everyone is not in the exact same situation as you. Someone else may be more vulnerable due to extreme stress, illness, isolation, or other problems in their lives. Even if they’re that friend who just plain never stops and thinks anything through, they don’t deserve to have their money stolen by scammers. Look out for each other.
by Jess Szabo
originally published on Artist Cafe Utica
We all know about Nigerian and Eastern European love scams. Only sheltered, gullible people who barely know how to use the internet would ever be duped by anybody talking about coming “home” to them from Nigeria or moving from an Eastern European country to marry them. And American scammers….that’s just teenagers and people barely into their twenties, as shown on MTV’s Catfish.
But are we sure we’re right about that?
While it would be comforting to think we’re immune from being targeted by these scammers, the truth is, there are Americans who run love scams, and they are not all under twenty-five and just seeking some attention. Scammers can cause serious damage to our mental health, our finances, and even be dangerous, and they can be from anywhere in our home country, or even our home state or our own hometown.
Whether you’re single and treating yourself to an online dating site membership for Valentine’s Day, single and chatting with attractive people on social media throughout the year, or happily partnered with your one and only and seeking strictly platonic friends online, watch out for the following red flags.
The person declares the relationship to be serious or important much too quickly.
You’re single. You’ve been chatting with an attractive person of the appropriate for you gender for a week or so. The two of you have never met, online or offline, before. In your mind, you have an online crush. But suddenly, online crush is telling you that for them, it’s more than a crush. They want to start dating exclusively, as they are already falling in love with you. Or you’re happily married, and have made a new platonic buddy you enjoy chatting with every day. Only this person keeps referring to you as “the brother he never had,” or “like a sister to her” already.
Relationships can move rather quickly online, but nobody is in love with you, nor are they close enough to be your adopted sibling, two weeks after you first encounter each other on the internet. People who push for close relationships within the first days or even weeks of meeting you may be setting you up to persuade you to send them money, buy them expensive items, or do some other favor one would only do for the love of their life or someone who is family to them.
Money, their bills, how poor they are, and other financial problems are their favorite topics.
Your new friend from the crafter’s group expressing disappointment that Dollar Tree items are now $1.25 each, or the man you’re dating online and about to meet for your first date joking that you’re taking him out for a steak dinner does not need to send you running for the hills. Some talk about money is normal among dating partners and friends.
It becomes a red flag when the person appears to be trying to make you feel sorry for them over their financial issues, dropping hints that they could use some money or would like some expensive gifts, or asks you to send money for things like plane tickets to come and meet you.
Important details from their life do not match up.
Nobody fits into any one “type” perfectly. The person who describes themselves as the “geeky” type can still dislike video games and love to watch baseball or hockey. Someone can be “outdoorsy” and love hunting, but have a problem with bow hunting. Most people can name at least one issue they differ with “their” political party over. None of these constitute warning signs the person is scamming you.
Look for differences that go beyond a few traits, tastes, or opinions. You and your new potential partner first started chatting because you’re both single parents of third graders, but they can’t seem to relate to stories about buying school supplies or communicating with teachers. The new friend you made online likes to talk about you visiting them in Las Vegas, but it takes them a minute to get your reference to “the strip.” They tell you they’re in the mental health field, but cannot explain a simple concept from a Psychology 101 class better than you, who only has a passing interest in the field. Never brush these inconsistencies off, or accept excuses about them being “tired” or “misreading” your message. Nobody is so tired they forget where they live, the existence of their own children, or their own career field.
They seem to be trying to isolate you.
Asking someone you are dating seriously and exclusively to stop seeing past romantic partners they do not share children with is reasonable. But nobody should be asking you to stop seeing platonic friends of any gender or orientation, family members, or people you associate with on a professional level, or see in the course of carrying out activities such as church attendance or club memberships.
Scammers may also demand that you stay up all night every night to talk to them, push you to miss work in order to stay connected to them in chat, or behave as though you are obligated to reply to their texts within seconds. Some scammers give their targets “projects,” such as demanding they learn a new language or spend all their free time researching places they may want to live someday. They’re not fascinated by you, excited about your future, or pushing you to be your best self. They’re trying to keep you focused on them and occupied so that their voice is the only one you hear. This makes you easier to manipulate.
Excessive secrecy is demanded.
Some people like to keep new romantic relationships private in the beginning. And it is entirely reasonable for anyone, whether your boyfriend or girlfriend or platonic close friend, to expect you to keep things they told you in confidence to yourself. And it should go without saying that you do not post or share anything that might put your loved one in danger, such as their home address or the names of their children.
This is different from demanding you keep the fact that you’re dating online a secret from your adult children, or insisting that you don’t tell your husband that the two of you have become friends. Online contacts who demand much more secrecy than the situation would reasonably warrant are not “private people,” or “afraid of being hurt again.” They’re afraid you’ll talk about them to someone who will see the red flags in the situation.
Pressure for private, intimate, or sensitive information is placed on you, without reciprocity from them.
Some people are just nosey, or prone to getting carried away with questions and such. But if your new partner seems to be collecting the most intimate details of your life without sharing theirs, or your new friend has your address, the name of your workplace, and the names and ages of your children, but you’re not even entirely sure if they have a family at all or what field they work in, something is wrong.
People who seem to be collecting sensitive, private, or intimate materials on you may be setting you up for a blackmail scam. The scammer carries on the phony relationship up to a certain point, then asks you flat out for money or gifts. When you respond with shock, and explain that you cannot help them in this way, they then end the “relationship” or “friendship,” and threaten to reveal your personal details publicly.
Plans to meet offline are constantly made and then broken.
In the original romance scam, the Nigerian scam, plans to meet are made in order to get more money. The scammer claims they need money to travel to the victim, then claims something occurred that necessitates more money before they get “home” to the one they “love.”
American scammers are typically aware that this tactic is old and well-known, but they may still make plans to meet in order to appear to be genuine, and then back out at the last minute to avoid revealing their real self or real situation.
Emergencies do happen, but if your partner or friend only seems to encounter tragedy when it’s time to meet up with you, there is something they do not want you to know.
The warning signs of a romance or friendship scam may seem like “old news” by now, but that is precisely what makes them so easy to forget. The internet is a great place to meet people, but like any large public space, it has its share of dangers. Be prepared to protect yourself and look out for each other.
by Jess Szabo'
originally published on Artist Cafe Utica
Work done to supplement your main income or raise funds for specific goals, known as “gig work,” or “side gigs” today, can lead a worker to discover new skills and callings, meet new business contacts, or at the very least, meet a financial goal or put some money aside.
But like any work environment, working in the gig economy can bring its own dangers. Whether you flip items, drive for Uber or Lyft, deliver for GrubHub or DoorDash, tutor offline or online, give in-person lessons in something you do as a hobby, or offer your services as a virtual assistant, there are some safety reminders it is often much too easy to forget or dismiss.
The risk of walking into strangers’ homes outweighs any increased tip or rating you may earn.
Delivery drivers, rideshare drivers, and those who flip items often see carrying the groceries or meal into someone’s kitchen, bringing the flipped item into the home and placing it for the customer, or carrying heavy shopping bags into the house for the rider after dropping them off as extra service provided. And it is. Your decent, safe customers will likely appreciate the extra effort and reward you with a big tip and/or a five star rating.
But that tip or rating is not worth the risk that your next client isn’t someone safe to be alone with in a private home. Those same decent and safe people will understand why you want to hand them their groceries through the doorway or leave them on the porch, meet them in public to sell a flipped item, or allow them to carry their own bags into the house. They may even be uncomfortable having you walk into their house, as they have only just met you too.
Some of the things you do to make the work more pleasant can be safety hazards if taken too far.
Riders using Uber or Lyft often appreciate listening to music on the way to their destination, and most enjoy a pleasant, casual conversation with the driver. Of course, blaring music, private phone conversations, and excessive personal questions or chatter are typically not appreciated. You will likely earn a low rating, possibly even a customer complaint. But these things can also cause safety issues. While you are in constant contact with the rideshare company through your app, never forget that you are in a car with someone you just met a second ago. Keep aware of the person and what they are saying and doing at all times.
Moving quickly to get on to the next order often makes for a better day for anyone who does deliveries, but don’t be in such a hurry that you are not aware of your surroundings as you walk up to the drop off place and back to your vehicle.
Anyone who does online tutoring or virtual assistant work via webcam probably likes having family pictures, mugs, and other comfort items around. Check over anything left in your workspace that may be picked up by the camera, and anything visible on the wall behind you when you’re on camera, to make sure you are not inadvertently showing your last name, the name of your child’s school, or your address to strangers.
Opening up to clients may feel like making a connection or helping them understand something, but you could be sharing with the wrong person.
It may be tempting to tell the visibly upset rider the story of your last horrible day, tell the delivery client all about your problems as an excuse for being late or arriving with an incorrect or badly packed order, or share your story of depression or anxiety with a tutoring student who is struggling to write their psychology paper. And it may work out the way you hope.
But oversharing in any situation can open you up to manipulation by psychopaths and narcissists, and gig work is no exception. Assuring yourself that you’re smarter than that, or brushing it off by thinking it doesn’t matter because you’ll never see this person again is naive. Manipulative people do not play on your intellect, they play on your emotions, and if you gave them too much information, you just taught them which ones can be most easily worked to their advantage. As for never seeing them again…you might not. Or you might have them as a client again, run into them in town, or even get a friend request from them on social media. Facebook’s “people you may know” feature often suggests people simply because you both had your phones open and were in the same place at the same time.
That bad rating, or even a complaint, is worth it if you ended a situation that seemed unsafe.
Gig work is great, but be sure to keep it in perspective. You’re flipping items, driving, delivering, tutoring, or doing whatever it is you do on the side to earn some extra money. You’re providing a service to others. Both of these things are important, but neither money nor being known for providing good service or even being liked in general, are more important than your safety.
Stop the car and end the ride if a passenger becomes belligerent or threatening in any way. Drop a delivery and run back to your car if you arrive to find people fighting, or see or hear anything else disturbing. Even if you are online, you have every right to immediately close your camera and end the tutoring lesson or office work session if a student or client of your virtual assistant gig work says or does something inappropriate. There will be other work opportunities.
Side gig work is growing in popularity. It can supplement, or even replace traditional income for some people. But it can also expose people to new dangers. Keep safe out there.