You may have seen or heard of virtual assistants (or VAs) as a way of working flexibly from home. It’s a loose expression used for just about anyone who provides services to a company by working remotely; from home, from the library, even from the beach. So, they are ‘virtually’ there.
You will find the term ‘freelancer’ and ‘virtual assistant’ inter-changed in conversation. As a general rule, traditionally, freelancers bid for work and will have to find their own assignments, where virtual assistants are often hired through an agency and will have a more formal arrangement, often with a bespoke contract of work, to provide services to a client. But again, the set up and terminology is inter-changeable so don’t forego one ‘label’ at the expense of missing a dream assignment.
Of course, this is potentially a great opportunity for single moms, stay at home moms, and even grandmas who take on the childcare. It allows you to work while still managing your own childcare and other domestic arrangements.
But is it all it’s made up to be or is it a scam? Firstly, let’s set out some of the basics to paint a picture of a virtual assistant.
How it works
So a little more detail on how the set up would typically work out.
A virtual assistant (VA) is a provider of services to an individual or a company, and can work either full-time or part-time, subject to the agreement you have. Depending on the assignments you take on, you should be able to choose your working hours and how many hours a week you work, providing the work is rolling in. However, by nature of the job, you will probably be expected to be available during agreed ‘core’ hours of the day. And you need to allow plenty of time for job hunting – for around 20-30% of your available time.
The VA is classed as self-employed, and does not appear on the payroll of the employer, and they can work for as many employers as their time allows. There’s no exclusivity here unless by way of a special contract.
The virtual assistant provides their own workspace, PC, telephone, internet connection, secure file storage and any other equipment or service required.
So you can see that it can be an attractive set up for both the employer and assistant.
What does a virtual assistant do?
Virtual assistants may undertake a wide variety of tasks including:
- Copy typing
- Diary management
- Email management and responses
- Spreadsheets and record keeping
- Stock control
- Ordering supplies
- Arranging events
- General marketing and sales tasks
- Client appointments
- Website updates
- Taking minutes of meetings (audio conference calls or Skype)
Scam or Legit?
So, now you’re clear on the basics, let’s give you some insights into what should be an amazing business to be part of, but which can also be riddled with scammers. Now these guys are experienced at this deception; even seasoned virtual assistants are approached by scammers, not just the newbies.
It’s amazing how many people are blind to scam tactics. Their desire to work from home and make money leaves them vulnerable to these unscrupulous scammers. A rule of thumb is that if a job sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
Scammers may be after your purse, or your identity, or both and you need to be vigilant in not just protecting yourself, but in reporting to the authorities any suspicious activity.
Here’s our top 10 tips on separating the scammers from the legitimate VA jobs out there:
- Try to research about the company or person you are applying to. ‘Google’ it and see what others say about that company. If you see negative comments, you should consider researching more or just look for other company to work for with a good background.
- Authentic jobs will want sight of your resume or portfolio, so make sure yours is polished.
- If they ask for a joining or a membership fee, avoid them like the plague. Keep in mind that they should be the one giving you money and not the other way around. You want to work online and be paid and that’s how it should work.
- Be very wary of job offers or websites asking for unnecessary personal information, like credit card number. They don’t need this to pay you for the work you do.
- Beware of communications from the prospective employer that comes from a generic webmail email address, like gmail or yahoo. Especially if you’re asked to click through on an email link and verify your invoice payment details, or to log into your Paypal account. It’s likely to be phishing scam so just report it to your bank or the police. A reputable company or employer will have a company email address.
- There is a scam known as a low payment starter. Although it is quite a common practice on the job bidding scene, it’s still one to watch out for. Basically, the employer will offer a very low baller starting pay and promise to give you the regular rate after finishing a certain probationary period. It often ends with you being fired for several unjustifiable reasons.
- If you’re going via a lesser-known virtual assistant agency, look at their website and contact page. Does the contact page show an address and a phone number? Or is the contact page a simple web form that doesn’t say anything about the company? If there is a phone number, call it. Can you get through to anyone or it is just a voice mail box? If they have an address, look at the address in Google Maps in satellite view. Is it an actual business building or something else (like a private mailbox)?
- Beware of any company asking you to manage their billing or accounts, via your own personal account. They must, by law, have their own account. This is a BIG RED FLAG and not just a scam, but potentially a money laundering outfit.
- If you’re promised a ‘get rich quick’ scheme, it’s a scam. You’ll usually be asked to spam the whole wide world. Now that’s not a virtual assistant job. Don’t be lured by this type of scheme. Some will say you just have to work for 1 or 2 hours a day and you will earn thousand bucks. Please use your common sense. If this is true, why aren’t all the people in the world doing this type of job?
- You can reduce the chances of being scammed by signing up (for free) with some well-known job sites for freelancers, like Upwork, Freelancer, People Per Hour and Elance. However, scammers can sometimes penetrate these freelancing sites. Before bidding for a project, be sure to check the reputation of the company/employer first. Check the feedback or if there is none, try to ask for upfront payment before starting a project. More importantly, these job bidding sites have their own escrow system so you’ll be sure that you’re paid every cent. On larger projects, get a down-payment as a percentage of the total job value. For regular work, agree a payment program with the employer.
It’s always wise to be vigilant. Here are some places you can do some deeper company checks:
- Better Business Bureau’s Company search page. This won’t tell you all that much about the company. But if the company has gone to the effort necessary to get listed here, chances are it’s a legitimate company.
- Dun & Bradstreet
- Merchant Circle
A true potential client is not going to hesitate to tell you more about their business and what they are looking for from you and why. A true potential client is not going to ask a complete stranger to handle their money. Don’t let your desire for a new client overrule your common sense.
Keep in mind that the only way to earn money online is through hard work. It’s not realistic to believe that you can earn thousands of dollars working 1-2 hours per day. It is possible to earn lots of money online but you really need to make and effort and equip yourself with different virtual assistant skills to be able to do different tasks.