Lately I’ve been drowning in consulting calls on top of my scheduled design/dev work. Often, people are calling because they paid a lot of money for website design or development, fell victim to one of a number of scams, and need advice regarding what to do next.
No matter how many stories I hear about “designers” who are unethical, unskilled, or just plain deceitful, I’m always a little shocked at some of the ways they find to con people out of money. These are not clueless people I’m talking about, either – they are fully aware of what to look for when hiring a designer and still end up in terrible situations sometimes.
Here are some of the most common web design scams and how to avoid them.
The Scam: The Disappearing Designer
The Scenario: You find a designer with good pricing and a nice portfolio. You email a few times, get a quote for the work, and decide to hire the person. Once they receive your deposit, you never hear from them again. OR the work is finished, you make the final payment, then you never receive the completed site design.
What to do: Hopefully you paid via Paypal (or a credit card) and can file a dispute to recover your money. Email the designer one last time and say “If I don’t hear from you by X date, I will be filing a dispute with Paypal.” Once that date passes, don’t hesitate – get your money back and move on.
How to avoid this scam: When you look at a designer’s portfolio, take note of a few of the websites’ names and look them up. If the design is no longer there or the site doesn’t exist, consider those huge red flags. (You should also check the site’s URL to make sure it’s not just a dummy site on a subdomain.) Otherwise, email the sites’ owners directly and ask them to tell you about their experience with the designer. Anyone can make up testimonials and put them on a site – better to get it straight from the source.
It’s also a good idea to hold final payment until the design is live on your site. Many designers and developers (myself included) prefer payment before transferring the files to protect themselves, but remind them of the leverage they hold (your hosting login, FTP credentials, etc.) and they may be willing to make an exception.
The Scam: The Broken Promises Designer
The Scenario: We’ve all heard this one before. Your designer promises a Lexus design and your site looks more like a Ford Festiva. Or (true story from a consulting client) you pay for a particular theme, then the designer uses a free theme instead and pockets the money. In other words, you aren’t getting what you paid for.
What to do: If a design doesn’t meet your expectations, please address that with the designer before you do anything else. Sometimes communication breakdowns happen and the designer may be more than willing to fix the problem. Be sure to reference specifics from your contract or emails so both parties know what the expectations were versus what you received.
How to avoid this scam: Never, ever, EVER hire a web designer who doesn’t use some kind of formal contract. For instance, I provide my prospective clients with a detailed quote that lists exactly what elements they’ve requested as well as the cost. If they accept the quote as is, they are directed to my terms and conditions page, which outlines details like image copyrights, timelines, and payment. They must agree to those terms via a form and pay a deposit before I schedule their projects. It’s a bit complex at times, but my clients have very few questions about how things will work because I’ve already answered them.
ALWAYS purchase any themes, fonts, graphics, etc. yourself if at all possible. That way you will have access to support and updates instead of depending on your designer to provide them, and you’ll know that your money is going toward its intended purpose. You’ll also have those files if something happens and you end up hiring someone else.
The Scam: The Hijacker
The Scenario: This one has happened to two of my design clients so far. You hire a designer, give said designer access to your site, and suddenly you’re locked out and your site has been filled with malware. OR you find out down the road that there are spam links, malicious code, or other “goodies” coded into your site’s files.
What to do: If you are locked out of your site or find malware, contact your host immediately. The support staff will be able to help you regain access and track down the infected files. And if your host is halfway decent, they won’t charge you anything for it. (Shameless plug: Nuts and Bolts Media provides malware removal as one of our tech support services, as well as free malware removal for our site management clients.)
How to avoid this scam: There’s no politically correct way to say this, so I’ll just come out with it: Be very cautious when hiring a designer from a foreign country. I’m not saying all of them will hijack your site, and I’m not saying a US-based designer won’t hijack your site, but I can’t ignore the fact that most of these scams seem to come from overseas. On my own servers, I block hack attempts from countries like India, China, Pakistan, Russia, and Romania on a daily basis. That said, I also have a good friend who lives in Bulgaria and does excellent graphic work. All I’m saying is be cautious – be sure to check references as I mentioned above.
Overall Tips for a Great Web Design Experience
The internet is a vast place; it’s impossible to be 100% confident when you send money to someone you’ve never met. Unfortunately, thanks to scams like the ones in this post, it’s necessary to take some steps before you ever hire a web designer.
- Talk to the designer on the phone before you hire him/her. Some designers may not be comfortable with that, and while that’s their choice, ask yourself if you’re okay with hiring someone you can’t even speak to first.
- As I mentioned, contact some of the designer’s clients to get the inside scoop. Visit some sites they’ve designed. Do your homework.
- Don’t be a tightwad. Yes, there are people who will offer a website design for $75, but that doesn’t mean the quality is going to be great. Super cheap design work is often a sign a of potential scam. That said, you should also compare prices to make sure you aren’t paying $10,000 for a simple $500 job.
- Come prepared. Do some research and have a good idea of what you’re looking for in a web design. The more details you provide, the easier it will be for your designer to meet your expectations.
- Go with your gut. If anything at all gives you pause or causes concern, do yourself a favor and don’t hire that designer. Chances are you’re feeling that way for a reason.
Have you ever been the victim of a web design scam? Got any other tips for vetting designers? Tell us about it in the comments – we’d love to hear what you think!
Khaleef @ KNS Financial says
Once I have the money for a redesign, I’m coming straight to you. I’m not taking chances with someone that I don’t know, and dealing with all these problems!
I appreciate the vote of confidence! There’s a lot to be said for working with someone you know. 🙂
Andrea, twice lately I’ve been contacted by text, if that isn’t weird enough, by someone wanting a website designed for their business. They make an excuse why they can’t talk on the phone. Eventually when I ask them to provide me with a viable email address, they disappear. It’s the same company that’s tried this twice. Have you heard about it?
They want the cost of the website and if I can design the page exactly like one they found that was done on WordPress. They also mention they have their logo and copy already. Help!
Andrea Whitmer says
I’ve read about the scam quite a bit lately – usually people report that the person says s/he is hearing impaired and can’t talk over the phone. There is a good article about that very issue here: http://www.helloari.com/blog/2015/03/scam-alert-web-designers-targeted-hearing-impaired-wants-agroamerica-site/
Steven J Fromm says
Very interesting post about the dangers in this process. Some I never thought about. I would think it would be worthwhile to perhaps use someone locally who you could meet with and get first hand recommendations about.
I have hesitated to upgrade my blog and website as I have a lot of links and decent Alexa rankings. Does the wordpress.com Premium upgrade using domain name and mapping avoid this problem? How about a redirect; does that preserve your Alexa rank and links. Or if you change from wordpress.com are you losing all of this?
Andrea Whitmer says
The crappy thing about wordpress.com is that they will only allow you to redirect traffic if you pay a fee. So you can either sign up for a domain and mapping at ridiculous rates, or you can move to self-hosted and pay the fee. Otherwise you’d have to start from scratch. With Alexa specifically, you would start over no matter what if you switch to using a domain, but it comes back really quickly the second time around.
I definitely understand being hesitant to lose what you’ve built, but I’ll say this – if you want your blog to be seen as authoritative and professional, there is nothing better to do than move to self-hosted. It hurts for a little while but in the long run you’ll be much better off.
Christina Morrissey says
Just spoke with a web designer who is volunteering his services – similar hobby interests. The website would be for the family of a dead artist to get the images of her work and her books downloaded for free out to the public. I know nothing about websites, but I left this initial meeting not feeling very comfortable about several statements he made. I could really use some advice regarding some aspects of this design he is recommending. I really don’t wish to steer this family wrong. I am more than willing to pay for design services if necessary, but don’t know how to go about finding the best kind. Thought I would keep it in “the trade” so to speak, but that doesn’t appear to be working.
Andrea Whitmer says
Sorry to hear you are having trouble! Feel free to email me and I’d be glad to give you some advice re: whether his recommendations are sound. In general, I’d say to avoid anyone who makes you feel uncomfortable in the first meeting – trust your gut!
I did my homework when I hired a local web designer and yet I still ended up with one who was completely inept. The work he produced for me was so shoddy that i began to wonder who actually designed the websites in his portfolio. He had high profile clients and yet the work he produced for me looked clip art pasted onto the most basic template ever.
The worst part is I told him I had basic knowledge of html/css so he would know I wasn’t completely clueless about web design. And yet he still tried to fob off a cheap template as custom web design.
I lost money on the deposit but in the end it was worth it because now I am improving my graphic design and coding skills and it’s always better to rely on yourself than someone else.
If anyone is a small business owner considering hiring a web designer, my advice is DON’T. Test the waters first with a small job like a graphic or a logo and see if you like the designer’s work. If you’re happy you can look into a big job like web design.
I can’t stress enough to small business owners that you cannot trust the portfolio or references because in the end all that matters is the work they produce for you. Don’t be fooled into thinking you have to be a computer genius to design a good website for yourself. You need time and patience to learn, that’s all. The shoddy web designers out there exploit people’s ignorance and fear and try to convince you that you need them more than they need you. It’s not true. You can do it yourself, but if you don’t want to, be very cautious because finding an honest web designer is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.
David Garland says
I employed the services of a web developer in Birmingham, i had spoken to 5 and they were very polite and seemed to know what i wanted…this was in September 2012, I was told the site would be ready by January 2013…….it never happened, they fobbed me off, charged me a small fortune and cost me thousands of pounds, i was very stupid in believing the work they were doing was hard, they eventually gave me a web site in September 2013, no instructions on how to administrate or work the site, also it seemed that a 5 year old had put it together………..In October I employed a marketing man to get me back on track……..On the 5th March 2014 I employed a new web developer……I have been shown the whole process with the new developer, the site looks fantastic and is now live 4 weeks….yes 4 weeks after getting him to do the work and at a fraction of the cost……………..I have not put this terrible web site name down but if you want to avoid them drop me a line or don’t employ a web company with a letter and then number for their name like Z8 for example!!!!
Andrea Whitmer says
Wow, David, what an awful story! I’m glad to hear you found a good developer but sorry you had such a bad experience with the first. I really wish there was a better way to know if someone was a scammer or not – I hear way too many stories like yours and it makes me sad. Unfortunately it’s difficult to know what questions to ask or how to identify a poor developer upfront.
I actually would like to ask what you think of my situation, but it’s the other way round.
I came across a post looking for a freelance web designer/developer using WordPress on a forum and sent in an application. A lady contacted through a phone with a description of the job and afterwards via email with the basic requirements of site.
However when I requested for black-and-white on the remuneration and the agreed requirements, she didn’t respond accordingly. She skipped through that request and only answered some of my other questions. She has recently contacted me again with domain names that she registered but no host server information and requesting for my bank account number.
It is starting to feel like a scam to me. Should I be more careful dealing with this lady?
Andrea Whitmer says
I definitely wouldn’t give anyone your bank account number! In the age of Paypal, Stripe, and other third party payment processors, there is never a need for a client to have your banking information to pay you. And if she’s ignoring the questions you need answered to be able to do the work, it sounds like she would be a nightmare client anyway.
I hired this company http://www.blightymedia.com to build me a website.
They have a very professional looking site and promised to build me a site in a few weeks.
They asked for half the payment in advance and I never got my website and they refused to answer any of my calls or emails.
This was about 6 months ago now.
I contacted the trading standards who offered no help at all.
For all I know this person could be ripping off loads of people, his site is still live and he also advertises on gumtree.
I have no idea how to get my money back from this person who is called Ashley Keable if anyone could offer advice it would be greatly appreciated.
I still have all emails and correspondence from him.
Andrea Whitmer says
I’m so sorry that happened to you! How awful!
Did you pay with a credit card or Paypal? If so, you can dispute the charge since you didn’t receive the service you paid for.
So i’m his latest victim,
same thing, he won’t give my money back and I was a student at the time!! – i know this is late but if someone can get in touch with me.
He is a professional scammer, he has stolen £14,000 in the past!!
Andrea Whitmer says
Very sorry to hear about your experience, Jacob. As I mentioned before, I would definitely reach out to PayPal or your credit card issuer to see whether there is any action you can take to recover your money. What a horrible situation!
They did absolutely nothing! – And if I take money out of his account which is right fully mine, I get done for fraud.
I’m really sorry to hear that.
I reported him to gumtree which is where he advertised but he can easily post more adds with a new email address.
Maybe you should report him to the police?
I would be happy to back you up with my story too. He should not be doing this to people it is unfair and horrible.
I contacted trading standards but they were useless.
I also posted a few comments on his Facebook page alerting people to his scams but he removed them.
you’re one of many I’m afraid. He did me out of £250 – report it to action fraud immediately and get a crime ref no. If you let me have the number I’m compiling a list for the fraud dept of Leicestershire police
I have just seen this. Please can you guys give me your contact details so we can get this person. It’s really personal to me. He’s been blackmailing me since he found out I have a statement to the police. They’re on the case!
I paid by bank transfer.
I contacted my bank about this but got no joy from them.
Andrea Whitmer says
That is so disappointing… You’d think a bank would be interested in helping their customers in those situations, but apparently not!
I would suggest finding an attorney to draft a letter to the company – they owe you some sort of explanation for what went wrong, and they definitely owe you a refund! Did you sign any kind of contract? If so, I’d take a copy of that to the attorney and see what they can do for you.
same thing happened to me…how much did he get you for?
Blighty media has done this to lots of people including me (£250) – report it to action fraud and get a crime ref number – if you then let me have it and I’ll forward the list of crime ref numbers that I making to the fraud dept at Leicestershire police
Just read your comments about Ashley Keable and it seems he is scamming people not only with his companies but also with living costs. He rented my property and didnt pay rent even when the courts awarded judgement for thousands. Please can you let me know what your situation is with regards to the police? Is there a number or a specific person within the police to contact? As my case is very recent!
Except I am in the trade. I don’t know a single person that does web development work that hasn’t been cheated by the client whom, after the site went live, they refused to pay.
Andrea Whitmer says
Generally I don’t move a site live until I’ve received final payment. In cases where a client is uncomfortable with that, I do a 50% deposit, 25% when the test site has been approved, and 25% after launch. However, I also build that into the pricing so that, if I don’t receive the final 25% payment, I’m still well compensated for the work. I’ve also found that a strongly worded letter on your attorney’s letterhead can usually prompt all but the most underhanded clients to pay up.
Hello Andrea,i am looking for a genuine web developing company who i can hire.i have seen so many on the internet…….so many.I am really confused.I don’t know the good ones.Please i need your suggestions.Thanks
Andrea Whitmer says
It’s definitely hard to find a reputable company online. There is always a level of risk (online or not) when you hire someone to perform a service, but I would suggest finding websites you really like and emailing the owners to ask them who developed the site and whether they had a good experience. In my opinion, that’s the best way to find someone who is reputable if you don’t know anyone personally who has worked with a developer.
This is an ancient article,
so comments are now closed.