Lately I’ve been drowning in consulting calls on top of my scheduled design 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 (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 checks 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!