Web Development Scam Artists, by Jessica Bolin

Have you been scammed by a web developer? Or are you concerned about a web development proposal and are unsure if it is legitimate or not? Let me fill you in on a few things I have learned in my 12 years of experience.

Is there a way to determine if a web developer is safe and reliable or not? The answer is, for the most part, yes. But you have to do some research.

If you have not already found the developer’s website, ask them for it. Review the information on the website and make sure it sounds legitimate. There should be information about the company, services offered, testimonials, portfolio, and contact information. The information on the website should be to the point and tell you exactly what you need to know. Make sure the writing is well worded and grammatically correct. Poorly written content is negative indicator. Also review the design of their business website. Ensure that it is a well designed website, as it is a reflection on the developers skills.

When reviewing the services offered, ensure that the services are detailed and specific. Try to avoid developers with vague or generalized service listings. For example, a website listing only “Web Development, Graphic Design, Search Engine Optimization” and does not go into specific detail other than a description, should be avoided. Each of those should drill down to more specific services available. “Web Development” should list all the various types of related web development services. This let’s you know that they have taken the time to show you they know what they are talking about.

Ask to see a portfolio of clients and completed projects. Review the work. Take time to see if any of the listings are actually live on the internet. There should be a good mixture of archived projects and currently live projects (websites). Verify that the clients listed are real entities. If they list a medical office or something easily verifiable, double check. Consider the social status of the clients in the portfolio. Are they people that have a lot of pull in the community, such as doctors, large corporations, etc? Or are they all small unheard of and online only websites? Many scammers or unexperienced developers will list clients that no one has ever heard of, and in reality, they are probably just clients they made up.

When reviewing the website designer’s portfolio, look at as many of the projects as you are able to. Compare the differences of the projects. Is the style the same throughout or does the portfolio showcase a greater range of creative skill? You want to see a portfolio of diversity. You should see a range from simple, to extremely creative. The styles should match the topic of the website, but also keep in mind that sometimes, the designer has to provide what is requested and that may not always make sense to the viewers.

Do some research to see how long their business domain name has been active and how much of a presence they have on the internet. We personally have been around for a very long time. Motion City Media was originally founded by Jessica Bolin (previously Jessica Bynon, until she married). You can track our company back through Anomaly Media as well. A name change took place because clients found it too difficult to spell Anomaly. If your developer’s domain or company name has not been around long, be leary.

Take time to view social networking profiles for the developer/company. If they are on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, or others… take the time to see what is going on in those profiles. Are they active? Do they have a lot of networked people? Are good things being said about them on those accounts? You can also use those to see how long they have been around as well. We have been on MySpace under Anomaly Media for many many years.

Find out the name of the web developer and also if they are working for an actual company. Search the internet for bad ratings. Review the listings that come up. There are some things to take into consideration though:

  • Could there be more than one person under that name? Make sure you are not passing bad judgement on the wrong person.
  • If you do find a few bad reviews about a person or company, weigh that against all the other information you find about that person. For example: weigh factors like “How many bad reviews are there in comparison to how long the person has been in business? What are the complaints about and how does it compare to the overall picture? How many clients are in the developers portfolio? How well have they presented their business and skills? Is their terms and project proposal detailed and satisfactory? Do they have a respectable refund policy in the contract that will protect you?” We all know that in the world of business, there are bound to be some clients that just cannot be satisfied, breach contracts for their own personal reasons, or are flat out crazy. It is unfortunate, but true. One upset client, trying to breach a contract, can equate to multiple bad reviews. So just keep in mind that a company that has been in business a long time, is bound to run into a few of those and should be given the benefit of the doubt. Don’t hesitate to question them about anything you are concerned about. Stay away if they have a lot of bad reviews or scam alerts.

You can also protect yourself from being ripped off by documenting all conversations. Email and writing is far better than phone conversations. Use a method of payment that can be tracked such as check, bank deposit, PayPal, or other trackable method. Avoid cash in person or money order without immediately getting a receipt. In addition, a legitimate and serious developer will be willing to provide an IRS Employer Identification Number (EIN) for 1099 purposes.

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