Extortion: The New Get-Rich-Quick Scheme?

Today, a client has requested, out of the blue, a refund for copywriting work performed last year. Yes, last year!

Can you believe it?

Over seven months have passed and this one client is asking for his money back. His excuse? “I need the money.” Of course, I refused. But he sounded desperate, so I presume he won’t be happy with my decision.

Likely, he will pull tooth and nail to make his case, likely by highlighting all the negatives, warts, and things he doesn’t like as to justify his case.

The thing is, while the client did not hide the fact that he’s strapped for cash, we had an agreement. I can sympathize, but why should that be my responsibility?

As Larry Winget often says, “A deal is a deal.”

I ask for 100% of the fee upfront. No exceptions. I work hard enough as it is to market my services, find clients, and then write copy for my clients. Why would I want to work twice or three times as much just to get and/or keep my money?

Even though there’s an agreement in place, which states that I give no refunds but do offer a 30-day revision period for rewrites, it still irks me on a number of levels.

For one, I know the economy is tough, so people are trying to extract money in any way they can — even illegally, it seems. Why? Because it’s easy. And they’re lazy.

Why someone would try to suck money from someone who earned it legitimately is beyond me.

Unscrupulous marketers don’t hold an exclusivity on this tactic, I can assure you. There are just as many scammers who buy as there are those who sell.

But the second reason is, some clients pay by credit card. And that opens up many risks and cans-o’-worms, such as the potential for unfounded chargebacks.

(I wholeheartedly agree with copywriter Susanna Hutcheson, who told me that people who illegitimately file chargebacks should also be charged with a criminal offense.)

Sure, I’d win if a chargeback were to ever happen. I have an agreement in place, and I kept up my end of the bargain.

But it still pushes me to work harder in order to fight the case, makes me go through all the unnecessary hassles, and it leaves a negative mark on my merchant account.

In fact, I heard some who had the gumption to say, “It’s simply easier to initiate a chargeback, because I don’t want to go through the hassle of asking for a refund.”

Huh? Come again?

Chargebacks are not “easy buttons” for getting refunds, let alone for getting money that’s legally no longer yours.

Shame on you if you filed a chargeback because you failed to do your due diligence, are too lazy to ask for a refund (if you really do deserve one), or are too stupid to approach the merchant first (you never know, they might be willing to do more for you).

And double-shame on you if you initiated a chargeback just because you needed the money. That’s blatant extortion, pure and simple.

Don’t you know that asking for a chargeback, when you don’t deserve one, will cause you more work? But hey, it doesn’t matter, right? The client is always right, right? It’s not your hassle, and it should be the merchant’s, right? No.

It does matter.

The client is not always right.

And it’s not up to the merchant, either.

Sadly, it pains me to see how easy it is for people use such blatantly fraudulent, albeit legally possible, tactics to get money. What pains me even more are those who think, “But he’s rich, he makes a lot of money, surely he doesn’t care.”

Believe me, we do care.

It’s called having integrity. Honor. Respect. Decency.

Above all, we care because we need to protect more than just our reputations.

Chargebacks, particularly illegitimate ones, are not little, casual, innocent business practices with insignificant expense that do no harm and can simply be written off. They’re neither part of doing business nor part of the cost of doing business.

They can hurt you in more ways than you think.

So all venting aside, what should I do? Well, I’m coming to some conclusions. They may not be the best ones, and they are not yet written in stone. But they are no doubt becoming increasingly appealing to me. Here are a few of them…

For one, as Paul Hancox once noted on Twitter, “If companies can do credit checks on us, shouldn’t we be able to do credit checks on potential customers?”

I think that’s a splendid idea.

But even better, and like Susanna proposed, I think I’m going to stop accepting credit cards for services we sell — whether it’s copywriting, consulting, or coaching.

Just checks, cash (i.e., wire transfers), or money orders.

Will I lose some business because of this? Absolutely. But at least I know the business I do get is paid for, and I don’t have to fight any unwarranted chargebacks for services rendered as promised, potentially damaging my credit score.

After all, if you bought cable TV but failed to turn on your TV for whatever reason, would you be entitled to a refund from the cable company? No.

Similarly, if an attorney loses your case in court, are you entitled to a refund for his legal services? If you had surgery but it wasn’t a success, will the doctor no longer be entitled to payments for services performed? Of course, not. A deal is a deal.

Sure, when people purchase the services of a copywriter, they are buying results — or the hope thereof. But that’s no different than a lawyer or a doctor. Just because we’re freelancers or service providers, does it mean we deserve it any less?

Believe me, I do understand that some marketers profess you’ll achieve success and get-rich-quick results that never materialize because their teachings are worthless, and their exaggerated claims and promises, empty.

But how often is that the case, based on actually doing the work? Not often.

More often than not, I submit that it’s based on poor execution — or most likely, non-execution — of what they were taught, given, or sold.

(In copywriting, I see this with refund-seekers who never used the copy I wrote for them, dumped it after getting just a little bit of traffic, used it but in the wrong way, changed it themselves, or worse yet, used the copy, got great results, but lied about them.)

Sure, some marketers are misleading and wrongfully promise the stars. (Read this awesome article by Sean D’Souza on the role of get-rich-quick merchants.)

As you know, I spoke out against such practices many times on this blog.

So they are certainly not excused.

But lazy people will always expect effortless riches. Because no matter what promises you were told, no matter how big your dreams, no matter how quick you can get rich with any program, the shocking truth is that they all require that dreaded, four-letter word:

WORK. Yes, work.

As in, roll-up-your-sleeves, nose-to-the-grindstone stuff.

Speaking of which, I also loved this recent article by one of my favorite personal development coaches, Larry Winget. I’m a believer in the law of attraction, but I also believe that you attract success not just by your thinking but also by your doing.

On another yet related note, there’s also the issue of clients who not only lack integrity but also commit what I believe are downright criminal acts.

Fraudsters. Serial refunders. Thieves. Buy-and-refund seekers. Chargeback addicts.

Well, a couple of years ago, some of my Internet marketing friends and I were having a very spirited debate outside the seminar room at an Internet marketing event. It was probably one of the best discussions I’ve had with my colleagues on the subject.

It all started when someone proposed creating, and possibly selling, a “refund report” of sorts — a compiled list among marketers of known serial refunders and fraudsters.

Seemed like a good idea, but the contention was that it could be illegal to some degree (we also had an Internet marketing lawyer among us, too), given the private and sensitive nature of the information being disseminated.

Both sides had equally important points.

While some proposed that it could be sold, others said that it could only be passed around privately among merchants. And a few were totally against the idea altogether.

What do you think?

Do you think such a “refund report” would be useful to you? If it were to be sold, would you buy it? Or at the very least, would you consider getting a copy privately?

I personally wouldn’t sell it. But I would certainly love to get my hands on a copy if such a report were to be made available. After all, we have a growing list of our own of people we refuse to do business with.

As Susanna Hutcheson pointed out when I mentioned this on Twitter, “I see no way anyone can keep us from privately sharing information. That would hurt the bad clients as much as the public.” And I agree with her.

By the way, you might be wondering how this would work.

The process one might use is to have a script made up that would block orders from known serial refunders and thieves as they checkout. For example, our system currently bans IPs, emails, and specific mailing addresses.

And by “thieves,” I also include people who have a history (i.e., they’ve done it at least three times) of buying a digital product, and then requesting a refund moments later.

Give me your thoughts. I’d love to hear them.

On a final note, Susanna also brilliantly pointed out that Amazon Payments won’t accept serial refunders’ requests for chargebacks. I think that’s a fantastic idea.

She said, “I love the way you can get your money in about 24 hours, too. I’ve used them for a while and like them so far. No (need for) paypal at all.”

It’s also the reason why Ken Calhoun and I use Amazon’s on-demand CreateSpace service to produce, sell, and fulfill orders of our Copywriting Success System 8-DVD series.

No inventory. No merchant accounts. No shipping on our end.

So far, I love them. CreateSpace is fast, merchant-friendly, and easy to use. If you want to produce and sell CDs, DVDs, books, even audios and videos on demand, you might want to consider using them. As for Amazon Payments itself, I think I’m going to try them.

Ultimately, I think we need to be careful, especially in a tough economy. Scams are not exclusive to businesses. There are just as many scamming buyers as there are sellers.

Definitely have a contractual agreement upfront. Definitely try to get 100% upfront, too. Otherwise, if you feel you must, get 50% as a deposit and invoice the remainder once the project is complete — although, I’d do it the moment I deliver the first draft.

And avoid credit cards for high-ticket services. Look into Amazon Payments. If you take checks or money orders, wait until they clear your bank before you begin.

Plus, if you smell a red flag, contemplate doing credit checks on your clients, especially for large purchases — such as services of $1,000 or more. Even if they pay 100% upfront. Or at the very least, check references.

Yes, check references.

Finally, if you have a list of known scammers and serial refunders, whether you compiled one yourself or, if it’s legal to do so (please check with your attorney as this is not legal advice), learned about it from someone else, don’t be afraid to use it.

In other words, don’t be afraid to say “no.”

Sure, it might seem like you’re turning down work. However, by being selective, you will not only increase your business dramatically and open up your schedule for better clients, but it might also save you a ton of undue hassles, heartaches, and hardships.

Let me finish by asking you…

What do you do to avoid scamming clients? Especially in a tough economy?

About The Author

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Michel Fortin is a certified SEO consultant, content strategist, and marketing advisor helping plastic surgeons, cosmetic surgeons, and medical aesthetic clinics attract more patients. Since 1991, he helps cosmetic and aesthetic professionals increase their visibility and grow their practices. He is the author of the More Traffic Memo™ SEO email newsletter.

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