Because the VA industry is unregulated, people often try to take advantage of the situation for their own personal or financial gain. From amateur “experts”, dodgy clients and outright scammers, unethical practices appear to be on the rise. But if you know what to look out for, you’re far less likely to be taken for a ride.
Although there are people who think it’s morally acceptable to take advantage of others, this is true for all sectors and not just ours – although not much of a consolation.
However, because the VA industry has noticed a sharp rise in unethical practices, I wanted to bring your attention to a few of the more common Virtual Assistant scams so you can take measures to avoid them.
Common Virtual Assistant scams to watch out for:
Virtual Assistant training courses
In the past two years, the Society of Virtual Assistants* (the SVA) have received more complaints about VA trainers than in the preceding ten years combined.
Although it’s partly a case of “buyer beware”, there are many ways you can find out whether someone is legit and actually knows what they’re doing.
Training courses are not cheap. You worked really hard to earn that money and it’s vital you know what you’re getting before you hand any of it over to some random.
And it’s not just the SVA who are concerned about amateurs passing themselves off as experts:
“How can someone who’s been a VA for only one or two years provide a course teaching you what is needed to grow a successful VA business? It would be wise to check that they have put in the hours to gain the relevant experience to teach you what you need to know to successfully build a VA business. It will be interesting to see if these courses and their owners are still in the industry in another 4-5 years’ time. Some may be, others won’t.” Kathie Thomas: owner of VA Directory and former President of the Australian VA Association.
Due diligence is important in every industry and not just ours. Here’s what Jessica Lorimer from Smart Leaders Sell has to say about picking a coach:
“You’re more likely to get results with a coach/ mentor/ consultant/ business owner who has a PROVEN track record. And guess what? Someone with a proven track record has a bunch of clients and therefore doesn’t need you to join any particular programme. They’ll give you the best option for you – and you should take it. If you’re thinking about working with a new service provider, purely based on the amount of Facebook posts they write and how many ‘prayer hand emoji’s’ it gets… well that’s not due diligence. And it doesn’t indicate that they have a track record with clients. Please pick the EXPERT… not just the person who has enough time to shout loudly across social media.”
Whichever Virtual Assistant training course you’re considering purchasing, it’s important that you check out the trainer. Make sure all of your questions are answered and even get them on the phone if you need to.
The problem is that even relatively new Virtual Assistants can (and do) offer training which leads to people being ripped off as well as industry standards being lowered through low-quality VAs.
There are a few quick ways you can easily spot charlatan VA trainers though.
For example, if you see a UK-based trainer or VA say they earn £10,000 a month, this would push them up into the higher income tax threshold.
Any UK business earning over £85K is required to register for VAT and is legally obliged to display its VAT number on its website.
So if you don’t see their VAT number in the footer of their website, they’re probably telling porkies.
Virtual Assistant franchises
I don’t have any first-hand experience of franchises myself but Caroline Wylie from the SVA told me she’s spoken to VAs who have paid between £9000 and £15,000 for what turned out to be a scam franchise – but they couldn’t publicly complain because they’d signed an NDA.
And this is why they hadn’t found any negative reviews when doing their research.
Although the VAs had been savvy enough to ask if they could speak to other franchisees, it turned out the people they spoke to were actually former employees and not franchisees at all.
So they’d still been caught out even after they’d done their due diligence.
Not every franchise is a scam though so if you are considering buying a VA franchise, you’ll find the SVA’s article on training scams and their Buying a VA Business guide useful.
Shockingly, you also need to watch out for people posing as potential clients. This story on the SVA website tells the story of a Virtual Assistant who was nearly the target of a client scam.
Fortunately, the VA in question had worked in the fraud and credit industry for many years and recognised what was happening, but other less experienced VAs could have been caught out.
I recently received this email from one of my readers:
“Hi Jo, how do I find out if someone is a legitimate client? I have been contacted by someone and I am not sure she is who she says she is (gut feeling).”
I told them to do their due diligence by looking up the business on the Companies House website and to find out how long their website had been up and running.
I also advised the VA to Google the company (and to search under the images section too) and to look at their social media profiles.
The VA came back to me half an hour later with this:
“So after doing some digging, it was a very new IP address (10 days old when they contacted me) and was flagged as spam. I am so glad I asked and I did some digging! Thank you heaps for your assistance, I think you just saved me from a major scam! Totally indebted to you for this – thank you so much!”
Whilst it was good to know that I’d helped to prevent this particular Virtual Assistant from being taken advantage of, it enraged me to think about all the other freelancers who may have been taken in.
None of these Virtual Assistant scams are new
It’s the sad truth that the Virtual Assistant industry is rife with impostors, people providing poor information, inexperienced VAs marketing themselves as experts, people passing content off as their own, people building their business off the back of someone else’s hard work as well as out-and-out scammers.
But as long as you keep your wits about you, do your due diligence checks, ask as many questions as you can and put time into your research you should be okay.
And definitely listen to your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t.
- Check how long a website has been running. This is a great resource if you want to check whether an “expert” is, in fact, new to the industry or a potential client is who they say they are.
- Check Companies House for info on Limited Companies. You can see who the Director is along with other financial information such as whether they’re still filing their annual returns or are insolvent.
- Check a website’s domain authority. This is useful if a directory claims you’ll get lots of business if you register with them. Anyone charging you money to register should have a score of at least 30.
- If you’re thinking of taking my DIY Virtual Assistant training course, you can check out some FAQs about the course and see my own answers to the list of questions you should ask when choosing a VA trainer as outlined in the SVA’s guide.
Ready to set up your VA business?
If you’d love to work yourself then why not sign up for my flagship DIY VA course.
You get lifetime access, a private trainee-only Facebook group (where loads of business-building activities take place) and I am always on hand to guide you.