Freelancers: 7 Ways To Prevent Chargebacks From Clients

We all know the financial hardships freelancers face when finding new clients, preserving existing income sources, maintaining cash flow during slow times, figuring out income taxes and more. Unfortunately, there is another financial hurdle you could face as a freelancer: chargebacks.

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A chargeback is a forced credit card refund. Chargebacks are a form of consumer protection, originally created to protect people from fraud and unauthorized transactions. The merchant bears the burden of proof. All the cardholder (freelance client) has to do is contact the bank and ask for their money back.

If you accept credit card as a form of payment, even if you are in freelancing, credit card companies will deem you a merchant, which means that a freelance client can dispute a payment they’ve made to you. The money will be removed from the your bank account, without warning or your consent, and you will be left with an extra chargeback fee you’ll have to pay.

As you can see, chargebacks open the door for fraudsters which may include clients of questionable character looking to cheat the system.

Accepting Credit Cards As Payment

The first solution off the top of your head would probably be to just do away with the idea of accepting credit card as payment. But know that other forms of payment come with dangers too: check fraud, counterfeit and bouncing checks are a few unpleasant side effects of accepting checks as payment.

Bitcoin and other virtual currencies aren’t widely accepted yet, and wiring money or providing direct deposits are a risk many clients aren’t usually willing to take. In the end, credit card payments are usually the lesser evil. Chargebacks are unpleasant but with proper management, they are preventable. Taking manageable risks is the only way to ensure growth and success.

Best Ways To Prevent Chargebacks

A determined fraudster or a lazy client is bound to slip through the cracks on occasion but there are plenty of ways to reduce the risk of these unnecessary profit losses.

1. Consider Using A Moderator

Technically, you can find freelances jobs anywhere. It should also be noted that anyone can post these jobs. Unless there is a screening process of some sort, you could end up working with some real sketchy characters. Consider using freelance job coordinators like oDesk, Elance, or Guru.

In addition to facilitating work opportunities through the job board, these companies act as a payment moderator between the client and freelancer. There are checks and balances in place to help make the payment process as safe as possible. Some even go so far as to guarantee payment. Chargebacks are much less likely to occur in these "safe" environments.

2. Meticulously Research The Potential Client

Even if you do use one of these freelancing agencies – and especially if you don’t – it is important to do your own research. An honest client who has every intention of paying for quality work will have a better online reputation than a scammer who is determined to get something for free.

Go online and learn everything you can about a new or potential client.

  • Check out their website (the design can tell you a lot about the company’s legitimacy).
  • See if there are any reviews on the client’s Google+ account.
  • Be sure to check out scam websites like Ripoff Report.
  • If the company has brick-and-mortar presences, you can see how they stand with the Better Business Bureau.
  • In addition to your online research, conduct a phone or Skype interview.
  • Also, if the client does business in the "real world," stop in during business hours (if they are local).

3. Take Extra Precautions

Many chargebacks are filed because of unauthorized transactions. A fraudster could get a hold of credit card information and buy a design on someone else’s dollar. Make sure you really are working for the person who will be footing the bill.

If possible, ask for a photocopy (or scan) of both the face of the credit card and the client’s photo ID. Make sure the names match. A thief probably wouldn’t have access to both the credit card and ID. In fact, if the credit card account number has been hacked from somewhere, they might not even have access to the actual card. You can also compare the signature on the ID to the signature on the contract.

4. Address Payment Details In Writing

Your contract might be your best chargeback prevention tool. Disputing a chargeback is difficult – and rarely successful. The only way to prove your case (and get your money back) is to have written documentation supporting your claims.

Since a contract would act as this dispute proof, it also acts as a deterrent for anyone who might be looking for ways to cheat the system. So make sure you plug any holes from the get-go. This article on freelance contract clauses can help you draft a fail-proof contract; pay careful attention to the tips regarding rates, invoicing, kill fee, and deadlines. These will be most helpful in preventingt chargebacks.

5. Clearly Outline Copyright Ownership

Another important tip to note is copyright issues. Copyright laws are another valuable chargeback prevention tool. Imagine the following situation. You design a killer website for a client. He accepts the design. He pays you via credit card. Life goes on.

Later, you receive notice of a chargeback but your design is still on the client’s site. If you worded your contract right, you can go after the thieving client. How? Put the following phrase in your contract: copyright transfers to the client only upon payment in full. If the client filed a chargeback, he hasn’t paid you, and therefore is in violation of copyright laws by continuing to use your design.

If you threaten the client with a DMCA takedown, he is likely to cancel the chargeback real quick. If he doesn’t pay, follow through with the takedown. This action won’t get you your money back, but it will give you a little satisfaction!

6. Comply With All Deadlines

Not all chargebacks come from scammers. There is a real possibility the chargeback filed against you is valid and brought about by your own actions. There are tons of acceptable reasons why a cardholder would file a chargeback. For example, one chargeback reason code that could influence your freelance income is "services not provided."

If you don’t adhere to deadlines, it is understandable that a client might consider a chargeback. The client shouldn’t have to pay for something he didn’t receive. If there is a chance you’ll miss a deadline, let the client know as soon as possible and offer an alternate submission schedule.

Additionally, make sure you provide excellent customer service. Answer your client’s phone calls and emails promptly and professionally. If there is a lag in communication, the client might think you went MIA and pull the plug on payments that have already been rendered.

7. Do The Work, And Do It Well!

Chargebacks filed when services are "not as described or defective" is also a legitimate grievance. If your client hired you to do X and you delivered Y, isn’t it understandable that a chargeback could be in your near future?

One way to ensure the quality of your work is to limit the amount of projects you accept at a given time. If you are stretched too thin, it will show in the quality of your work. Take pride in your work. Deliver completed projects that represent your very best effort.

And there you have it. There is nothing to fear about chargebacks once you understand how to prevent or at least minimize the possibility of it happening on your watch. Don’t threaten the success of your design career by failing to take a few preventative steps before work begins.

Have you experienced a chargeback? Were you able to successfully dispute it? Did you change the way you interact with clients as a result?

Editor’s note: This post is written by Jessica Velasco for Jessica loves unearthing the strangest, most outrageous tech ideas. You can follow her on Twitter.

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