Beware the copywriting sample bandits!

March 18, 2010 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: Business Smarts 

copy sample banditThey’re out there. Lurking in the shadows. Waiting for the right moment to strike.

They’re the copywriting sample bandits … nefarious and sneaky people who seek to steal your samples for their own greedy ends.

If you’ve never run into a sample bandit, let me tell you about two encounters I’ve had recently so you can get a taste for how these villains operate.

A guy calls me on the phone:

Bandit: “Yeah, high. I have a car dealership and I’d like to do a mailing. Can I get some of your samples?”

Me: “Why don’t you tell me a little about your business and what sort of promotion you want to do?”

Bandit: “Uh, do you have any samples of auto dealer direct mail?”

Me: “A few. But if you could tell me what you want to accomplish, perhaps I could help.”

Bandit: “I want more customers. How about those samples?”

Me: “I can send you samples, but I’m just trying to find out a little more about the sort of promotion you want to do so I can help you accomplish your objectives.”

Bandit: “You know what? Never mind.”

*click *

Pretty obvious, right? The guy had no intention of hiring me. He just wanted to grab some samples. He wanted to steal the work I did for other paying clients and use it for himself.

The other recent encounter was nearly as obvious. A guy completed the contact form on my copywriting website and sent it to me. He was self-employed and gave no business name, no website, and no phone number. He said he had some people who wanted to hire him to do a promotion and he wanted to show them my samples.

Really? Why? To get work for yourself?

It’s usually pretty easy to spot a bandit. Here are some of the red flags:

  • Real prospects usually ask for samples at the end of a conversation. Bandits ask first thing.
  • Real prospects encourage you to contact them. Bandits often hide contact information.
  • Real prospects are happy to answer questions. Bandits hesitate and dodge.
  • Real prospects are generally professional and polite. Bandits tend to be curt and impatient.
  • Real prospects tell you about a business problem upfront. Bandits avoid revealing their intentions.

Of course, not all copywriting sample bandits are so easy to spot. A few have mastered sample thievery, convincing you that they’re genuinely interested in your services and getting you to hand over your work for them to filch.

However, there’s one common tactic many of them use that give them away. It’s an empty promise that if you give them samples, they can win a client and give you the project. It goes like this:

Bandit: “I have some prospects I’m working on. And I’d love to show them some of your samples.”

You: “You want to show them my samples?”

Bandit: “Yes. You see, if we can show them the right samples, we’ll get them as clients. Then, of course, we’d want you to write all the copy.”

You: “Oh, I see. Well, sure. I guess that’s okay.”

Bandit: “Good. Goooood. Mwahahahahaaaaa!”

Okay, bandits won’t actually say that, but they’re thinking it. They have no intention of hiring you. They just want to use your samples to win clients for themselves.

Some are quite brazen about it. There’s a well-known “consultant” who actually lures copywriters into an “association” promising special access to copywriting jobs. You have to pay a  membership fee and hand over a bunch of samples. Of course, you never get any work. It’s an outright scam.

Remember this: no legitimate company or consultant will ever need your samples to win business. If they can’t get business without using your samples, they’re playing you. Say “no thanks” and walk away.

You won’t run into too many copywriting sample bandits out there, but keep your eyes open. You should never let someone take your work to use as their own. It’s unethical. It’s unprofessional. And it’s bad business.

More tips for offering samples:

You do have to offer samples. They’re your best sales tool. So unless you think you’re dealing with a sample bandit, be generous about showing your stuff.

  • Create a sample page on your website showing off your work.
  • If you’re concerned people will rip off samples from your website, show small images only. Ask prospects to contact you for full-size samples.
  • Show some of your best work, but don’t show everything. There may be some trade “secrets” you want to keep to yourself.
  • If you have printed samples, send PDFs or scans. If you mail actual samples, you’ll never see them again.
  • Watermark your digital samples. This won’t prevent copy theft, but it will prevent bandits from presenting your work as their own.
  • Talk to people before sending samples. Don’t send samples in response to an email message. Most bandits try to avoid personal contact.
  • Watch for other copywriters posing as potential clients. Sad but true.

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Smart Comments

9 Comments on Beware the copywriting sample bandits!

  1. HS on Mar 19th, 2010 10:18 am
  2. Always enjoy reading your postings! Used to feel exactly same way you do for many years, but not as much anymore. So much is transparent these days – most people post full samples on their site – including agencies, top freelancers like Bob Bly, etc. And if someone doesn’t find what they’re seeking there, a targeted Google search can net you just about any samples you want, from brand positioning to direct mail campaigns to website strategy for a variety of industries. I’m actually surprised you’re still getting emails and calls from these “bandits” at all. I’m not thrilled with the easier access these days, but it’s reality.

  3. Kathleen Hanover on Mar 19th, 2010 10:45 am
  4. I do offer samples to prospects who seem legitimate, but I rarely offer samples from their same industry. Why? Well, number one, it prevents theft. Two, I’m the marketing and PR expert. They’re the expert in their industry. If industry expertise was all they needed to write great copy, they could do it themselves. (And that’s exactly what I tell them.)

    Another scam to be aware of: I do a lot of business through freelancing sites like There are “Internet Marketing Gurus” out there who actually teach their students how to rip off copywriters by asking them to create a “free sample” in order to win a bid. This is against Elance terms of service, but it’s very common.

  5. Karol K. on Mar 19th, 2010 12:56 pm
  6. Nice tips. They might come helpful someday :)
    .-= Karol K.’s last blog … carlosinho: RT @carsonified 10 Kick Ass Presentation Techniques =-.

  7. Lucy Smith on Mar 19th, 2010 6:41 pm
  8. I’ve heard of this happening a lot with proofreading and editing gigs. They send a sample page/chapter, you proof it, you never hear from them again. Each ‘applicant’, of course, has been sent a different page – and just like that, they’ve had their whole MS edited for free!

    It’s so much harder with the editing ones, because of course a proofing test is so standard. With writing, I just direct people to my portfolio page. I’d never write a sample especially for a prospective job.
    .-= Lucy Smith’s last blog … Five ways I conquer my weaknesses =-.

    [...] Beware the Copywriting Sample Bandits at ProCopyTips [...]

  9. Derek Thompson on Mar 22nd, 2010 10:55 am
  10. It’s great to see these warnings out there – it’s so easy to be suckered. If you want to read my own tale of woe and stupidity, check out my posting ‘a cautionary tale’ on At least I only got taken for $15 worth of work.

  11. Dean on Mar 23rd, 2010 2:52 am
  12. Thanks for your tips, Dean. I’ve yet to encounter this problem, but I appreciate knowing about it. My attitude is that every client’s business/problem is unique, so why steal some of my copy? It’s tailored to a particular client and won’t be of any use to you.
    .-= Dean’s last blog … Are banners an effective ad medium? =-.

  13. Merryl Rosenthal on Apr 9th, 2010 4:06 am
  14. Thanks for the reminder to be on guard against
    sample bandits. I was badly burned years ago
    and have been careful ever since.

    Cheers. :)

  15. Kumar on Sep 11th, 2010 2:59 pm
  16. Very useful article. I was looking exactly same. Thanks.