How to deal with a client who happens to be a crook

small__6818192898For years now we’ve been having discussions in writing circles about clients’ ethics, and whether or not we squeaky-clean writers should accept a commission if we think the honesty of the project involved smells a little. And this applies to any of you readers who may not necessarily write, but alternatively may provide other related services.

Some years ago when I was freelancing as a copywriter in London (England) someone asked if I would write brochure copy for a man who allegedly had been a participant in the famous “Brinks Matt” robbery.

That involved a vast quantity of gold bullion, I think, which had been stolen several years earlier near London’s main airport. Some of the perps got caught in the UK but a few – including my man – allegedly (!!) escaped to foreign shores and trickled back several years later under assumed identities. Perhaps that’s why he grinned maniacally when he introduced himself as John Doe-Smith.

A smart pad in Chelsea, London

When I met this man in an obviously rented but nonetheless fancy house in Chelsea, London, I was greeted at the door, led into a sumptuous living room and sat down within almost-closed curtains and a dim hush.

The man’s girlfriend was a model known at the time as “Jamais,” having previously – allegedly – been the mistress of an elderly gentleman who, having died and been assumed to be worth squillions payable to her, had actually left her two photographs of herself naked and diddly else.

The tabloid newspapers had done their stuff

That story had been paraded across the press and left dear “Jamais” seriously short of cash, hence – possibly – her attraction to my new client. (I’d love to share the link with you but that was so long ago, I doubt anyone remembers it!)

“Jamais” floated across the room where I had been placed in readiness for my meeting with her new boyfriend, glancing at me through designer sunglasses the size of tractor tyres while wafting fumes of Chanel No 5 so powerful they made me choke on my glass of water.

So – what was the business in hand?

Despite suspecting strongly that the topic of the brochure was a scam, at the tender age I was I couldn’t resist doing it for the “craic.” So I wrote the copy. And my accountant still dines out on the story of how that was the only time in my entire career that I’ve ever been paid upfront, in cash.

Happily the design agency which had recommended me warned me that the client was, shall we say, a little out of the ordinary and that an upfront cash payment was acceptable to them and utterly essential for me.

What do you do now – for real?

Now though, being grownup and more sensible, I wouldn’t touch a project like that with a 10-foot pole out of sense of self-protection as well as ethics. But when you say no, do you tell them why?

If you’ve been around the block a few times you can usually tell which client whoopsies are accidental and which aren’t. The innocent will probably thank you for pointing them out and explaining it. But the guilty know perfectly well they’re guilty so they don’t need you to tell them.

If that should ever happen to me again, I will use a pedestrian excuse and move swiftly on to something worthwhile (before I get hit over the head with a gold ingot.)

Have you ever been in that position? Have you found yourself dealing with a client who, er, shall we say is not adhering to the absolute letter of the law?

I would love to love to know, and I’m sure other HTWB readers and contributors would too.

Please share!

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photo credit: elhombredenegro via photopin cc