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How to Avoid Upwork Scams: Tips for Clients and Freelancers

July 16, 2020
6 MINUTES
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Danica Popovic

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Upwork is one of the best freelancing platforms, however, it still attracts a fair share of scammers on both the clients’ and freelancers’ side. Here are 6 tips to help you avoid getting scammed.

At first glance,Upwork may seem safer than similar platforms (e.g., Fiverr). First of all, it has a more rigorous process of letting in new freelancers. Secondly, the jobs found on this freelancing platform are more on the professional side (whereas on Fiverr, you can find anything from astrology readings to celebrity impersonation voice overs).

On the other hand, this also means that Upwork scams can be harder to identify for both freelancers and employers. In this article, we’ll provide guidelines for identifying scammers on both sides.

3 Ways to avoid scammer clients

Upwork’s 2019 study shows that skilled workers earned more per hour than 70% of the US workforce. Still, as an Upwork newbie, it’s relatively common to expect to be somewhat underpaid. This is because you need to build a reputation for your Upwork profile to get noticed.

Working your way up in this freelancing marketplace and improving your Upwork profile could mean taking up some jobs you won’t be 100% happy with. Nevertheless, this certainly doesn’t mean that clients should treat you any way they please.

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You have a right to be paid for your freelance work and a right to be treated with respect. When it comes to getting paid, make sure whether the client has a ‘Payment verified’ status. This means that they’ve proven to have enough funds to pay for the job they’re requesting.

The following 3 methods are a good way to figure out if a potential client is worth your time.

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Take the Upwork readiness test

If you head over to upwork.com, you’ll find the readiness test under the Find Work section of the top menu (once you’ve created your Upwork profile that is). This test will provide you with a basic understanding of how the platform works, managing relationships with your clients, payment protection, hourly rate work, etc.

It can also help you highlight areas that you might find confusing, such as what affects your Job Success score.

Sign a contract

Never start doing any work before you have a contract in place (agreed upon exclusively through Upwork, of course). May scammer clients will try to convince you that a contract will follow later on, however you eventually end up without one. Or they will invite you to a Skype interview and try to make it seem like this constitutes some sort of oral agreement.

Even if you get paid fairly for a particular part of the work, when disputes happen down the road, there’s no way of knowing if the client will disappear and leave the work done unpaid.

Keep all communication (especially regarding legal matters) on Upwork. The most effective way to resolve a dispute is to provide screenshots of your conversation on Upwork.

Don’t accept big test tasks

When hiring any freelancer, trial tasks are extremely important in helping you figure out if they will make the right fit in the long run.

However, there’s a difference between a test task and completing a big project. Test tasks should be a snippet of the work outlined in the job description; usually, they shouldn’t take more than 2-3 hours to complete. If a prospective client is asking you to do three full days of work as part of a trial, it’s quite likely they’re just trying to take advantage of you.

Finally, many scammers will use test tasks to try and blackmail you into accepting a lower rate. For example, they will tell you that they are unhappy with the task results but are prepared to work with you for less money.

This is unprofessional, to say the least, and you are for sure better off finding a legitimate client who will like and appreciate your work’s value.

3 Types of freelancers to avoid

Working with freelancers often comes with a unique set of challenges: language barriers, different time zones, work tracking, etc. However, if you find that special someone who fulfills all your professional needs, it is worth all the hard work in the end.

The search for the perfect freelancer may include stumbling upon some time wasters, so here are 3 tips on how to spot them.

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A fake Upwork account

Upwork is becoming saturated with freelancers (they say 10,000 newbies apply every day), so the vetting process has become somewhat more efficient in recent years. That being said, remember that Upwork started way back in 2003 (as Odesk), so there are tons of scammers still active on the platform from as long as a decade ago.

Profiles without a photo or one that looks like stock photography are the ones to watch out for. Another big red flag (which applies in both directions) is the person asking to exchange personal information (often for “verification purposes”). There is never a good enough reason to submit sensitive information (credit cards, proof of identity documents, passwords, etc.). If you are asked this, I suggest you immediately contact Upwork’s customer support.

Some profiles are even results of identity theft. The best way to avoid this type of scam is to do a quick google search of the person and see if anything comes up: LinkedIn profiles are promising and other social media profiles, websites, etc.

Freelancer wants an alternative payment method

With so many phishing schemes done by fake companies, you might find yourself sympathetic to the hard-working freelancers who’re worried about getting paid fairly.

More importantly, if you’re a sucker for a moving human story, it’s possible you might attract freelancers who’ll try to convince you to use an alternative payment method or send money directly into their bank account. For example, they tell you they need the money urgently for whatever reason.

How to avoid this? Just don’t do it. If they claim to have a problem with Upwork’s terms, kindly suggest they contact customer support and see if they might help.

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Star rating is high, but the Job Success rate is low

As a prospective employer, you cannot overlook the importance of positive reviews. It’s always wise to check other people’s experience of working with a freelancer; consider both the good and the bad to help you determine if this freelancer would make a good personal fit.

That being said, there’s an interesting loophole to notice here, which might protect you from potential scammers.

When a client cancels a job and is awarded a full refund by Upwork, they cannot leave any feedback, which will be visible on the freelancer’s Upwork profile. If you come across a profile that has a good star rating but is lacking in written positive reviews, get suspicious. Read through the reviews rigorously and pay attention to things such as writing style, names, etc.

Star ratings are important, but remember that a freelancer’s Job Success score depends on a majority of factors: long-term contracts, cancellation of contracts, lack of feedback, etc.

Bonus tip: go with your gut feeling

We hope this article sheds a bit of light on how to hire and accept jobs on the Upwork platform successfully. It can be a little daunting, but at the end of the day, remember that you are in good company: this freelancing website is used by thousands of people with great success.

Another rule of thumb is that if something looks fishy, it’s likely not worth your time. An awkwardly worded job posting or a freelancer profile missing key background information are often clear signs of phishing.

If you have further concerns, we suggest you check out our article on Fiverr red flags to watch out for. There are many similarities between the two freelance websites, so most of the information applies to work on Upwork as well.

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Danica_Popovic.png

Danica Popovic

July 16, 2020

Having lived and studied in London and Berlin, I'm back in native Serbia, working remotely and writing short stories and plays in my free time. With previous experience in the nonprofit sector, I'm currently writing about the universal language of good graphic design. I make mix CDs and my playlists are almost exclusively 1960s.