Upwork Scams: How Common Are They?

Upwork Scams

If you have been using the Internet for any length of time, you’ll be aware of online scams. The potential for this is especially high for any work from home job, simply because you do not typically meet the employer face to face. So, when it comes to Upwork scams, how common are they? With millions of freelancers and clients using the platform, that’s tough to enumerate.

Suffice it to say that no matter what freelance platform you use, there is the potential to fool you.

The progress of technology has given us some wonderful advancements. But it has also opened the door for those less than honorable individuals to take advantage of anyone who is not paying attention and being cautious. When it comes to Upwork, I can only speak from my experience and provide you with some tips to weed out the unscrupulous employers.

Upwork Scams: Communication Outside of Upwork

Anytime a job description indicates that you will be required to communicate with the employer outside of the Upwork system, whether via Skype or another video method, I suggest proceeding with caution. The ONLY time that you should be required to do a video call with an employer is if the job you are applying for necessitates video calls, Google hangouts, podcasts, or some other type of face to face contact as part of the work.

If any employer states that you need to use Skype or something else to document your work, remind them that Upwork has its work documentation application that will provide the client with screenshots and keystrokes automatically. In fact, you don’t even need to provide the client with your personal email address for most jobs.

I have been working on Upwork (formerly oDesk) for nearly five years, and I have rarely needed to communicate in any way other than the Upwork chat and messages. I’ve rarely provided clients with my phone number or my personal email address unless it required me to call customers directly. In all this time, I’ve come across maybe five clients that I reported as potential scams, so that’s an average of just one per year.

Upwork Scams: Payment Outside of Upwork

With the options provided by the Upwork system, there is simply NO reason for an employer to request that you accept payment outside of the Upwork system. Under NO circumstances should you be asked to provide any of your banking or tax information to an Upwork client. The system is designed so that freelancers and employers can protect their financial information and avoid scams.

If a client or employer asks you to accept payment via PayPal or outside of Upwork or if they require you to provide banking information or personal details, this is a huge red flag. Decline any further communication with the employer or client and report them to Upwork for violating the payment policy.

Upwork Scams: Analyze Job Postings

One of the best ways to protect yourself from potential Upwork scams is to analyze the job postings carefully before you apply. If you pay attention, many job postings will contain signals that something may not be above board. Analyze the following things in a job posting, to decrease the likelihood that you will get sucked into a potential Upwork scam.

Upwork Scams: Job Description

Carefully analyze the job description in the job posting. Look at the job title as well as the brief description provided. If a job description is extremely vague or doesn’t provide details about what you will be doing, you will want to get those details from the employer before agreeing to do any work. If they refuse details, ask to email you, or continue to be vague, it’s probably a scam.

The other thing to look for is any phrasing or wording that might indicate you will be dealing with personal banking information or business banking information. It sometimes is worded as “personal tasks.” Would you trust your personal or banking information to someone you’ve never met or run a background check on?

I also stay away from any job description that indicates the job will require me to receive, ship, or shop for products. And I’m particularly wary of employers who state that I must have an address, phone number, or ISP that originates from the United States. For me, that kind of request is especially suspicious if the client’s location is outside of the United States.

Before you submit a bid on any job, review any other jobs posted by the client, shown at the bottom of each job posting. Finally, review any feedback for that client from other freelancers. Be suspicious if all feedback is “feedback not given.” Freelancers tend to reward good clients with positive feedback and decline to give feedback for less than stellar clients.

Upwork Scams: Estimated Budget

When I am browsing job descriptions, I compare the estimated budget amount to the type and amount of work the job description states is needed. There are some employers who may have a very low estimated budget listed, and then in the job description, they will indicate the estimated budget is simply a placeholder. That means the employer just isn’t knowledgeable about the cost for the work they need and they are willing to negotiate with you.

But a low estimated budget combined with a job description that demands a large amount of work indicates their budget is firm is simply unrealistic and probably a scam. Clients looking for fifteen different skills in the job description, but who only have an estimated budget of $50, will probably nitpick everything and be very demanding but pay very little in the end.

Upwork Scams: Number of Freelancers Needed

Check the job description for the number of freelancers needed. A job description stating that 10, 20, or more freelancers are needed but that has a low budget or a low amount spent, with an unverified payment status is highly suspicious.

Upwork Scams: Payment Status

At the bottom of the brief description in the main job listing page is a section for client payment status. You will see whether client status is verified or unverified. When I am browsing job listings, I skip over any job postings where the client payment status is showing up as unverified. The client can’t pay if they haven’t completed the verification process and it’s just better to wait for their status to be verified by Upwork.

Upwork Scams: Amount Spent

Pay attention to the “amount of money spent” by the client to date. It typically lists something such as Less than $100 spent, $500 spent, etc. If a client has spent $100 or less, they are new to the Upwork platform or are using a new account at least. Being a new client doesn’t mean that they are unscrupulous by any means. But it does indicate you should proceed with caution.

Upwork Scams: Non-Payment

The final area where there is potential for a scam on Upwork is of course in the negotiation and delivery of payment for work done. You can protect yourself here in several ways:

  • Do not begin work for any reason until the client has activated the contract within Upwork.
  • Communicate only via Upwork messages or chat when negotiating to ensure a record of any promises or changes made by the client.
  • Insist any changes or adjustments to payments or milestones be done immediately rather than “settling up later.”
  • Do not agree to perform any additional work “outside of Upwork” or “on the side.”
  • Be very sure that you are clear on what the client or employer has agreed to pay and what results they are expecting.
  • Notify Upwork and request their assistance for any client who refuses to pay or fails to respond to your requests for payment.

Upwork Scams: Misunderstandings

Some freelancers who feel they were scammed are simply the victims of a misunderstanding, probably due to a failure to hammer out all details before getting started.

To avoid any misunderstandings, confirm in a message or via chat details such as:

  • The quantity and quality and any other details of the work to be done.
  • Are revisions included in the agreed fee or will those be extra?
  • Are revisions unlimited? What about phone calls and emails?
  • What are you willing to do if the client is not satisfied with your work?

If you pay careful attention to the above items, you will find that the potential for scams on Upwork is no greater than on any other freelance platform. Yes, there are dishonorable people out there, and you may run into some of them. But if you are selective about who you choose to work with and you trust your instincts, you should be able to steer clear of the scammers and find the legitimate clients that are out there.

Be sure to read out article on Upwork Spam as well, as this is another issue you will face on this popular platform.

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