9 Upwork Scams: How To Spot & Avoid Them?[2023 Update]

Upwork scams are unfortunately spreading like a plague among hardworking freelancers, like us.

I have heard from many of my freelance writer friends who claim they were left stranded after a client on Upwork disappeared once they handed in their work. 

In fact, I got scammed too! O_O

Yeap,  you read that right. I was young (not so) and foolish (probably yes) but hey, I was an eager and budding freelance writer who wanted to make money as quickly as possible. 

I was ready to accept any offers that came my way and I was happily accepting them too. Before I know it, the work was completed on my end but the payment never came.

Not going to lie, I was contemplating my entire freelancing journey when I got scammed, because I felt stupid and foolish 🙁

Even though there are stellar upwork reviews, con artists are present everywhere making freelancers wonder: is upwork legit or is upwork good for students? 

Freelancing platforms like Upwork are a great avenue for one to earn an income. 

However, they draw an excessive amount of individuals who will abuse them. In the end, it is always the freelancer who loses.

When you look at it, the freelance model is advantageous to both parties. 

This model is appealing to a lot of professionals all over the world because it gives us flexibility and creative freedom, the ability to work with different clientele, and a variety of uncommon opportunities to expand their portfolios.

My article will show you the common upwork scams that are encountered by both freelancers and clients and the simple preventative measures you can take to avoid them!

9 Upwork Scams

1. Free Labor Scams

2. Payment Scams

3. Information Theft

4. Check Scams

5. Investment Scams

6. Plagiarism Scams

7. Account Scams

8. Unclear Payment Term Scams

9. Phishing

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. 

9 Upwork Scams: How To Spot & Avoid Them?

1. Free Labor Scams

This is tricky, but as a freelancer, you will know that it is normal for potential clients to require samples of your work. 

However, if they request a sample that is a brief but comprehensive assignment, you may be tricked into completing a job for them.

 A sample is usually past work that you have done. 

It could be a portfolio of previous projects, or if you are new to the freelancing world, a few projects that you have created on your own. 

If a client is asking you to write a sample based on a title and outline they provide and is very particular about the detailing of it, they may be trying to scam you. 

I know this I got scammed on upwork with this type of scam. 

A client requested me to do a write-up for a topic and as the budding freelance writer that I was, I wrote and gave it to them. Then they disappeared. 

Yeap. There was no feedback and all the emails I sent went unanswered. That’s when I knew I got scammed. 

This is often known as a free labor scam because their ultimate objective might be to obtain the brief sample that you write for them without having to pay for it. 

Upwork scams

2. Payment Scams

This one is for all the clients out there. Yes, you are prone to upwork job scams just as any freelancer.

The moment a freelancer requests money outside of Upwork, it raises a red flag. It not only violates the Upwork terms of service, but it also puts you at risk for fraud.

It is common for freelancers to request payment outside of Upwork in order to avoid paying Upwork’s high cut. However, doing so exposes you to the risk of them pocketing the cash and disappearing.

Another trick in the book is that a freelancer could demand money before they actually accept the offer.

 Sure, they could need the cash immediately, but you will be in a difficult situation because they could once again grab the cash and flee.

To prevent any of these from occurring, be forward about the payment terms so that you and your freelancer have a mutual understanding. 

3. Information Theft

Any of our private information generates revenue. 

Have you heard of how personal data is being leaked from some websites and being sold for a profitable sum? 

Some con artists may publish phony job postings and then ask for a tonne of private details from you such as your address, contact details, and employment details (if you have a 9 to 5).

Unfortunately, I was a victim of this type of scam. The client asked for an interview but required information such as my written references, samples, and other information before the interview. 

I gave everything to them because I wanted the job. 5 minutes before the interview, the client said they were in the hospital. That raised a huge red flag so I googled the company and do you want to guess what I found out? 

Absolutely nothing! Not one piece of information. 

Later, I found someone on a freelancing platform using my pictures, samples, and written references pretending to be me. So lesson learned!

Some will even go to the extent of claiming that they require your social security number for their employment and verification purposes. Be wary of anyone who seeks such information from you when you apply for a job on Upwork. 

4. Check Scams

Among the popular scams on Upwork is the check scam.

Here is the scenario. With this type of upwork scam, the client will send you a check for any “expenses” incurred. You will be instructed to transfer the money to them first while waiting for the check to be cleared.

You will then deposit the check and will proceed to transfer the fund to your client as requested only to realize later on that the check was not valid.

By the time the bank authorities get back to you, it will be too late as you have funded the bill to your client with your own money. 

The second scenario is when the client “accidentally” overpays you and instructs you to transfer the difference back to them. If you have received additional payment in your account, then you may transfer the difference. 

However, if the check has not been cleared and the money is not deposited into your account and yet they are asking you to pay the “difference” then you should be alert that it is an upwork fraud. 

Upwork scams

5. Investment Scams

On occasion, a client will demand payment from you in exchange for access to a service or resource – an initial investment of some sort. 

Think about it this way, why would you need to fork out money when you are being employed for the task?

It makes little to no sense, does it?

 Unfortunately, many new freelancers fall for this trap because they believe that there are exclusive materials that they need in order to carry out their tasks. 

Always remember that it is the duty of the client to brief you on the project and for you to carry out the task. It is as simple as that. 

They really should not be expecting you to contribute anything, even if it could seem like a necessary investment.

Typically, they will take your payment and on to their next victim, they go. If they want payment from you outside of Upwork, run in the opposite direction.

6. Plagiarism Scams

Another upwork scam that is often faced by employers on Upwork, is the plagiarism scam. 

Always conduct a plagiarism check of the work of your freelancer because it could easily be a copied work of another artist.

You might not even be informed that the piece is a creation of another person. After paying the freelancer, you do not want to discover that your business has copied content a few weeks down the road.

If you are a blogger or someone who employs freelance writers on a regular basis, use these plagiarism checkers to vet their work:

7. Account Scams

This is where respectable individuals on the platform, such as a freelancer with really good reviews, sell their accounts to other users. 

Everyone who uses Upwork is negatively impacted by this because even those with the highest reputations may be affected. Although it does happen, most Upwork users who are successful would not be prepared to sell their profile. 

So, if you are a client seeking a freelancer, make sure you investigate the authenticity of the use of said account before employing them.

8. Unclear Payment Term Scams

This is when the client isn’t clear when your payment term is.

For example, some clients say ‘payment upon publication’ but they only publish once a year. What does that mean? You will be waiting one year for your payment because you will not know when they will be published in the next 12 months. 

Another variation of this scam is this. Some clients will say no payment if the article needs revisions to compensate us for making revisions and corrections.

Clients like these will go out of their way to find the fault in your article just to avoid paying you. 

When you see clients making terms as such, run in the opposite direction. We do not need to be dealing with clients as such.  

9. Phishing

Phishing is the practice of attempting to get personal information using fake emails and text messages that look to be sent by a trustworthy source. 

Phishing may result in account breaches, identity theft, and other problems.

How To Spot And Avoid Scams

1. Check The Legitimacy

Anything that sounds too good to be true probably is a lie.

For example, the work was not all that difficult, but they are willing to pay you more than requested. You should definitely consider the terms of any project cautiously. 

Although a high dollar sign is tempting, do not let it prevent you from seeing what might be happening. Scammers profit from getting you to believe in lies.

Do yourself a favor and google the company. Are they on LinkedIn? Do they have a website? What about google my business? Do they exist?

Nobody besides you will watch out for you when it comes to freelancing. That is the cost of working for yourself.

2. Stay On The Platform

Try to stay on the Upwork platform to protect yourself as a freelancer. 

All freelancers hope to find the perfect customer who will be straightforward to work with, will pay a competitive rate, and will have plenty of work.

What happens if the client requests the dealing to be done outside of Upwork?

As a freelancer, if this is your first few clients, you will not mind. Since this client seems ideal, you do not want to take a chance. They are confident that the client just wants to do good.

After finishing the first project, the freelancer delivers the completed work to the client. The client guarantees to pay them but weeks go by and the freelancer does not receive any payment only to find out that they were duped.

When an agreement is done outside of Upwork, Upwork will not be liable. 

Try to keep all agreements and dealing done within Upwork to prevent yourself from being conned.

3. Protect Your Identity

Neither you nor the client needs to know your entire identity. All they require is a verified payment method to pay you once a project is completed. 

Information such as addresses, and social security numbers are not a requirement for a freelancing project.

It is okay to give them details about your past work and anything else they require for the assignment, but be on the lookout for clients who request more than they actually require.

Upwork scams

4. Look For Reviews

It goes without saying that reviews matter. Regardless of any business, people tend to look for reviews before deciding to do anything these days. 

Look out for reviews even if you are a freelancer or a client.

 We have always been social beings and as a client, look through the reviews on the freelancer that you are planning to engage with. Check for qualities such as

  • Does the freelancer submit the assignment on time? 
  • Is their work neat and precise?
  • Do they follow the brief promptly? 

You can usually gauge whether a freelancer ticks all these boxes just by reading the comments. 

The same goes for a freelancer who seeks a reliable and trustworthy client. Check for reviews that show if they:

  • Make a payment on time
  • Are they straightforward with the way they conduct business?
  • Do freelancers get along with them well?

Yes, some evaluations will be prejudiced, but most of the time they will let you know what kind of experience you can anticipate.

5. Do Not Share Your Account

Do not share your account and email or message anybody else with your login information. The employees at Upwork may ask you to validate your account information if they need to contact you but they will not ask you for your login details.

In a similar fashion, watch out for clients who email or message you asking for shady details like your bank account information. 

Contact Upwork support help if you have any questions regarding an email that purports to be from Upwork. Additionally, you can report an Upwork email for review if you believe it to be suspicious.

FAQs On Upwork Scams

How Do I Know If an Upwork Client Is Legit?

So, how do I know if an upwork client is legit? This is simple, check out their UpWork profile. If they have many completed projects with positive feedback, it’s a good sign that they’re legitimate. 

There are a few crucial signs that can assist you in figuring out whether your client is trustworthy or not. Here are some indicators to watch out for

1. Previous Work

It’s a solid indication that they are reliable if they have a lot of successfully finished projects that have received favorable reviews. If they are endless streams of negative reviews, then move on and find another client. 

2. Detailed Contract

Look out for these details when engaging with a client:

  • Terms of a contract
  • Payment terms
  • Nature of the task
  • Deadlines

These are pertinent informations that should be signed by you and your client before you begin working. If your client refuses to sign a contract, this can be a warning that they aren’t who they claim to be.

3. Clean Job Post

Any client with a genuine interest to get quality work done will have a details job post on the site even if it is one of those easy jobs on upwork. 

The potential client will take the time to produce a thorough job posting that describes the project scope and the qualifications they need in a freelancer. The quality of work and tardiness is important to the client and their job post will reflect that. 

Whenever you stumble upon a job posting that is all over the place, unclear job description, unclear outcome, and an unclear payment method, you should know better than to engage with these types of clients. 

The job posting may raise red flags if it is unclear or omits important details.

Can You Get Scammed On Upwork?

Yes, you can get scammed on Upwork. There are terrible people everywhere who attempt to exploit freelancers regardless of the platform. Freelancing on upwork comes with its own set of risks but the team at Upwork is constantly working to stop scammers from using Upwork to target their clients.

There are several features on Upwork that can help you conduct your business safely, establish your professional brand, and safeguard your hard-earned money. Some of them are

  • Identity-verified freelancer profiles
  • Hourly-payment protection
  • Escrow accounts
  • Communications through the app

By being aware of typical online scams and telltale signs of potential scam behavior, you can protect yourself. An authorized Upwork user should not:

  • Request that you begin working without a contract in place.
  • Asking for upfront payment before they start working.
  • Ask you to purchase them gifts or give them presents.
  • Ask you to pay a fee for the job.

If you catch a client requesting these from you, quickly contact Customer Support and report their profile to the Upwork team. 

How Trustworthy Is Upwork?

You may be asking yourself these questions, how trustworthy is upwork or is Upwork legit? Upwork itself is a safe and secure freelance marketplace because it employs several security measures to safeguard its users, but if you do not know what to look out for when transacting, fraud may occur on the platform.

Upwork adheres to cutting-edge security and confidentiality best practices to offer enterprises of all kinds a secure, dependable, and compliant employment marketplace.

Their data protection infrastructure offers simplified authentication and reliable asset protection.

Upwork has achieved strict privacy and security certifications. Additionally, they see observing privacy regulations as a chance to show how dedicated they are to protecting and safeguarding client data. 

In their privacy policy, you can see how Upwork manages personal information so you do not have to worry if Upwork is a scam or legit.

A range of tools and resources are used by Upwork to quickly and accurately find and fix security issues. 

Upwork scams
Upwork scams
Upwork scams

Why Are There So Many Scams On Upwork?

Unfortunately, there are so many scams on Upwork. Even though both Upwork and the scammers are contributing to the high number of scams, freelancer ignorance and freelancers breaking rules is the underlying issue. 

Since technology has made it cheaper and simpler than ever to instantaneously contact millions of people, fraud has developed into a prevalent global criminal enterprise. 

These perpetrators are also considerably more difficult to find. 

Scammers usually rely on persuasive strategies including posing as a trustworthy company to build the relationship. Say you are a freelance graphic designer and a scammer will pose as a reputable company in hopes to gain your trust to complete a project for them. 

If you are new to the freelancing platform, you are more susceptible to being conned so just be aware and conduct your due diligence.

On the platform, Upwork scams are common even though many Upwork users conduct business without ever coming across a con artist or issue. 

However, because scammers are a known problem on all online sites, it is crucial to be vigilant and notify the team if you think something is off.

Once you start a professional connection, you should have a few safety precautions in place that you can check off and learn how upwork works. 

Get lots of information upfront and verify a client before accepting. Keep others from accessing your Upwork account and have a contract ready before you start your freelancing relationship with them. 

You can only control your circumstances when it comes to upwork job scams so do it properly and good luck on the platform!

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