Avoid Upwork Scams

6 Upwork Scams to Avoid and How to Stay Safe

What You'll Learn

Upwork is the world’s largest freelancing platform. It lets you apply for jobs for clients around the world for almost any skill.  It’s a great way to make money online for free.  Unfortunately, just like with anything successful, people will try to cheat others.  Thankfully, it’s not very common, and Upwork does a good job of keeping the platform pretty safe.  Just like anything in business, though, you should learn to recognize the risks and protect yourself.  Here are some Upwork scams to look out for and how to protect yourself.

Operating Off-Site

Sometimes, a new client will ask you to take work offsite. Basically, they will advertise on Upwork and then suggest that you do work for them off of the Upwork platform.  At first, this makes a lot of sense.  After all, Upwork charges the client 3 percent for processing fees. Then, they also charge you 20%

These fees can make it very tempting to take the client up on their offer and save almost 25% between the two of you.  Besides being against the Upwork Terms of Service and potentially getting you thrown off of Upwork, this can be very risky with a new client.  Upwork takes money from the client in advance. If you use their platform for communication and coordination with the client, which you should, they will help to ensure that you get paid.  They provide you and the client with a lot of protection.

Once you start doing work off of the Upwork platform, the client can try to get you to do work in advance before payment and then skip out on you when it comes time to pay. You’ll have no way to fight it. You could try to use the legal system but that’s expensive.  It’s also very impractical if your client is in another country.

Not as bad, but if you don’t do your work on Upwork, you also won’t get reviews.  Reviews are part of the currency of Upwork. They entice future clients to hire you.  If you do your work off of the Upwork platform, even if you get paid and all works out well, you won’t get those reviews and it will be harder to get future jobs and bigger jobs on Upwork.

How to Protect Yourself

Protecting yourself from this Upwork scam is easy.  Don’t take work off of Upwork, especially for new clients.  Eventually, when you’ve worked with a client, then maybe you can discuss doing work outside of Upwork.  That makes a lot of sense.  Just make sure that you can trust each other and that you have a way to get paid.

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It can be difficult to get paid from a client who is in another country.  Services like PayPal can help, but they take their own fees and they will randomly withhold money.  You can also set up your own credit card payment system or use a service but that also comes at a fee.  Just consider how payment will work before you work with a client outside of Upwork and don’t ever work with a new client off of Upwork.

Having to Pay a Client for Work

Believe it or not, this happens. You should not have to pay for a job.  This is a clear sign of a scam on Upwork or anywhere else.  This often looks like you have to pay them for supplies or for training or something.

How to Protect Yourself

If you see this walk away immediately and don’t even apply to this Upwork scam. 

You should consider reporting this to Upwork as well.  Upwork wants a safe platform for everyone and they don’t want scams any more than you do. 

Requests to Share Account Information

Always beware the unsolicited offer.  With this Upwork scam, the scammer reaches out to you, maybe not even on Upwork – perhaps on social media or something. They explain to you how much more money they can make you by optimizing your profile or by applying to jobs for you or by improving your social media account.

How to Protect Yourself

Whether on Upwork or anywhere else, do not ever give your private account information to someone who approaches you.  If you didn’t go looking for the service, it should immediately cause you concern when the Upwork scammer reaches out to you.  Do not give out account information.

Taking Communication off of Upwork

This is related to the idea of taking jobs off of Upwork.  It’s still against the terms of service.  Unfortunately, even though Upwork offers Zoom calls through their app and phone calls through their app, many legitimate clients will want to use other means to talk to you.

How to Protect Yourself

This one is tough, because it is often not an Upwork scam.  Often, busy clients want to communicate in the easiest way possible for them and that’s fair.  You will likely end up doing this from time to time. 

Especially, in the beginning of working with a new client, consider directing things back to Upwork and their messaging app as often as you can.  Their messaging app is actually pretty good but sometimes using it for phone or video calls leaves something to be desired.  Unfortunately, their mobile app is also similarly challenging sometimes. 

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With this in mind, serve your client, but consider including a recap of the conversation back on the Upwork platform.  When you and the client have agreed on the terms of a job, include all of those terms in the offer and the milestones.  This will protect you and the client, so no client should object.

Job Postings that Don’t Seem Right

Sometimes, the way that a job posting is phrased will cause you concerns.  Maybe it’s too good to be true.  If you have read it and it doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t.  Often common sense will help you out here.

How to Protect Yourself

If the job description doesn’t “feel” right or it’s just too good to be true, consider not applying for it.  There are plenty of jobs available on Upwork.  It’s not worth applying for jobs that could be Upwork scams.  Even if they’re legitimate, they style of communication clearly has some challenges and that will probably be what it’s like working with that client from then on.

No Free Trial

Asking for Free Work

Sometimes, a client might ask you to do free work to show that you can do the job.  The short story here is that they are asking for free work and that isn’t what Upwork is about.  If they’re already asking for free work, then what will happen later on when it comes time for payment?

They may say that they’ve been scammed before and they want to protect themselves.  Maybe they have and maybe they do, but that doesn’t mean that you should be donating your time and effort.  You do this to make money.   You can donate your time elsewhere.

How to Protect Yourself

Do not do free work.  It’s that easy.  If the client can’t respect that, then you don’t need to work for them.  Here are a few things you can try to find some middle ground though. If a client won’t agree to one of these strategies then they are probably just trying to get free work and they can do that with someone else.

  • Use Milestones – If the job is a fixed price job, offer to break the job up into smaller milestones. This protects their costs and shows you can do the work. It also guarantees that you can get paid.  Make each milestone clearly defined with a clear price and deliverable.  After each milestone, check in and decide that you both agree you are going to continue working.  You should also agree on the total price.  Make expectations and agreements clear in advance and document them.
  • Stand By Your Estimates – Sadly, not all contractors are good about time estimates and some clients end up paying more than they expected.  You can help them by standing by your estimates.  If you tell the client it’s a four hour job but it takes you six hours, charge them for four. Always agree in advance and make clear to the client that if they change the scope of the project and ask you for more work, then the estimate will change.
  • Offer More Value – Don’t work for free, but you can offer more value. For example, rather than give the client a free sample logo, offer to give them three logos for the same price.  This shows the client that you understand their concerns and they feel like they’re getting a deal.  At the same time, you still get paid.
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Doing work for free is either an outright scam or it’s someone trying to get something for nothing which is still a type of Upwork scam.  You don’t work for free and shouldn’t. It’s not fair to you and the client should understand that.  You can offer alternatives, though, to show that you heard their concerns and that you are trying to work with them and make sure that they get at least the value they’re paying for.  Of course, since you are amazing, you’re going to deliver MORE value than what they expect.

Stay Safe From Upwork Scams

Thankfully, there aren’t many Upwork scams.  Upwork does a pretty good job of keeping the platform clean, but it’s a big marketplace of jobs, clients and freelances. Unfortunately, in any popular space, someone is looking to cheat and you need to be a responsible user and take care of yourself. 

In general, work with your client, but don’t pay for jobs, give away information or give your work away.  Most clients on Upwork are amazing and are very willing to work with you. They just want their project done.  You can do very well by listening to their needs and delivering an amazing service.  Just keep your eyes and ears open for the rare Upwork scam and you will be fine.

If you’re looking to get started on Upwork, we have put together a guide to getting started.  This will help you make more money, more quickly.  Upwork is a great way to make money online with a few easy steps.

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