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5 Quick Tips to Avoid Scammers on Upwork

by Denisa Feathers about a month ago in how to
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Not today, scammers. Not today.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

I love Upwork.

Okay, that may be too strong a word.

As a platform that’s full of people who want to pay you 5 dollars for a 1000-word article and then ask for 3 more revisions, Upwork isn’t exactly the freelancing heaven.

It’s a gate to opportunities, though. Upwork simply gives you everything there is — from the best to the absolute worst — and lets you make the decision as to whether you’ll apply.

As opposed to Fiverr where you have to wait for clients to come to you, I really appreciate the sense of agency Upwork gives you. It means you get more jobs more quickly.

You’re not just waiting around pondering if Godot will come or not.

(Spoiler alert: he won’t.)

After one year on the platform, $4K+ earned (minus the dreadful service and VAT fees that occasionally make me want to shed a tear), and 16 completed jobs, I’ve learned lots about Upwork.

Apparently, it wasn’t enough because I almost fell for a scam this morning.

That’s one hour of my life gone. At least it’s a lesson learned, though — and luckily, I’ve been able to keep my most personal details to myself, thank you very much, so no big harm done.

I’ve done some research and established new rules now that I’d been tricked, though. If you want to avoid scammers on Upwork — and there are plenty — here are the rules I’ll follow from now on.

And you should, too.

Don’t accept offers with no verified payment

I used to give clients the benefit of the doubt and simply applied for jobs that appealed to me without considering if they’d verified their payment method.

It’s not that hard to verify payment, though. If a client wants to hire reliable and professional freelancers, they should do their best to appear professional, too — and verifying you can actually pay is one of the best ways to do that.

If you have connects to spare, it doesn’t hurt to send a proposal. Once they ask you to open a contract with them, though, make sure to tell them to verify their payment method.

Never communicate outside of Upwork before opening a contract

This can not only get your account suspended — it’s a violation of Upwork TOS — but can also lead to getting no payment for the work you’ve done.

High-quality clients know what the rules of Upwork are, and they always open a contract with you before they choose to change your main communication platform.

I talk to my favourite client on Slack and get all payments released through our Upwork contract.

However, the first time we talked was on Upwork itself. We did the paid test there (a paid test is yet another green flag!) and only then did we move to Slack.

Ask your clients to fund every milestone before you start working

The best way to ensure a client actually pays is to complete the first order by following the usual steps:

  • Accept their offer to open a contract.
  • Propose a new milestone and wait until they fund it.
  • When you’re finished, send them the work you’ve done through the official contract form and see if they release the funds to you.

This is the best way to collaborate with clients in general because once their funds are in escrow, you gain some rights in case the funds don’t get released.

If a client doesn’t officially fund the milestone and you send them the finished work anyway, all you’re counting on is their intention to pay. Which doesn’t stand for much if you haven’t established a sense of trust yet.

While it is possible to deliver work elsewhere and only process payment through Upwork — one of my clients pays me every week on the dot without funding beforehand — it definitely requires some trust first.

What’s more, it always carries some amount of risk. If you don’t want to risk going without payment or if you’re just beginning to establish a relationship with a new client, always ask them to fund a milestone.

You might be working for free otherwise.

Beware of clients with no reviews

Everyone has to start on the platform at some point, and passing on great opportunities just because the client doesn’t have reviews yet would be a shame.

It is important to stay cautious, though. Don’t get overly excited about a client until they’ve proven they can be trustworthy.

Incorrect English isn’t the end of the world — but it can raise some valid concerns

The scammers who very obviously tried to get my personal details (they spoke about identity verification before they even shared more details about the job with me) claimed they were from a US publishing company.

Their English was extremely broken, though. What’s more, they didn’t even type properly — they mixed commas with full stops, used capitalization incorrectly, and expressed themselves in confusing ways.

While there are many good clients out there who look for English speakers to write their articles precisely because their own English isn’t the best, it’s a whole different thing when they claim to be from a US publishing company.

I mean, publishers specialize in grammatically correct texts. It’s a bit weird they wouldn’t be able to speak English.

Another thing is that while their location showed United States, their time zone displayed GMT+8.

Sounds like Asia to me.

If a client says they’re from the US but can’t speak English properly, well, that is a valid concern.

To sum it up

The scam I almost fell for contained many elements that combined into one huge red flag:

  • No reviews.
  • No verified payment method.
  • Grammatically incorrect English (even though they said they were from a US publishing company).
  • Strange and muddled phrases in the job description.
  • A quick invite to an interview outside of the platform.
  • Questions about my identity before even providing me with a more comprehensive overview of the job.

If a client displays some of these features, it’s possible you’re dealing with a scammer.

Run!

I lost one hour of my life to a scam, but that doesn’t mean you have to.

Spend your energy on more worthwhile things — like clients that actually pay, communicate effectively, and appreciate the work you do.

Upwork is a harsh game sometimes. Don’t lose to the scammers.

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About the author

Denisa Feathers

Student of Literature & Languages. I write about relationships, self-improvement, lifestyle, writing and mental health. Contact me: [email protected]

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