How to Spot and Avoid Scam Clients on Upwork

UpWork is the largest freelance marketplace where thousands of freelancers and clients interact to make things happen. Due to its scale and large user-base, it is very much possible to get scammed by freelancers or clients.

This blog post is about how to identify and avoid scam clients on Upwork. I have a compiled a list of indicators that will help you spot and avoid scam clients on Upwork

Be vigilant. Do not let someone rob you of your hard work and get away for free.

Be vigilant. Do not let someone rob you of your hard work and get away for free. #UpWork #Freelance Click To Tweet

How to avoid scam clients on Upwork?

In general, scam clients try to get away with free work. If a client asks for unpaid tests, spec work, or adds extra work on top of the agreed-upon task, this is a sign that the client is trying to have a free lunch on your expense. Do not perform free work under any circumstance. You can deny the interview request citing the reason that the client wants free work, or you can report the client to Upwork if you found this in the job description.

Scam clients will try to coerce their way through you. If you do not budge into their polite insistence, they would threaten to leave bad reviews on your profile. Do not give in to this. You can dispute the feedback with Upwork and it is sometimes removed from your profile. You can also leave a review about the client, warning others about the lack of professionalism, misbehavior and possible fraud.

How to spot a scam client on Upwork?

spot upwork scam client

Here are some pointers to spot scam clients on Upwork. Do note that these are not set in stone so exceptions may occur. You have to do your own due diligence.

Here are some red flags that should alert you about a scam client on Upwork.

Be wary of the client when they:

  • Try to get away with free work.
  • Threaten to give bad reviews.
  • Disconnect communication after receiving deliverables.
  • Have accused and discredited freelancers they previously worked with. You can read that in the reviews they have left on the jobs done.
  • Have a history of low paying jobs and are suddenly offering a big-ticket job.
  • Have low ratings. Pay attention to what other freelancers have commented about them.
  • Post same job ads multiple times (usually found in the section more open jobs by the client)
  • Ask for payment for materials / tools / accessories required for the task. Either a client has to provide the tool or you can purchase it yourself. Never pay anything to the clients.

From my experience, scam clients usually:

  • have unverified accounts. This could be a false flag and they may verify payment method and deposit funds when they hire a freelancer. However, one has to be on the safe side.
  • use pseudo names, initials to hide identity
  • show flattery like “You are the only freelancer in the world who can do this”
  • are too friendly and too eager to please

More red flags to alert you about a scam client

(from Upwork community forum here and here ):
Check-cashing fraud: A legit looking client will ask you to process PayPal payments, cash or deposit checks and money orders on their behalf and send the money somewhere else. Usually, a scenario of urgency and emergency is painted to expedite the processing. Eventually, the deposited check would bounce and your bank will hold you liable for the funds, while you have already sent the money to the “client” who conveniently vanishes from the scene.

Shipping scam: A client requests to have goods shipped to you, which you would then repackage and mail elsewhere. These items can be stolen or purchased with a stolen card and freelancers unknowingly act as a middleman.

Clickbait: Be skeptical if you’re asked to click on external links or sign-up for websites. You may be falling for a clickbait scam, where a website makes money off of the click-thru traffic. Search and read reviews about the website before clicking any link on it.

Bait and Switch: Clients advertise one job and then offer a different job during the interview. This tactic is usually employed by clients to lure in freelancers and then haggle the price down.

Too many people interviewed: This can be a sign that the client is dividing the job up and giving the parts to different applicants as test assignments – with the intention of getting the job for free.

Avoid these clients too, if you may:

Some clients may not necessarily be a scam but they can turn out to be a real pain with their abusive, authoritarian and annoying behavior. Watch out for the clients who:

  • Assume a task is very easy and could be accomplished in x number of hours / days.
  • Write one line job descriptions.
  • Ask to communicate or pay outside Upwork. This is against Upwork’s ToS too and it may get your account banned so stay away from such clients for your own good.

Sometimes, the scam clients won’t just con some free work out of you. There’s this story of a fake client sending keylogger malware via file attachments.

So, these are some tips and pointers to spot and avoid scam clients on Upwork. If you freelance on Upwork, or any other freelance platform, and got scammed by a client – feel free to share your story in the comments below.

Happy freelancing!


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