Scammers are in the business of taking advantage of others in any way they can, especially online. They're always looking for new opportunities and schemes, which can sometimes lead them to Upwork. The Trust & Safety team works hard to prevent scammers from posting jobs on the platform. While scamming isn't common if you're actively searching for jobs each week, you may every now and then come across a fake job post before the team has the chance to take it down.
Knowing what to look for and how to keep yourself safe online is always important. Being able to identify and report scams prevents spending any time on fake postings and helps the Trust & Safety team quickly remove them and ban the scammer's account.
Why do scammers target Upwork?
Upwork is the world's largest work marketplace. Freelancers across 180 countries earned over $3.8 billion on Upwork in 2022. As the platform continues to grow, it becomes an even larger target for scammers. Because Upwork is a trustworthy platform with a reputation for security, freelancers may sometimes let their guard down and send a proposal to a fake job.
Don't worry, Upwork has built-in protection for freelancers, like hourly payment protection and fixed-price escrow. If you keep all communication and payments on the platform and follow the Terms of Service (ToS), you will always be paid for the work you do.
Scammers know this and may try to get creative, asking for personal information, off-platform communications and payment, or even fake reviews. Learning about the most common types of scams and red flags can help you quickly spot a fake job posting (and report it) if you come across one.
Any online activity has some risks, but when you know what to look for, you can protect yourself and prevent falling for a scam. Upwork is committed to keeping the platform a safe place where you can do the work you love without having to worry about payment or security.
You can learn about the different layers and levels of protection Upwork freelancers have. This is one of the reasons why freelancers use Upwork instead of searching for clients on their own and invoicing them directly.
How to spot a fake job post
When you're browsing Talent Marketplace™, use a mental checklist that you can quickly go through to be on the lookout for a potentially fake job. While some of these may just be signs of a new client, who hasn't mastered job posting yet or doesn’t have any reviews, the more red flags the post has, the greater the potential risk.
Scammers usually have a quantity-over-quality strategy, and the job posting will seem off. Always listen to your intuition and do a little safety check before sending a proposal.
These are some things to look out for when you're searching for jobs or filtering job invites:
Is the job description too vague or lacking in details?
Scammers don't spend time creating highly detailed job postings; their goal is to talk one-on-one, ideally off Upwork, where they can avoid raising suspicion. These fake job listings are typically poorly written and vague. While you might find a legitimate job listing with spelling or grammar errors because of translation issues or without a lot of information because the client is inexperienced, this is just the first item on your checklist that should have you on guard.
Be on the lookout for:
- Spelling and grammar mistakes
- Short, incomplete, and vague job descriptions
- Lack of details
- Requesting off-Upwork contact information for more details
Experienced clients on Upwork spend time on their job descriptions because it helps them find the most relevant talent with the exact skills they need. They put in this effort upfront to have higher quality candidates and job proposals. Seeing a detailed and well-written job description is a sign of a trustworthy and experienced client.
Is anyone else applying for this job?
When you find an interesting job on Talent Marketplace or receive an invitation to interview, check the job activity. Jobs with very few or very many proposals but no interviews can be a warning sign–other freelancers may have noticed the red flags but didn't report them.
The job description will tell you when the client posted the job. If it's been many hours or days without interviewing or hiring activity, this can be a warning sign. At the same time, legitimate recently posted jobs may take a while to get proposals, especially if the job requires a specific or less common skill set.
When you click on the job description, you can see "Activity on this job," which shows how many other freelancers have submitted proposals and are interviewing. This can be helpful, especially for real positions, to let you learn about the competition. While it’s not an indication of a scam, you may want to skip working on a proposal if lots of freelancers already have interviews.
If you upgrade to a Freelancer Plus account, you can also see the bid range along with receiving other perks. Knowing what other freelancers are bidding is a helpful strategy, so you don't submit a proposal that’s too high or too low.
Is their Upwork activity legitimate?
Before sending a proposal or accepting a job invite, check the client's activity to see if it's legitimate. Under the job description, you'll see if the client has verified their payment, their ratings, and how much they've spent on the platform. You can click on the project to learn more.
While brand-new clients won't have reviews or ratings, they can still verify their payment method. Remember: If you accept an offer from a client who isn’t payment verified, the contract will not be covered by Upwork's payment protection. Besides verifying payment, a new client will likely have a website or additional verifiable information about their business that they can give you to build trust and prove their legitimacy.
When you click on a job posting to apply, you'll be able to learn more about the client under "About the client." These are warning signs you'll want to look for:
- Client's location doesn't match what they claimed in the job posting
- No jobs posted
- No hire rate
- Low hire rate with an unusually high number of jobs posted
- Only one open job
- Multiple job listings without any hires
- Join date and job post date are the same
In the Job Filters section, you can filter out jobs with less than five proposals and clients that aren't payment verified or haven’t made any hires yet. However, this may prevent you from seeing jobs recently posted by new clients.
Does the job sound too good to be true?
Sometimes, if a job is too good to be true, it is. Pay attention to your instincts. You can check the hourly rates guide to see the average for a skill. A sign that a job may be a scam is if it has a suspiciously high budget for the project, which is often vaguely described and sounds simple. If the hourly rate or project budget is way above average, this is a red flag.
Clients on Upwork will pay more for highly experienced talent with in-demand skills. In fact, 60% of talent who left their full-time jobs to become independent professionals said they earn more freelancing–78% percent of those started making more in less than a year.
While you can earn more freelancing, the budget for any given project should be reasonable, especially if the job doesn't seem to require a lot of work or skill.
Does the client have fake Upwork reviews?
When deciding if you want to submit a proposal, pay attention to the "Client's recent history" at the end of the job post. If a client has been active on Upwork, you'll be able to see reviews left by other freelancers. This can give you valuable information on whether this is an actual client and, if so, the type of client you want to work with.
Read these reviews (if they have any) to see past freelancers' experience working with this client. Be on the lookout for signs that the client is difficult, asks for free work, or requests scope creep.
An experienced client should have a history of past hires. In their recent history, you should see work dates, durations, payment amounts for past projects, and reviews. While clients new to Upwork may not have this history, even if they're legitimate, their job descriptions should help you feel more confident about their validity with links to their website.
If a client has reviews, evaluate whether they look real. One possible scam is paying for reviews. These scammers will post jobs and then pay freelancers to leave positive reviews. Be on the lookout for suspicious activity like many small and low-paying jobs posted in the same period of time or seemingly simple tasks with skeptically high dollar amounts.
Is the client fake or impersonating a celebrity or company?
Another way you can protect yourself is by doing a bit of research on your client, especially if they claim to be a well-known company or celebrity. Scammers may try to establish legitimacy by pretending to be someone trusted or a well-recognized company.
While 30% of the Fortune 100 are on Upwork, they will be payment verified and likely have an established history, unless they're just joining the platform. These types of Enterprise clients often work with Upwork Talent Specialists to send job invites.
Scammers may say they’re C-suite employees (CEO, CFO, CMO) of a highly recognizable company. You can quickly fact-check this on Google to make sure the name matches their title and credentials. Once you submit a proposal, you'll see the name or company of the Upwork account along with the location (which should match where the company operates or the individual lives).
Red flags of an Upwork scam
If you accidentally submit a proposal or accept a job invitation from a scammer, they may ask you to do something that violates Upwork's terms of service. This can also get you in trouble, leading to a possible account suspension or ban. To avoid any account issues, make sure you don't accidentally engage in any activities that go against Upwork policy.
Requesting to communicate off platform
The first sign of a scam is if a client doesn't want to use Upwork messages and asks you to contact them on Telegram, WhatsApp, email, etc. While this is against ToS, it's also usually how a scam begins. They use Upwork to establish contact and then move the conversation off-platform to avoid alerting the Trust & Safety team.
The client will request to continue communications off Upwork via Telegram, WhatsApp, or other communication tools. If a client asks that you move the conversation to a different messaging app, you can let them know that you only use Upwork Messages both for your protection and because off-platform communications violate Upwork's ToS.
They may not be aware of this, and the request could be innocent. If they insist on talking outside Upwork, you can report them to the Trust and Safety team. You can do this in Messages. Click <<...>> on the top right corner of the message you want to report and choose <<Report>> to flag.
Talent and clients generally find that keeping communications on Upwork’s platform helps with overall quality and efficiency. Being able to have all messages and files in one spot and easily use messaging and videoconferencing from the platform is one of the many reasons they choose to keep using Upwork.
Asking for your personally identifiable information
Once they have a way to contact you outside of Upwork, scammers may try to ask for personally identifiable information (PII) to steal your identity or run a scam. When working as a freelancer on Upwork, you never need to give your clients any personal information to "verify your identity" or "complete payment."
As a rule of thumb, never give clients (or anyone online) your:
- Social security number
- Banking information
- Government ID (numbers or pictures)
Upwork facilitates payments from both the client's and the freelancer's end. Clients will need to verify their payment before starting hourly projects or fund the fixed-payment project in escrow. Freelancers have a few different options to withdraw their payments, including direct deposit or wire transfer.
When creating your freelancer account, you’ll need to verify your identity directly with Upwork and may need to reverify down the road as part of Upwork's routine security and maintenance, but you won’t have to do any of this with individual clients.
Requiring job security or onboarding fees
When freelancing on Upwork, you should never pay a client any type of fee before you can start working–this is a scam. The client may ask you to pay an "onboarding" or "job security" fee before they can work with you. They will typically ask this when communicating off-platform.
They'll ask you to send them a payment on a platform like Zelle, Venmo, or CashApp, or give you a link to use. Typically you won't hear from the client again after they receive their payment. This type of payment scheme may also double as identity theft and be an attempt to steal PII or your account information.
As an Upwork freelancer, you pay a 10% service fee on your earnings, which is automatically deducted before you withdraw funds. You can see this on both your Billings and Earnings Report and Transaction History Report. This service fee covers the benefits and perks of using the platform. The clients never facilitate fees, which is a sign of a scam.
Offering to make payments off the platform
One of the most important rules to remember is to always keep client communication and payments on Upwork to have hourly payment protection and fixed-price escrow. If a client asks that you contact them outside of Upwork to assign work or get paid, this is a big red flag called circumvention, which violates Upwork's policies. You only have payment security as a freelancer if the transaction follows the ToS.
Asking for off-platform payment is one of the most common Upwork scams. Clients may ask to pay you off the platform to avoid service fees. They're trying to scam the platform, not necessarily you. These types of scammers are putting you at risk of account suspension and banning. You also have no guarantee that after you hand in your deliverables, they will actually pay you. They may use this as a way to get free work.
The scammers may also be trying to gain PII and banking account information. They may say that in order to pay you, they need certain information. Scammers can then use this for fraud. It also may look like you're getting paid, but the money stays pending and is never actually delivered to your bank account. They may send you a phishing link to set up your payment method and capture your information.
If you do meet a client outside of Upwork, they can use the platform to pay you—this is called Any Hire. You work off Upwork, but the client uses the platform for payroll and invoicing. The important part of Any Hire is that your relationship needs to start independently from Upwork.
The benefit of an Any Hire contract is that you don't pay service fees on your earnings but still have Upwork payment protection. You can work on Any Hire contracts with existing clients on Upwork if they convert your contract and pay the conversion fee.
Requesting to purchase your Upwork account
Another type of Upwork scam is asking to purchase or rent your account. This is one of the ways scammers can temporarily avoid getting immediately flagged by the Trust & Safety team. They use real accounts from already verified freelancers to conduct their scams. When they finally get caught, it's your name and your account that get banned.
Typically these scammers will reach out to you on a different platform like LinkedIn or Slack. They've likely been banned already from Upwork and can no longer make an account. A scammer will ask to buy your account outright or "rent" it by giving you a percentage of their earnings each month.
They may claim they had a profitable freelancing career and then were "unjustly" banned, but by using your account, you can passively earn 10% or even more of their earnings.
While this is clearly against Upwork policy, it also puts you at risk. Your personal information is on your account, including your address, along with banking and tax information. Scammers will most likely steal the account when you process the transfer, and you'll end up losing your account and not getting paid.
Emailing you a cashier's check and requesting that you wire back fees
Check scams have been around for decades. In an Upwork scam, the client will say they prefer to pay their freelancers using cashier's checks. These checks are seen as more secure than a traditional check or money order because the bank backs them–making unaware freelancers less suspicious.
The check will seem to clear the bank (which is different from funds being available), and then the client will ask that you wire back money to them to cover any fees. When the bank realizes the check is fraudulent, they will take back the money, possibly charge a penalty, and then you've also lost the money you paid the client for "fees." When wiring the money, the scammer may send a phishing link or ask for your banking account information and other PII.
A similar type of check scam is if the client asks you to buy their software or product before you can start, and they'll reimburse you with a cashier's check, sometimes even sending this upfront. If you're doing administrative work, like virtual assisting, they may ask that you buy items for them using your personal income. The scammer will either give you a cashier's check or wire money to cover the costs afterward–neither of which will ever make it to your bank account.
Buying Upwork reviews
Scammers want to avoid getting caught, and having a legitimate-looking Upwork account makes them seem like real clients. One of the ways they do this is by paying for reviews. The client will post a simple project asking for a review and pay you a small amount for leaving five stars.
It may seem harmless, as you're not at risk of losing money or not getting paid if it's a legitimate contract and you keep all communications on Upwork. However, this is a violation of Upwork ToS and can result in an account suspension or ban. While you may not be scammed yourself, you’re playing a role in the scam and making it easier for them to target other freelancers after their accounts look legit.
Asking you to buy something from Amazon or elsewhere
A client may post a project asking for freelancers to purchase their product on Amazon or their website and leave a positive review. This helps boost their profiles and make their product seem more legit.
While a client may not read the Upwork or Amazon ToS and realize this is a violation, it can also be part of a larger scam. You may be scammed again by the client later on, or they could use a check scam to reimburse you.
This type of transaction may seem OK, especially if they ask for an "honest review," but it isn’t an approved type of job on Upwork. Sellers on these sites are not allowed to pay for reviews. The review system is how real customers make purchasing decisions. If you have an account on Amazon or another website and use it for a review, it could lead to issues and suspensions for violating their ToS.
Requiring a free trial or unpaid test project
As a freelancer on Upwork, you should never feel pressured to do work for free. Clients may ask that you do a free trial or an unpaid test project as part of their job description or in the interview process before starting a contract. While asking for a test project is OK and a great way to evaluate talent, it should always be paid.
This could be a scam, an attempt for clients to get free work from freelancers. They may ask each freelancer to complete a different free test project and then piece together a large project from work they didn't have to pay for. The scammer may have no intention of hiring anyone—their goal was to get this free work.
Some clients don’t realize that asking for unpaid test projects or trials is not how the Upwork marketplace works. They can ask freelancers to fill out questions in their proposals and to see samples of their past work. If they need a test project, it should always be paid at the freelancer's hourly rate.
If a client asks for unpaid work, and you don't think it's a scam, you can inform them it's against Upwork's policies and send them the ToS. Let them know you're willing to do a test project but for your hourly rate or a fair fixed price.
The ToS states that "You can’t use Upwork to ask for or demand free work–you can't ask freelancers to submit work for little or no payment as part of a proposal bid or competition." Always report scammers and clients who refuse to pay for test projects to help other freelancers from being in the same situation.
Spot a fake job post? Report it!
The Trust & Safety team is committed to keeping Upwork a secure marketplace for freelancing, where you can find projects that excite you while always getting paid. One of the best ways to help the team is by reporting any fake job posts as soon as you see them.
You can report a post by clicking on the job post and selecting "Flag as inappropriate" under "Apply." The Trust & Safety team reviews all flagged and reported posts and will take down any that violate the ToS or have suspicious activity.
Find real clients and jobs on Upwork right now
Getting started as a freelancer is easy. All you have to do is create a profile and start sending proposals. On Upwork, you can find projects that excite you and you can build relationships based on trust with clients all over the world. Start meeting everyone here, from one-person startups to Fortune 100 clients, and build your career. As a freelancer, you have a high degree of control over your work. You get to create a schedule that fits your lifestyle, choosing what projects you submit proposals to and which clients you work with. If you’re not already using the platform to build your freelancing business, sign up on Upwork now.
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