How to Identify Scammers on Freelancing Sites


Freelancing has recently become a mainstream employment opportunity, with platforms attracting millions of freelancers and clients. As with any flourishing market, scammers have set out to pillage freelancing sites.

What started as a unicorn occurrence has quickly grown rife and threatens to overrun the once noble industry. Clients are on edge and untrusting, while freelancers work with their hearts in their hands, terrified of the possibility of falling prey to a convincing scam. This article discusses freelancing scams and how to identify and avoid them. Here's what you should look for:

Phishing links have been present on the internet for many years. Receiving links in messages is pretty standard for freelancing sites, which makes such scams all the harder to detect. However, with some scrutiny, you should be able to identify them.

Whether it's a repeat client or a new one, you could save yourself the heartache by using websites that check the safety of links. These sites help to unwind abridged links and show the final destination of every entry, allowing you to decipher whether you have a scammer on your hands.

2. Third-Party Communication

Freelancing platforms typically urge their users to restrict their interactions within the confines of the site. However, clients and freelancers have flouted this rule over time, creating a loophole for scammers.

Despite freelancing sites providing the required communication tools: messaging, text, and video—users sometimes prefer to take their business off-platform. Scammers are quick to join the bandwagon by:

  • Soliciting engagement away from the platform: Users are without due protection and oversight outside the boundaries of freelancing sites. Knowing this, scammers typically recommend interaction via apps and platforms with shady histories, such as Telegram, Skype, email, and more. Once they get you to interact on these platforms, you're more susceptible to their tricks, including phishing links, malware, and viruses.
  • Sending files: Like links, files are endemic to freelancing sites. Clients would typically send one to freelancers at the beginning of a project. The only way for the latter to get involved is to download and open the document. This can be a pathway for malicious software to get on your device. And the fact that clients can send documents to multiple freelancers further increases the likelihood of someone falling victim. However, you can use email security software to protect your inbox from viruses, malware, and other malicious attacks.
  • Poorly worded gigs: If you've ever read a phishing email and laughed at the poor grammar, then you're not their target audience. These messages discourage the more discerning reader from engaging with the scammer. While it might be easy to pick apart these scams via emails, freelancing sites present another challenge: language barriers. Not every client is fluent in English, so you can expect a bit of improper grammar now and then—inadvertently allowing scammers to thrive. So, when you see bad grammar next, please treat it with scrutiny.

3. Huge Financial Incentives

It's not what you want to hear, but many people are on freelancing sites to get bargain deals. Can't get the graphics shop down the street to do a design for cheap? Find websites that help connect you to freelance graphics designers. Every freelancer in the business long enough knows that high-paying clients are often far between. So, seeing any of the following pointers may be an indication of a scammer:

  • Posting high budgets with ambiguous projects: If the client offers an extravagant amount but provides little to no detail about the project, you're most likely dealing with a malicious individual. If, from when you bid for the project to when you start interacting, they don't provide any factual information on the project and their intentions with it, be wary.
  • Promise payment on completion of gigs: The point of a freelancing site is for a third party to serve as an escrow in ensuring both parties—client and freelancer—fulfill their part of the deal. So, if a client promises to pay upon completing a job, roll your eyes and move on.
  • Requesting free trials to prove your worth: There's a reason freelancing sites allow freelancers to upload samples of previous jobs. So, clients who want to ascertain your prowess should go through your portfolio. It's not unusual for clients who want you to do a test run to go missing after receiving the submission. That means all your hard work goes unrewarded.

You may also want to see what types of scams are most prevalent on a site like Upwork. This video details some of the ones for web developers.

  • Promises more jobs down the line: Don't let anyone sweet talk you into doing a free job or cutting your prices with promises of future jobs. Your bills won't wait till said future, and there's no telling if these jobs even exist in the first place.
  • Unverified payment methods: Freelancing platforms like Upwork allow you to review clients' profiles. One of the most important details to watch out for is payment methods. The platform typically uses "verified" or "unverified" to indicate clients who have deposited in escrow or have made successful payments in the past. While it's possible for some new clients who don't fully understand the platform to have the unverified tag, it's best to steer clear of gigs from such accounts.

4. Reviews

Freelancing is built on reviews. The more positive, glowing reviews you get, the better your chances are of attracting clients. However, did you know that reviews aren't always organic?

There is a black market for freelancers and clients to purchase reviews. How it works is that the latter creates a fictional gig, accepts the former, and goes through with the process. Then, they reward themselves with glowing reviews, automatically making clients and freelancers appear more appealing to their respective markets. While there is no way to tell reviews apart, look out for new accounts with stunning reviews in a few days of operation.

5. Multiple Requirements

Some things automatically make clients appalling, even if they aren't necessarily scammers, the chief of which is multiple requirements. It's not unreasonable for clients to expect you to be a writer and editor. However, it's a red flag when they want several unconnected roles simultaneously. So, feel free to boycott any offering that wants you to be an editor, videographer, programmer and aviator in the same breath.

Often, these clients offer miserly wages with the promise of higher incentives upon completion of the job, which is rather weird. Worse still, when you try protesting the workload, they come up with convincing reasons why you are right for the job. Don't fall for their gaslighting. Finally, with many requirements, they easily slip into phishing links or viruses masked as files.

Stay Safe and Avoid Freelancing Scams With These Tips

It's enough hard work being a freelancer without worrying about scammers breathing down your neck every other day. While you might expect these freelancing sites to clamp down on security measures as hard as they are keen on their percentage of your income, they seem to only focus on freelancers, while scammers go scot-free due to the low barriers for entry for clients.

These are a few pointers derived from freelancers' experiences and how they dealt with scammers in their space. If the platforms don't respond with agile measures, you owe it to yourself to stay safe.

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