Working remotely online is a dream for many people. Whether you want the convenience of setting your own schedule or the ability to work from anywhere, freelancing online is an enticing idea. Unfortunately, finding reliable online work is challenging.
It is a lot easier to fall victim to scams when predators hide behind a screen. Most aspiring online workers encountered Upwork at one point or another in their career search. The popular platform is a freelancing giant—but mixed reviews deter users from joining the platform.
Learning about Upwork and how to use the site safely helps users get a jumpstart on their online careers.
What Is Upwork.com?
Upwork is an online network that connects freelancers and employers. It’s the largest freelancing marketplace, that was previously two separate companies, Elance and oDesk. Since their merger in 2015, Upwork became the go-to spot for finding potential jobs or people to do them for you.
The platform caters to many industries, most notably web design, customer service, programming, statistics, writing, illustrating, and translating. The possibilities are endless.
It's free for anyone to post job opportunities on the site. There are tons of posts, ranging from agencies looking for SEO copywriters to start-ups seeking video game designers to bring their passion projects to life; from students looking for someone to write their homework to even people looking for dating profile managers.
Although employers don’t face many obstacles to create accounts, freelancers have to jump through some hoops before making proposals and getting paid. Freelancers now need to apply to create a profile and fit specific requirements to apply to positions.
Upwork takes a rather large service fee from freelancers (usually 20 percent to start) plus VAT to European users in addition to a small service charge from clients. Users looking for additional freelancer or employer perks can opt for paid premium accounts, or other “job connects” to actively apply to positions they did not receive an invitation for.
Is Upwork Legit?
Many clients and freelancers alike find success through Upwork. It is a legitimate site that you can use with peace of mind.
Upwork takes many security measures to ensure the safety of its users and encourages all users to follow specific guidelines to regulate activities on their platform.
For example, clients must pay out “milestones” for paid projects in advance, which will sit in Escrow until the project is complete. This means that the money waits with a third party in advance upon contract agreements, so you don’t need to worry about clients ghosting you without payment on the platform.
They also alert any suspicious activity from clients and warn you to pause work the second something seems fishy. For example, when clients connect payment information to hourly contracts, Upwork notifies freelancers if their credit information expired.
Likewise, the platform monitors messages and posts to ban and suspend any suspicious users on their accounts. Despite these efforts, scams are possible through the platform, and if you fall for them, Upwork probably won’t cover your losses.
What Are Popular Upwork Scams?
Scammers still manage to make their way on Upwork—in the form of clients and freelancers. It’s important to know what these scams are so you can recognize the red flags.
While there are loads of legitimate employers on Upwork, people are also looking to scam you out of your time or money. It’s not particularly uncommon for posts to direct you to offsite communications or ask you for “trial work.”
It’s tempting to do whatever a client asks to please them, especially at the beginning of a freelancing journey when you are desperate to get ratings on your account. Scammers recognize this power dynamic and try to pressure vulnerable users into doing questionable things.
Sometimes, they use the information they collect through “applications” on phishing sites. Scammers may also convince you to purchase something or download an application and then fail to pay you.
Trial work (or any work done before the finalization of an Upwork contract) has no protection. These unprotected contracts also include those made outside Upwork. If Upwork finds out you transferred your contract outside the platform, they may ban your account altogether.
It’s easy, and somewhat common, for potential employers to request a short trial piece from many users for free content. Upwork strictly warns against doing this and encourages you to report clients who do.
It would help if you also were on the look out for clients that are never happy with your work. Certain contract features may allow clients to fight for their money back if they claim you didn’t give them what they asked for.
While the Upwork team usually is accommodating in solving these disputes, they may result in you losing money because you didn’t deliver on a client’s vague request despite putting a lot of effort in.
These fraud problems are not uncommon for any online job marketplace, even including other reputable sites like LinkedIn.
Scammers may take advantage of freelancing profiles as well. The same measures used to protect freelancers may help scammers get money from clients without delivering good work.
Freelancers may ultimately lie about credentials and not deliver the quality you asked for—but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay for it.
For instance, someone may pose as a native English speaker, but you realize their grammar is incredibly poor after hiring them for a large project. Likewise, someone may promise to know programming or statistics and completely butcher an assignment with fake information.
Some contracts protect employers from this, while others make it difficult. For instance, if you give your employee an hourly agreement, it’s hard to get your money back after finding out weeks of “work” were fraudulent.
How to Use Upwork Safely
Upwork is pretty straightforward about how to use their services safely. Although it may seem like their guidelines are there to protect their profits, these regulations help keep your earnings and projects protected.
Users on Upwork should keep these tips in mind:
- Take profile feedback into consideration.
- Never take contracts outside of the platform.
- Never offer, ask, or accept “trial” projects.
- Only start work after a finalized contract.
- Don’t work to vague requests or with unresponsive users.
- Report any suspicious activity.
Should I Use Upwork?
Upwork is an excellent site for finding freelancers and freelancing gigs (although it does charge a bit more than other platforms). When using the site responsibly, it’s a perfectly safe and effective tool to make online income.