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Upwork and Fiverr scams and how to avoid them

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The rise of the internet and mobile technologies made it easier to do business online. Alongside the concept of traditional, office-based work comes the idea of freelancing, or contracting work as an individual from a remote location. Nowadays, as long as one has the skills, education, and tools such as a laptop, headset, and a reliable Internet connection, they are ready to seek out work as a bona fide freelancer.

The freelancing model benefits both freelancers and clients in general. This model proves compelling to many young professionals across the globe for good reason: time flexibility and creative control, ability to work with multiple clientele, and a wide range of unique opportunities to grow their portfolio.

On the other hand, clients, usually from small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs), can now contract freelancers at an affordable cost, establish round-the-clock communication, and scale the work from project to project. 

To this end, popular freelancing websites like Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer were established. These three are among the most prominent web platforms linking an international pool of freelancers to prospective clients. Here’s our short briefer on these sites and what distinguishing features are available from them.


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About Upwork

Formerly known as Elance-oDesk in its earliest years, Upwork re-launched in 2015 and, as of today, is one of the biggest freelancer marketplaces on the web. The site boasts as many as 12 million registered freelancers and 5 million registered clients.

The process starts with clients searching for a specific role or posting a project, browsing the site’s large pool of freelancers’ profiles, interviewing chosen candidates, sharing files on the platform, and then paying online.

Android developers, game developers, bookkeepers, data scientists, database administrators, customer service representatives, copywriters, and content writers are some of the most in-demand freelancers on Upwork.

a Tel Aviv-based platform founded in 2010.

About Fiverr

Upwork’s closest rival is Fiverr, a Tel Aviv-based platform founded in 2010. The site hosts as many as 3 million job listings or “gigs,” and has, therefore, become an important player in today’s modern “gig economy.”

Fiverr’s marketplace of freelancers offers work in the areas of graphics and design, writing and translation, programming, web development, video and animation, and others such as crafts or conducting online lessons. The most popular requests for logo designs, WordPress customization, voiceovers, and management services for social media accounts.


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Freelancer works within the competitive bidding system,

About Freelander

Freelancer.com purports to be the biggest freelance network under users and projects listed, with as many as 29 million contractors and clients registered on the site. Freelancer works within the competitive bidding system, where interested candidates field themselves and their asking prices to be able to take on a job.

Clients only pay their contractors when the work is 100% completed. Popular search areas on Freelancer.com are SEO marketing, web development, and design, mobile app development, collaterals design, article writing, and data entry.

Common UpWork, Fiverr and Freelancer scams

However convenient, affordable, and egalitarian the freelancer system may be, it also has its faults. Unfortunately, there is a darker side to contracting freelance work. Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer may have overseen the success of many freelancer-client relationships, but they have also been privy to scamming.

For over a decade now, some prospective clients have encountered some of the most common scams such as:

Duplicate accounts 

Because the databases of these sites are gargantuan, it’s impossible to thoroughly screen each user, let alone monitor high volumes of users who create dummy accounts, prey on unlucky clients, leave, and then start the process anew.

This is when a freelancer demands to be paid upfront, then deactivates their site account and runs away with the clients’ hard-earned payment before the project even starts.

Copyright infringement 

Another unscrupulous practice that unfortunately proves quite common is copyright infringement. Some clients might risk being sued for intellectual property violations because of a freelancer’s plagiarized content or copyrighted images.

Demanding for transactions to be done offsite 

Some freelancers will demand that contact and payment be done in channels outside the freelance platforms

This could put a potential client in a bind, as any suspicious actions undertaken by the freelancer will not be done within the jurisdiction of the website. Therefore, they will not be accountable to the site’s rules and regulations.

Sudden changes in agreed terms 

It is a sticky situation if a client finds a sudden change to the terms that were agreed upon. A freelancer could extort more money than originally promised, and threaten to delay the project if the client does not agree to their demands. 

This is a frightening and costly situation to find oneself in.

Gaming the system 

One of the more horrific scams on Upwork is an abuse of their Hourly Protection System. Scammers usually engage in “gaming” of the site’s logging system of work-related hours. 

Malicious entities could log into the site, run the counter, rack up hours, and charge preposterous amounts for little to no work done. This is because Upwork’s Hourly Protection System charges for hours of work done as opposed to finished products.

Money laundering or phishing 

Lastly, there’s a chance that a freelancer is engaged in outright criminal practices, such as money laundering and phishing. They extract private information from their would-be employers. 

Then, the latter will only know what’s happened when the system has been compromised and the money’s gone.

Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer: red flags and warning signs

Given the myriad ways that something could go wrong, it’s wise to look out for the red flags or warning signs that a potential candidate for remote work is not who they claim to be. Here are some red flags to watch out for if you’re contracting through these platforms, or are thinking about doing so.

  • The freelancer doesn’t have a strong presence. It’s only right to demand that there be a face to the name. It’s a red flag if your freelancer has scant details about their work experience or won’t show you their portfolio. The worst-case scenario is that they will have something to hide.
  • Deals that are too good to be true. Both freelancers and clients explore the freelance model to score savings, but beware of a freelancer who agrees to be paid less. The real cost could be to your time, productivity, or security.
  • Unrealistic expectations. Also, avoid a freelancer who overpromises results or acts as if the work will be easy. Chances are you’ll receive half-baked deliverables or none at all.
  • The freelancer wants to engage offsite. If your freelancer wants to take the bulk of your arrangements outside of the platform, then it’s likely that something’s fishy. Don’t trust a candidate who refuses to work according to the safeguards supposed to be built into the site.
  • The freelancer asks for sensitive information. Suffice to say,  stay away from a candidate who asks for personal information, such as your passwords, mobile number, or personal address.
Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)
Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)

How to avoid Upwork and Fiverr scams

Protect yourself from freelancer scams by doing the following:

Verify a freelancer’s identity and reviews

A preliminary Google search should give you enough to make a fair judgment of the candidate. Try to verify their credentials with past work on other websites. Take note if they are blacklisted or have criminal cases against them.

Also, check the candidate’s ratings on their profile and look for concrete feedback on their previous works for other clients. Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer all host a means to give feedback to the freelancers registered on their site. Don’t consider anyone who can’t meet your standards.

Cross-check the content that you receive 

In the cases where this applies, such as for logo design mockups and content pieces, check to see if the piece is original. 

Run the articles through a plagiarism checker. There are a lot of reliable free and paid tools in the market such as Copyscape that can do a quick plagiarism and comparison check across thousands of websites.

For submitted images such as logos and raw photos, you can do a reverse image search through Google. This is the easiest way to track similar images and see if it is an original work.

Keep your personal info safe

Be careful about who you send your documents, e-signature, photos, and other digital files to. “Better safe than sorry” is a principle that holds. Phishers and hackers are getting better and better at posing on these platforms. 

As much as possible, avoid transacting with a freelancer outside a specific platform. They provide basic protection and security for both freelancers and employers in case of malicious activities done by either side.

Once you contact someone for services, agree on a fair payment scheme for both of you. The best option is the milestone-based payment scheme, where you will pay your contractor for each stage of the project properly cleared.

Common client problems and complaints with Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer

Reception for freelance networks from reputable business review sites like Sitejabber and Trustpilot is mixed. The sites can be hit-and-miss for the convenience that they pose. Thus, some common problems have emerged out of the woodwork.

Common complaints that arise on UpWork and Fiverr are: 

  • insufficient client protection from unprofessional freelancers,
  • immediate suspension of user accounts (even if there is pending business on the line), 
  • inadequate quality control even if the profiles being submitted are screened, and 
  • the site’s poor customer relations team.

Of the three, Freelancer currently sports the highest assessment. However, Freelancer complaints from clients show that the site is not immune to bogus users and scammers, or costly errors such as overcharging for cleared projects.

A million options might be available to you as far as freelancing is concerned. But it’ll be hard to whittle all of those down to a few solid ones. Given that these complaints can be considered commonplace, where should you go from here? What alternatives are there to the freelance model?


Outsourcing companies in the Philippines
Outsourcing companies in the Philippines

Outsourcing with confidence

Luckily, viable alternatives abound. Instead of contracting freelancers, opt to get in touch with an outsourced service provider—which could still net you the savings and the convenience, without the extraneous worries.

How to avoid outsourcing scams

Some of the best reasons to hire an outsourced agency to fill the gaps in your business processes are:

  • Hiring an outsourced agency is also cost-effective and scalable. You can choose the amount of work, the number of staff, and the project timeframe that adheres to your budget.
  • Moreover, it will be easier to draw up documentation and settle on your own terms with an agency.
  • You won’t have to deal with the complaints that are limited to the sprawling freelancer networks. This includes delays in the middleman’s customer services or payment issues.
  • Agencies are typically held to stricter service standards and protocols. You’ll surely benefit from this uniform consistency in how they’ll deliver their work.
  • This also means that outsourced agencies have a higher level of accountability—to you and to the trade and employment laws of the country in which they are incorporated.
  • This isn’t to say that you will have fewer options to choose from. On the contrary: you’ll have the chance to source talent among industry leaders in the BPO industry that might already have good reputations in their home countries and offshore.
  • Thus, there are greater chances of you getting the quality work that you reserve and getting those returns on your investment.

Payment Solutions for Freelancers

Online payments are made easier as well to both clients and freelancers with the help of platforms such as Payoneer to ease the burden of transferring payment for rendered services. you always have to be cautious when sending payment to anyone, anywhere, but platforms such as Payoneer dramatically increase the levels of safety, transparency and security.

Payoneer is a global payment platform that can be easily linked to your UpWork, Fiverr or Freelance account. But unlike any other platforms, Payoneer accepts payments in USD, GBP, and EUR. Thus, making it easier for freelancers and clients alike to transact in European countries as well.

How to start outsourcing

Consider looking into outsourcing as an alternative to freelancing—and reap the best people from the global talent pool. If you’re curious about outsourcing and would like to get started, complete this form and get 3 free quotes from Outsource Accelerator.

We feature a wide directory of BPOs that specializes in customer service, digital marketing, finance and accounting and much more.

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About OA

Outsource Accelerator is the trusted source of independent information, advisory and expert implementation of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)

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Outsource Accelerator offers the world’s leading aggregator marketplace for outsourcing. It specifically provides the conduit between Philippines outsourcing suppliers and the businesses – clients – across the globe.

The Outsource Accelerator website has over 5,000 articles, 350+ podcast episodes, and a comprehensive directory with 900+ BPO companies… all designed to make it easier for clients to learn about – and engage with – outsourcing.

About Derek Gallimore

Derek Gallimore has been in business for 20 years, outsourcing for over eight years, and has been living in Manila (the heart of global outsourcing) since 2014. Derek is the founder and CEO of Outsource Accelerator, and is regarded as a leading expert on all things outsourcing.