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Is Upwork a Scam? What to Look Out For

August 13, 2020
9 Min Read

Updated: 13 Feb 2023

Is Upwork a scam? The short answer is: no.

The freelancer platform, Upwork, is a generally reputable site that securely facilitates legitimate freelance work contracts. Many freelancers and businesses have good experiences on Upwork, and some go on to form long-lasting partnerships.

On the other hand, it is certainly possible to be scammed by unscrupulous individuals on Upwork and other similar freelancer platforms, as one freelancer found out in 2022. The result of Upwork fraud can be loss of money, compromised web systems, and a besmirched reputation; a serious concern for people who buy and sell freelance services.

So what can you do to avoid being taken in by an Upwork scam? 

In this blog post, we examine some of the most common examples of fraud on freelancer platforms and how both businesses and freelancers can protect themselves.

Upwork Scams on Businesses: How to Avoid Them 

Most businesses who’ve sought to hire an online workforce will have a story or two to tell about scams. Unfortunately, amidst all the genuine freelancers just trying to use their skills to make a living, there are many dishonest individuals out to play the system.

Let’s look at the most common scams imposed on businesses, and how you can avoid being taken in.

Fake Profiles:

There are numerous ways that a freelancer profile can be faked, meaning that you are not hiring the person (and therefore the skills) that you expect. 

One tactic is where a freelancer steals the identity of a professional in order to cash in on their online reputation. For example, they might pose as a highly-regarded software developer, using the person’s photo, name, and qualifications.

Another approach is for the freelancer to fake their location. Say you want to hire someone who’s a native-English speaker in the GMT time zone. To fulfil your requirements, the freelancer can fake their profile to say they live in the UK (using a VPN), when actually they’re on the other side of the world.

Does the freelancer’s profile feature many thousands of five-star reviews? Chances are, they’re too good to be true. Some dodgy freelancers have found ways to 'hack' a platform’s rating system with fake reviews so that they can maintain their ranking – no matter how subpar their work.

How to protect yourself from scams:
  • Carry out some basic online research to verify the freelancer’s identity, such as looking them up on LinkedIn or Facebook.
  • Pay close attention to the person’s grammar and phrasing to confirm their language skills, or even request a call so you can hear them speak.
  • Be wary if someone isn’t responsive during normal work hours, as that could suggest they’re not in your time zone.
  • Look through reviews carefully: a few reviews that include detailed feedback are more likely to be genuine than thousands of reviews with only a star rating.


It’s very easy for a dishonest freelancer to copy existing work off the internet and pretend it’s their own, whether that’s a brand logo, an article, or even source code. The result? You have lost money, and may face legal action for copyright or trademark infringement.

How to protect yourself:
  • Check that the freelancer’s work is original before you use or publish it. For a design, you can carry out a Google reverse image search; for text, use a plagiarism tool such as Grammarly or Copyscape; for code, use a tool like Codequiry.
  • Request the design to be delivered in a format that is editable, and in multiple resolutions.
  • Ask the freelancer directly about source and usage rights, and ensure the material is free from royalties.
  • Make sure that the freelancer understands about copyright issues. They may not be trying to scam you, but they could include copyrighted material in the work by mistake.


Ever found yourself paying £50 for what looks like £5 work? You may have been the victim of an outsourcing scam. Some scams involve hiring a low-skilled worker to complete a project, pay them a pittance, and then the scammer keeps most of your money – while you are left with a poor result.

How to protect yourself:
  • Be suspicious of freelancers who offer an unrealistically fast turnaround for a project.
  • Check the freelancer’s profile: do they seem to get through a very high volume of jobs in a short time period?
  • Make sure the freelancer has a full understanding of the project requirements and that they personally possess the skills to complete it.

Hijacking Systems:

It has been known for an unvetted freelancer to be given access to a website or system for a project, and then go on to hijack it. This might be an act of revenge for a cancelled contract, or it could be the work of a professional hacker who intends to steal money or information. Either way, it can leave your business in a bad situation – with broken systems and a tarnished reputation.

How to protect yourself:
  • Only give the freelancer the level of access that they need to complete their task. 
  • Revoke the access as soon as the project is finished.
  • Monitor your system logs and activities regularly during the course of the project.

You can mitigate your risk and access world-class vetted marketing freelancers by choosing Traktion. Our platform is a superior Upwork alternative, and it’s totally free for hirers. If your business needs proven growth professionals to optimise digital acquisition channels, Traktion is the platform you need.

Upwork Scams on Freelancers: How to Avoid Them

Life as a freelancer already involves plenty of challenges, without being scammed by clients who claim to be offering honest work. Let’s examine some of the tactics fraudsters use against freelancers – and how you can thwart them if you’re looking for work on the Upwork platform.

Work Off-platform:

As platforms charge freelancers a fee or commission to work through them, clients can try to tempt freelancers to work off-site in order to avoid these costs. They may have genuine reasons for wanting to leave the platform (and Upwork does permit contracts to be taken off-site for a fee) but they might also have more suspect motivations.

Freelancers who’ve agreed to work off the platform have found themselves chasing clients for payment, being paid less than expected – or not being paid at all.

How to protect yourself:
  • Keep work on the platform. Upwork and similar sites may not be perfect at preventing scams, but they do offer significantly more protection than going it alone with an unknown client.

Free Work:

Freelancers are often asked to undertake a test project by a potential client, to demonstrate their skills. 

A fair arrangement would be for the client to hire the freelancer on a temporary contract and pay them for the test assignment. However, it’s common for clients on sites like Upwork to ask for a free test project, which many freelancers feel under pressure to complete. 

But unscrupulous businesses can then use this “test project” method to parcel out their project and get it done completely free! For example, they can send each candidate several pages of a book to proofread, ensuring the whole book is checked without them spending a single penny.

How to protect yourself:
  • Check the client’s background: Do they have a verified payment method? Have they worked with many freelancers before? How much do they usually pay?
  • Look at how many people are being interviewed for the job. Hundreds of candidates and no hires could suggest the work is being distributed as above.
  • Make sure your work portfolio has good examples of your work so you can point potential clients there if they ask you to prove your skills.

Account Sharing:

Scammers don’t just pose as genuine clients to try and trick freelancers; they might also claim to be a fellow freelancer offering a collaboration. What happens is the scammer asks to share a freelancer’s Upwork account, suggesting that they can help the freelancer make more money.

Once the freelancer shares their account details, the scammer can then change the log-in and lock the freelancer out of the account. After this, they can steal any money deposited in the account and charge the freelancer to regain access to it.

How to protect yourself:
  • Never share your account details with anyone. Account-sharing is not actually permitted on Upwork or other freelancer platforms. If someone is looking for a genuine collaboration with you, they won’t ask to share the same account.

Key Takeaways: Is Upwork a Scam?

There are ways to protect yourself from Upwork fraud or scams on other freelancer platforms. Following the steps above should allow you to form safe and successful work collaborations online.

However, in order to avoid an Upwork scam completely, as a business you can choose to work with a freelancer who has been pre-vetted by the platform to verify their identity, skills, and professionalism

That’s what you can expect when you work with a Traktion digital marketer. All our freelancers have undergone a rigorous screening process: we interview each candidate and verify their achievements by analysing true data from their previous campaigns. Tell us about your digital marketing project, and let us match you with one of our tried and tested professionals.

And if you’re a marketer with expertise in one or more of our 25+ digital marketing specialisms, why not apply to join our community?

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