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Beware odesk fraudsters!

tkwon
Active

What is the problem?
   Contractors falsely claim to be from European (and other) countries.
   Fake reviews
   Work diary bypassing programs
 
Why doesn't odesk stop them?
   Odesk doesn't care. They still earn money and therefore odesk earns money.
   
Why is it bad for you?
   Poor quality work
   Who is really doing the work for you?
   
What can you do about it?
    Demand a short video conference.
    Demand photographs of contractor with something local such as newspaper.

Why is this important?
    Having fraudulent accounts undermines the very credibility of Odesk's platform. Apparently they are not screening their candidates so its up to each of us.
    
   
I have used odesk for a number of years now and have been mostly happy with the results. However, in the last year or so I have noticed a greater number of fraudulent contractor accounts responding to my job listings. I'm writing about this to warn others and to offer suggestions on how to spot the frauds.

The big problem I see is Odesk does not appear to be concerned about the fraudulent accounts. After all, they still earn money and hence Odesk earns money. Why would they banish them? I have alerted Odesk to some of these accounts and included proof and essentially no action was taken. The loophole used is typically the contractor refunds your money and hence your review is eliminated. Does Odesk care that the account is still active and able to trick other clients? Apparently not. Because of this I have to take extra steps to verify any applicants background and potentially lose the benefit of using a platform such as Odesk.

First off, what are the frauds I'm talking about? Well so far I have found a few accounts claiming to be from Europe (Netherlands, Poland, England) were in fact handled by persons not from that country. How do I know? I first became suspicious when the contractors were working hours that didn't correspond to their countries hours. Working at 3am? Sure people are hard working but how could they always be working off hours? I then asked some candidates to write some sentences in their native languages. It became apparent that they were using google translate. So I then asked some friends to give me some sentences in the native language to test them. When asked to translate them the frauds typically tried to explain their inability to speak their own native language!

I did mistakenly hire one fraudster before I became more diligent. That person used a program (FocusProxy) to bypass Odesk's screen capture system. When I asked him about it, he claimed his computer had a virus. Hmm. Really? The code quality by this contractor was terrible and I eventually cancelled the contract. Because this person was under the Odesk money back guarantee I was able to get a refund. HOWEVER, my review was NOT posted and this fraud continues to get jobs! I sent Odesk the screenshots along with explanations to no avail.

I've read other posts of people who were defrauded and it's the same message. Odesk doesn't care! The loophole often used is they refund your money and therefore wipe your review away. Most of these fraudulent accounts have 5 star reviews. No doubt falsely generated.

What can you do about these frauds?

First off, the simplest way to verify a person's identity is to require a skype video conference. Often the fraudster will make an excuse such as low bandwidth, living situation etc. A voice call is a secondary solution to verify someone althought not as effective as video.

Another solution I use is to request photographs of the candidate. If they have an odesk profile image I match the photos. Otherwise I request two photos. The first I request is something with a local restaurant or something in the background. The second is with a newspaper or publication. The fraudsters will quickly make an excuse about having too many jobs or such and move on to the next sucker.

Don't accept excuses! Often they'll claim their living situation doens't allow video conferencing or their camera is broken. But they can always go to an internet cafe. Or they can send photos using a cellphone.

It's too bad we can't post reviews on these people but until we do, everyone has to remain diligent!

27 REPLIES 27
garnorm
Community Guru

Hi Thomas K,

We agree diligence is important when hiring and managing work online and this includes oDesk. However, we don't benefit when customers like yourself have a bad experience and we certainly don't benefit when fraudsters penetrate the marketplace. This hurts our business by hurting our customers. Our team takes fraud very seriously and we'll continue to maintain a proactive review for fraudulent behavior along with reviewing and reacting to any reports submitted to our team. 

 

Should you come across any questionable behavior, we encourage you to report this to us so we can address it. 

I submitted proof of fraud to odesk when it first occurred and they allowed the contractor to keep operating. All they had to do was check the screenshots by odesk's own work diary tool to see the contractor was bypassing their system using FocusProxy. Why was the account not suspended?

tasamil
Community Guru

I am not oDesk representative, just a freelancer.

 

Quote:"Why doesn't odesk stop them?"
   Odesk doesn't care. They still earn money and therefore odesk earns money."

 

Not true-they even care too much to the point of suspending/putting under review accounts that should not be suspended as a precautionary measure (although I hope this process will become more transparent with this newly introduced statistic-so each freelancer will know his/her standing and there will be no negative surprises.)
   

Quote:"Why is it bad for you?"
   Poor quality work
   Who is really doing the work for you?"

 

I don't think (being Eastern European myself ) that the quality of work has anything to do with location.
   
Quote:"What can you do about it?"
    Demand a short video conference.
    Demand photographs of contractor with something local such as newspaper."

 

It is your right  to 'demand' whatever you see fit; however I personally would find that type of  application process very intrusive and insulting and I wouldn't play into that (and beside-how is that related to the job that one supposed to perform??)

Quote:"Why is this important?
    Having fraudulent accounts undermines the very credibility of Odesk's platform. Apparently they are not screening their candidates so its up to each of us."

 

Of course it is up to you to screen you freelancers as much as it up to me to screen you as a client. Odesk is not a hiring agency , but a platform that connects people.You need to assume responsibility for your own choices.
    

Quote:"The big problem I see is Odesk does not appear to be concerned about the fraudulent accounts. After all, they still earn money and hence Odesk earns money. Why would they banish them?"

 

They don't earn money if clients are unsatisfied due to poor quality/unreliability, etc., and they do take steps (even where they not supposed to.)If you are happy -you will stay and spend more money here; if you are not -they  will lose client and they are aware of that-so they do a lot to weed out flakes.


Quote:" I first became suspicious when the contractors were working hours that didn't correspond to their countries hours. Working at 3am? Sure people are hard working but how could they always be working off hours? "

 

I almost always work from 11 pm.to 6-7 am.

 

Quote:" I then asked some candidates to write some sentences in their native languages. It became apparent that they were using google translate. So I then asked some friends to give me some sentences in the native language to test them. When asked to translate them the frauds typically tried to explain their inability to speak their own native language!"

 

Ok-but how is that relevant? Should they translate something for you in Polish??Is that what you hired them for?

Quote:"Because this person was under the Odesk money back guarantee I was able to get a refund. HOWEVER, my review was NOT posted and this fraud continues to get jobs!"

 

Your review is removed just if refund was issued from freelancer personally and in that case it is not posted on his profile when he refunds you. If oDesk refunded your money under MBG, your review would be posted on freelancer's profile (that 's why I don't do hourly contracts with new clients anymore.)

Quote:" Most of these fraudulent accounts have 5 star reviews. No doubt falsely generated."

 

It doesn't mean that your experience is shared by everyone else. Some other people could have had a great experience with this freelancer-your own experience is not the measure of all things (and neither is mine , to be quite clear).

Quote:"What can you do about these frauds?
First off, the simplest way to verify a person's identity is to require a skype video conference. .. A voice call is a secondary solution to verify someone althought not as effective as video....Another solution I use is to request photographs of the candidate. If they have an odesk profile image I match the photos. Otherwise I request two photos. The first I request is something with a local restaurant or something in the background. The second is with a newspaper or publication. The fraudsters will quickly make an excuse about having too many jobs or such and move on to the next sucker."

 

I have no comment on this . Really.

Quote:"Don't accept excuses! Often they'll claim their living situation doens't allow video conferencing or their camera is broken. But they can always go to an Internet cafe. Or they can send photos using a cellphone.
It's too bad we can't post reviews on these people but until we do, everyone has to remain diligent!

 

Lol, I don't know when you even get a chance to actually start with work,  after conducting such elaborate, prolonged selection process. I imagine all participants  must be very tired before the actual contract even starts.From my point of view, I don't think this is rational or time-efficient.

 

Quote:"Why doesn't odesk stop them?"
   Odesk doesn't care. They still earn money and therefore odesk earns money."

 

Not true-they even care too much to the point of suspending/putting under review accounts that should not be suspended as a precautionary measure (although I hope this process will become more transparent with this newly introduced statistic-so each freelancer will know his/her standing and there will be no negative surprises.)

 

This is false from my experience. I have reported with proof and the account is still active. I've read some other posts by people who complain negative reviews are removed after money is refunded. It's a loophole that is exploited.


   

Quote:"Why is it bad for you?"
   Poor quality work
   Who is really doing the work for you?"

 

I don't think (being Eastern European myself ) that the quality of work has anything to do with location.

 

My point was not correlating quality of work with location. My point is when you hire a 5 star person, you expect that person to do the actual work. With these fraudulent accounts you have no idea who is doing the work. And at times the work quality can be low as I found out. The person who was doing the work I requested was quite a beginner actually and I had to trash the code.

 


   
Quote:"What can you do about it?"
    Demand a short video conference.
    Demand photographs of contractor with something local such as newspaper."

 

It is your right  to 'demand' whatever you see fit; however I personally would find that type of  application process very intrusive and insulting and I wouldn't play into that (and beside-how is that related to the job that one supposed to perform??)

 

Again, if I think I am hiring someone, I have a right to actually hire that person. Not someone who is using an account, or persons who are sharing an account.



Quote:"Why is this important?
    Having fraudulent accounts undermines the very credibility of Odesk's platform. Apparently they are not screening their candidates so its up to each of us."

 

Of course it is up to you to screen you freelancers as much as it up to me to screen you as a client. Odesk is not a hiring agency , but a platform that connects people.You need to assume responsibility for your own choices.


It seems you want to stress it is our responsibility to investigate the contractors and yet its not necessary to do a video conference. So what are we to rely on? The reviews? The statements by the contractor? My point is it seems these are not reliable. 

 

Quote:"The big problem I see is Odesk does not appear to be concerned about the fraudulent accounts. After all, they still earn money and hence Odesk earns money. Why would they banish them?"

 

They don't earn money if clients are unsatisfied due to poor quality/unreliability, etc., and they do take steps (even where they not supposed to.)If you are happy -you will stay and spend more money here; if you are not -they  will lose client and they are aware of that-so they do a lot to weed out flakes.

 

Not true. They make money when contracts are completed, not if someone is satisfied. If I rate someone 1 star vs 5 star they make the same money. You're point is I can take my business elsewhere. But my point is I stay on Odesk but I have to spend more effort (needlessly) vetting the contractors. Odesk is more than just a portal to list employers and employees such as Craigslist. Odesk provides an escrow service for services and fees as well as a reputation system to enforce quality. However, their system is lacking and they are not addressing the problem.

 


Quote:" I first became suspicious when the contractors were working hours that didn't correspond to their countries hours. Working at 3am? Sure people are hard working but how could they always be working off hours? "

 

I almost always work from 11 pm.to 6-7 am.

 

I have used Odesk for 4 years and the majority of my contractors work hours corresponding to their timezones. That doesn't mean they don't work odd hours such as noon to early morning. But my point was this merely aroused my suspicion and it turned out I was right.

 

Quote:" I then asked some candidates to write some sentences in their native languages. It became apparent that they were using google translate. So I then asked some friends to give me some sentences in the native language to test them. When asked to translate them the frauds typically tried to explain their inability to speak their own native language!"

 

Ok-but how is that relevant? Should they translate something for you in Polish??Is that what you hired them for?

 

So apparenlty you don't think it matters if people lie on their profiles.



Quote:"Because this person was under the Odesk money back guarantee I was able to get a refund. HOWEVER, my review was NOT posted and this fraud continues to get jobs!"

 

Your review is removed just if refund was issued from freelancer personally and in that case it is not posted on his profile when he refunds you. If oDesk refunded your money under MBG, your review would be posted on freelancer's profile (that 's why I don't do hourly contracts with new clients anymore.)

 

False. I was refunded money after filing a claim under MBG and my review was removed.

 


Quote:" Most of these fraudulent accounts have 5 star reviews. No doubt falsely generated."

 

It doesn't mean that your experience is shared by everyone else. Some other people could have had a great experience with this freelancer-your own experience is not the measure of all things (and neither is mine , to be quite clear).

 

Sure not all reviews are false. But its quite easy and common for contractors to generate positive reviews. I've had quite a number of contractors request I allow someone else to work under a different account.

Quote:"What can you do about these frauds?
First off, the simplest way to verify a person's identity is to require a skype video conference. .. A voice call is a secondary solution to verify someone althought not as effective as video....Another solution I use is to request photographs of the candidate. If they have an odesk profile image I match the photos. Otherwise I request two photos. The first I request is something with a local restaurant or something in the background. The second is with a newspaper or publication. The fraudsters will quickly make an excuse about having too many jobs or such and move on to the next sucker."

 

I have no comment on this . Really.

Quote:"Don't accept excuses! Often they'll claim their living situation doens't allow video conferencing or their camera is broken. But they can always go to an internet cafe. Or they can send photos using a cellphone.
It's too bad we can't post reviews on these people but until we do, everyone has to remain diligent!

 

Lol, I don't know when you even get a chance to actually start with work,  after conducting such elaborate, prolonged selection process. I imagine all participants  must be very tired before the actual contract even started.From my point of view, I don't think this is rational or time-efficient.

 

You are right! It is not time efficient. I'd hope Odesk would clean up their act so I don't have to do such ridiculous things. However, it seems that even up til today, it remains necessary.

 

 

tasamil
Community Guru

Look,to cut this short-  my point is that you are completely entitled to your own point of view and your selection process-I mean I absolutely believe in your right to set your own rules and if you find someone who is willing to play by them, even better ! However, it seems to me that a lot of people in general (clients as well as freelancers)   don't quite grasp the concept of this environment-the point is nobody comes with guarantee neither in real life nor in freelancing. In  real life, I hired people who have Ivy League education with  4.00 GPA and came in with bunch of recommendations and well-checked references from high-profile employers...And guess what? Things just didn't work out.

 

So I looked at my own selection process and eventually I learned how to recognize red flags but at the time when I made mistake I didn't blame the hiring agency (and by the way and again-oDesk is not a hiring agency) , because I made the final decision to hire them.I couldn't know how well they will work out and neither could agency. I also had my share of negative experiences here but I don't think it is Odesk's fault -that is just a life and sometimes one encounters great, awesome people and sometimes not.But I think,that with selection process you have, you are far more likely to attract people who have low skills. Again, this is just my opinion.

I think you're missing my point. If Odesk is providing a system for judging reputation then they should make sure it's working properly. I don't believe it is.

 

Allowing contractors to misrepresent themselves is wrong. Do you disagree with this?

 

Also, IMO, allowing contractors to remove poor reviews by refunding money is wrong. The result is similar to grade inflation where everyone has 5 stars. What's the point of having a rating if they're all 5 stars?

 

And thirdly, if presented with evidence of fraud by a client, they should take action.

tasamil
Community Guru

Ok, this is the last thing I will post on this topic and by all means-do whatever works best  for you - it is your business, your money and your choices.

To answer some of your questions:

 

Quote:" I think you're missing my point."

 

I think you 've missed my point as well.

 

Quote: "Allowing contractors to misrepresent themselves is wrong. Do you disagree with this?"

 

I don't disagree. I just stated that  there is no situation in which I 'd  allow myself to be subjected to the strange requests that are completely irrelevant to the job that I applied for (such as sending you two  photos of myself following scenarios you've created.)

 

Quote: "Also, IMO, allowing contractors to remove poor reviews by refunding money is wrong. The result is similar to grade inflation where everyone has 5 stars. What's the point of having a rating if they're all 5 stars."

 

No, it is not- because there are clients who will leave bad feedback out of spite or for whatever other reason in spite of getting excellent results. However, if freelancer issues a lot of refunds , he will be put under review sooner or later.

 

Quote:"And thirdly, if presented with evidence of fraud by a client, they should take action."

 

They do take action. If you reported freelancer, and if there are more people who also reported him, they will put him/her under review , which is only fair.

The same thing is with clients-I reported client who is still here and posts jobs and I feel sorry for his prospective freelancers but ,at the same time, I understand that just my word is not enough (as it should be.)

 

When I was hiring assistant, giving a short, paid trial work always worked better than having a lengthy interviewing process..For me that was the best  possible way to make selection-better than all educational records, awards and honors, glowing references and chit-chatting.

 

 

 

 

gerrys
Community Guru

Regarding "refunds":

 

Some clients have the attitude that "I never give 5 stars".

 

If someone prides themselves on going the extra mile, does all they can to satisfy the client, who then gives the contractor a mediocre review because "that's just how I operate", I would be grateful for the opportunity to"buy back" my reputation (because one has no other option).

 

And speaking for the other side (contractors):

 

I typically avoid clients that never give anyone good feedback; have no payment method approved; like to "post" but hire infrequently; won't spend the time to compose a coherent project proposal; use "text-speak"; invite more than 10-20 contractors at a time (spam); invite contractors whose stated skills have no relation to the posted project (more spam); say "I want ..."; use CAPS; insist on web cams (creepy); etc.

 

 

Thanks Natasa for saving us from having to retort. I can't believe his post.

aseembhalla
Community Guru

Hi Thomas

I just want to add here that having skype video/audio calls for the interview is a common practice by many clients but if you are asking freelancers for photographs or id proofs, then you will not attract the best people here.

Also if you check the freelancers section then you will notice that a lot of accounts are being suspended,banned and reviewed regularly and sometimes unfairly. This in no way means that just because one client is unhappy with a freelancer who has a good work history on odesk for years with other clients should be permanently removed. Best odesk will do is refund your money if you are unsatisfied and it is only fair. Odesk removes a freelancer only if there are more than a few complaints against him.

 

Considering that you are already following such strict monitoring practices and are still getting continuous bad results then I would suggest that may be your expectations from odesk are a bit unrealistic and should consider advice from other clients here. Just because many clients are happy with some freelancer here does not mean that the same freelancer will click with you. May be you have different expectations and work ethics than those other clients. 

Thomas - i can't see your [profile so a direct quaestion (and I do belierve is relevant):

How much do you pay your freelancers?

I have spent over $30k and billed 1811 hours. That comes out to $16.56 per hour which I think is quite good. Also, for the contractor that was fraudulent, I paid him $27.78 hourly. The claims that I am attracting the wrong type of workers because I am paying too low is false. It's quite the opposite. The frauds are going after the higher paying jobs.

Once I instituted the skype video conference, audio call or photo identification I have not had a problem. My post was to help other clients in screening out these frauds since apparently we cannot rely on Odesk to do so.

kugrin
Community Guru

Thomas, you might want to review your own interview process. A proper, well conducted interview can detect most of the things you mentioned. oDesk will never be perfect at doing the screening for you, it's also not what they're in business for, and the system you look for can't be maintained at a measly 10% oDesk fee. Also, your energy and approach (calling freelancers suckers and fraudsters) will draw those freelancers to you that you do not want to hire, since professional freelancers typically don't have to work in such an environment. I do agree that oDesk is not exactly great when it comes to reviewing flagged freelancers (or clients), but that's because their internal processes are broken, and not because they want to encourage fraud. Just go over to the freelancer section of the forum and click into some random posts and count the people who complain about being under review or having had their accounts suspended.

 

I don't think you should have to deal with fraudsters at any pay rate, but the chance of running into low quality freelancers is significantly higher when you pay peanuts. Instead of letting your freelancers jump through hoops and make ridiculous requests, why not invest 15-20 mins in a high quality interview. If you want to check their language skills, you can do it in a Skype interview; if you want to make sure they're from a certain location, let them tell you about their city and favorite places. It's near impossible to fake all of this in an interview. It's good to be cautious, but if you start your work relationship in utter distrust, you just can't ever expect a decent outcome.

As mentioned in my previous reply I have historically paid $16.56 per hour. The time I had the bad contractor I was paying him $27.78 per hour. People on this thread seem to want to blame me for paying too low when that is not the case. Why would frauds other with cheap jobs?

 

Also, I am not calling all freelancers frauds. I have spent $30k so far and have been well satisfied with the results. But I felt that I should warn other people to enhance their screening. If everyone did it, the frauds would be less motivated. It's only because they are successful that they continue.

 

And I agree with your comment about the Skype interview. That is exactly what I am suggesting. The fact that I like to incorporate video should not be a problem. When I hire someone in person I see them also. There's no reason a freelancer should find it unprofessional.

 

BTW, the measly 10% you mention adds up to quite a lot of money.

 

http://recode.net/2014/11/25/elance-odesk-raises-30-million-says-ipo-is-next/

 

With $900 million in 2014 billings they are earning $90 million in a single year. That's enough to do things right.

"There's no reason a freelancer should find it unprofessional."

 

Incorrect.  A good reason is that some of the fraudsters on oDesk are clients, and they'll use the imbalance of power the same way any bad employer might try to do.  I saw a super creepy ad the other day that looked a lot like a perv trying to cam pretty women.  That's the neighborhood you're living in.

 

There is a lot that is different on oDesk from in person interviews.  If you fail to see that, you're part of the problem.  It is not acceptable to use video to screen candidates.  It is acceptable to have video chats with someone you have hired if it is clear it'll help the work discussion.

 

Everything else that falls under the banner of fraud or incompetence can be detected by more reliable means than making sure the profile picture matches the person you're interviewing.  After all, one of the most common frauds I see is having an "expert" (A team) interview and land the job, but then farm out the actual work to a rookie (B team, if you're lucky).

I disagree with this. Many companies today hire people using video interviews because logistics demands it. Also there are websites doing asynchronous interviews. It's perfectly accceptable. Yes there are some pervs. But  they can be reported to Odesk and theoretically Odesk will do something about it. Or maybe you agree Odesk doesn't police it's clientele well. You spotted that questionable ad just by reading the description. Can't other people do the same?

 

But the real point is if Odesk did a better job of verifying people identities and locations, I wouldn't have to do any of this. If you think I want to spend all this extra time screening candidates you're wrong. I used to happily read reviews and hire people with a click of the button. Until I became aware of the deficiencies in Odesk's policies. They can easily do more to verify information in freelancer profiles.

"You spotted that questionable ad just by reading the description. Can't other people do the same?"

 

That one example was simply an extremely obvious one.  There are plenty that are less about sexual harrassment and more about racism or whatever other prejudices can be exercised via video.  It's not always so easy to determine intentions until after the abuse has begun.

 

Look, it's really simple: if the job doesn't involve you looking at me all day, you're being weird if the first thing you want to do is look at me.  Nevermind the ironic fact that you seem unwilling to post even a profile photo of yourself.  Smiley Wink  If your hiring process is unable to deal with the realities of online workers, perhaps oDesk isn't right for you.

 

"They can easily do more to verify information in freelancer profiles."

 

And clients, too.  But probably not for 10%.  If you want them to do more for you, perhaps you should offer to pay them more to do it.

 

Yes, I've seen VA adverts asking for young women who need to be available on webcam too Smiley Sad

dgsunder
Ace Contributor

Hi Thomas,

Just wanted to put my two cents in here about the video conference. I typically tend to avoid jobs that ask for them... not because I have any problem doing video interviews, but because I'm a young woman and there is just no way for me to know who is going to be on the other end of the camera (or if they are going to record me, or anything!).

I know that most clients are perfectly respectful and professional, but that doesn't make me feel any better about video chatting with total strangers, who are most often men and often from other countries. 

And I have nothing to hide here - I am a 4.88 rated freelancer and a graduate of Colby College, a top college in the US, and currently in the middle of waiting for acceptances from Ivy League schools... you can even google me. 

I'm just saying, if your approach has been working for you and helping you find good people, that's great... but just so you know, not every reputable freelancer may feel comfortable doing a video chat, especially during the interview process.

I, personally, would be way  happier to just do a short test project than a video "interview" any day.


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