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de3bba18
Community Member

HELP! My agency has hijacked my website, defrauding my customers, ruining my business. What can I do

I need help.  I run a nonprofit for cancer surivors and an web agency -**Edited for Community Guidelines**- that I hired via Upwork and have worked with for + 18 months has hijacked my website, refusing my access, defaming my brand, actively defrauding my customers via unauthorized payment solutions, and threatening more. 

 

Here is the background.. During my site rebuild - contracted via Upwork in Dec 2021, they got access to both my domain url and my hosting accounts.  I was informed by email that the accounts were set up in my name only... as the domain was always mine. That was in my contract via Upwork. But alas.. only recently did I find out that they blocked access to my domain and my server for which I paid them through Upwork. 

 

The reason that I found out is they were demanding increasing larger amounts of payment for a website that still wasnt functioning and causing me increasing amount of work. For months they were refusing to meet to discuss and resolve.  Only last week.. we had two meetings set up and they didn't show up. A few hours later.. they pulled my website and demanded double the amount of money.  

 

Upwork blocked their account (great) but it increased their retalitaion and now they are going after my clients.  I need help for me.. and I need to warn others.  This is a risk.  Please note I have had to alert both the FBI and local authorisites today.  As a small volunteer team.. we are beyond stretched and would appreicate any support.  Legal, technical, media or more. 

 

 

16 REPLIES 16
25005175
Community Member

Well, besides the blatant criminal activity - which you reported - you can sue them in civil court. Upwork should provide you their information for that purpose. Of course, that assumes that any of the information that they provided to Upwork was legitimate.

 

I don't trust the FBI to move swiftly to counter these cyber-criminals. And I can't tell you to do anything or to hire anybody to do anything that is potentially illegal. But I can say that I think the most effective "counsel" will be the white hat and gray hat hacking communities. White hat groups ought to be easy to locate on forums dedicated to penetration "pen" testing.

Josi: I can assure you that the FBI is not the "cyber police" or "Internet police."

 

Thr FBI has no interest in you or your website problems. I recommend not wasting time trying to communicate with the FBI.

 

Likewise with local authorities. Local authorities may be polite to you. But they are not going to do anything to help you.

Interestingly.. I got a call back from the FBI and they are already working to review the case.  Its likely a slow process but at least I am being heard by someone.  So far my requests from support to others involved have been the 'standard' process.   This is the FBI complaint form.. in case you ever need.  https://www.ic3.gov/Home/FileComplaint

prestonhunter
Community Member

The most important thing to understand is that you managed your website inadequately. If you understand that this is your responsibility, then you will be able to make positive changes for the future.

To be clear, this is a case of fraud. The agency told us explicitly that we were soul owners of the domain and server. Provided access but that was revoked.  We have documentation. The current neglience on our side is trusting an organization that we contracted viw Upwork, paying them the full fixed cost and being scammed. So your comments are unhelpful and inaccurate. 

759e32fa
Moderator
Moderator

Hi Josi,

 

I'm sorry to hear about your experience. I can see that you have a support ticket regarding this issue and are now being assisted by one of our agents. If you wish to update the team with new information, I highly suggest that you post it on the ticket thread. Rest assured the team will coordinate based on our internal processes should you wish to take legal action.


~ AJ
Upwork

If Upwork provides any assistance in this matter, that's great.

 

But as project owners and website owners, we always want to manage our systems proactively.

We always want to manage things so that we:

a) never need to contact Upwork support

b) never need to contact outside authorities

 

Because, honestly, if we get to the point where we need to contact Upwork support or outside authorities, we have already dropped the ball. And those people don't actually have our data.

 

So we always need to maintain property security, proper access protocols, and off-site backups in locations that freelance developers don't have access to.

 

A properly managed system can be restored from offsite backup, both source code and database data, even if the prime server is completely offline.


Preston H wrote:

If Upwork provides any assistance in this matter, that's great.

 

But as project owners and website owners, we always want to manage our systems proactively.

We always want to manage things so that we:

a) never need to contact Upwork support

b) never need to contact outside authorities

 

Because, honestly, if we get to the point where we need to contact Upwork support or outside authorities, we have already dropped the ball. And those people don't actually have our data.

 

So we always need to maintain property security, proper access protocols, and off-site backups in locations that freelance developers don't have access to.

 

A properly managed system can be restored from offsite backup, both source code and database data, even if the prime server is completely offline.


The issue here is that OP has a serious problem and what he needs is help.
Your advice is good, but it's not going to fix anything now.
Why not ask Upwork for help?

Anne Jane - I have responded many times.  Provided evidence.  And this morning.. I found out that Upwork as reactivated their Upwork account so that they continue to defraud other Upwork clients.  

I need to speak to someone at Upwork that is ready to support in a legal and senior way.  

 

How can I contact someone? 

Thank you,
josi


Annie Jane B wrote:

Hi Josi,

 

I'm sorry to hear about your experience. I can see that you have a support ticket regarding this issue and are now being assisted by one of our agents. If you wish to update the team with new information, I highly suggest that you post it on the ticket thread. Rest assured the team will coordinate based on our internal processes should you wish to take legal action.


I know you can't give information about the steps you take, but is it really true that the account of the agency that did all this is activated again?
We only know part of the story, but if they've only done half of what OP is telling, they shouldn't be active until everything is well researched.
They are active and OP is without his website.

Correct.  The agency has been given back all their private and personal accounts.  We have highlighted this to Upwork and they are requesting that we work through the mediation process.  This process to us is procedural as they have now abolished and destroyes all the work which we contracted and paid them via Upwork for $45K.  They had sent an additional demand on this fixed price contract of $10K and we requested a scope.  And that kicked off the dispute.  

 

Additionally, now they have relaunched my website with my brand, products, images and trying to sell to our customers through their own payment solutions.  Moreover, we have a note that they told us that it was them.  

 

I am still trying to figure everything out and escalate.  I am struggling as I am a tiny non-profit and do not have resources or the skills (e.g. website stuff). 

 

 

re: "I am struggling as I am a tiny non-profit and do not have resources or the skills (e.g. website stuff)."

 

If that is true, then you should have hired more than one freelancer to work on this project.

If you hire only one freelancer, then you can not compare their work to anybody else. So you have no way of choosing freelancers who provide you with less expensive services.

NikolaS
Moderator
Moderator

Hi All,

 

Rest assured that our team handles the investigation internally and reviews all the available information. We are not able to share the outcome of their investigation due to privacy concerns. However, the team will continue assisting Josi via the ticket.

~ Nikola
Upwork
de3bba18
Community Member

Hi Nikola - We have been escalating and trying to get support daily.  The Upwork team has been encouraging us to mediate around the last milestone. We have pointed out the bigger risk at play and the fact that the Upwork process - pausing their account - increased their retaliations to us.  They made it clear that they were going to go after our partners and customers to recoup the costs of their loss income from their Upwork accounts being paused.  They are now doing that as they are operating our website and have set up both a Link.co and Stripe accounts to funnel money from our cancer survivor community to their bank accounts. I also have proof that they tried to hack into my Stripe account. 

 

This needs senior support as their campaign against us continues and they could repeat to others in the Upwork community.  From what I have learned, they have many customers on Upwork and I know these are not safe.  What happened to us, could happen to any client who hires an agency to re-design their website, pays the full contracted amount ($45k), works with Upwork to medidiate and is left with nothing.  

 

Honestly, I would apprecate a call from someone at Upwork. I have requested a call many times and tried to contact.. Could you help me get someone to help? To take me and this serious.  This is to Upworks benefit to handle properly. 

Thank you, Josi

de3bba18
Community Member

All -  I just wanted to provide an update.  Yesterday, I received a call from the Executive Escalation team at Upwork.  They are now understand the full gravity of the situation - including the criminal and risks to other clients on Upwork - and working to take steps to support me.  Its likely a long and uncertain path ahead for my business but I feel like I am being heard.  So grateful for your input and support.  I will be sure to update as we proceed.  This is a cautionary tale for Upwork clients that needs to be shared to prevent others from having the same situation.  Thanks!

It is thoughtful and helpful of you to provide these updates.

 

Very sorry that this happened. No legitimate Upwork freelancer wants anything like this to happen to any client.
Upwork is wise to put some senior-level effort into this.

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