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I have been scammed by a freelancer (he sold me someone else's art as his own)

I hired a freelancer to do some original artwork. After some back and forth revisions, the job was completed and the product was delivered.


However, I was just searching for something else and ran across the freelancer's first "submission" on Pinterest: **Edited for Community Guidelines**. That tree image is the exact same image that the freelancer submitted as his verison 1


I followed that link and the design is being sold on Redbubble:**Edited for Community Guidelines**. At first I thought that perhaps the freelancer was selling the work he did for me, but then I noted that the designer of the image on Redbubble is a completely different person.


In hindsight, this actually explains a lot…


His first submissions (before I asked for any serious revisions) were all quite good—because they were all variations on the work done by another—by an actual artist. But then, once I made any requests for serious changes, he suddenly became less enthusiastic and it was like pulling teeth to get any further changes. Eventually, I used my own meager graphics skils to show him roughly the changes that I wanted, and I believe he actually just gave what I sent him back to me, in slightly modified form!


This behavior could have been explained in a variety of ways, and I am a (far too) trusting person, so I did not think too much of it. But now, in hindsight, it all makes sense. He found artwork that closely matched my original description, passed it off as his own, and led me on a journey from there. (Side note: If I had used it as a logo or something, I would have been in violation of someone else's artwork rights!)


Naturally I assumed the artwork was his, and—because I am a softie—I gave him good reviews. (I hate giving young freelancers, just starting out, anything but stellar reviews. I figure any little bumps will be ironed out, so I try to be understanding.)


I am, based on all the research I have done, 100% sure that I have been scammed by this freelancer. How do I proceed? (When I click the support links pertaining to refunds, they do not open.) A refund is a required part of this, but it seems to me that Upwork nbeeds to take action to protect other clients. This does need to get solved.




re: "Do you mean ask the freelancer himself for a refund, or some other way? If so, can you tell me that other way?"

The best thing that a client can do with regards to refunds is to proactively decide to NEVER ask for a refund, no matter what. This choice helps the client save time and money.


Asking for a refund is always a gamble. The "refund" concept exists to help FREELANCERS.  Refunds are NOT there to help clients.


If a client has not been following best practices and finds himself in a situation where he thinks that asking for a refund MIGHT help him in some way, then this is an Upwork page that has information about the process:



View solution in original post

Community Member

Chrisopher: How much money in total did you pay that freelancer?

Not a lot, fortunately. But I still want it back, and I think others need to be protected from this scammer.

You get what you pay for!

Hey Preston,


I can see that you are very knowledgeable about Upwork and give good advice, but I don't know how else to reach you than to write to this half-related thread and with another question, as you reacted to it yesterday. Hope you don't mind.


I'm a freelancer and did a few projects to test Upwork (not many, busy elsewhere) when I started I didn't really know how Upwork worked (that you have to ask happy clients for a review and all that). Also I've had a very bad experience with a client that basically let me do all the work and then started to be difficult (saying he didn't need it after all). After consulting with the Upwork support team. I just let it go because it would take up too much bad energy to fight it, it's not my style anyway to be involved in that type of conflict). But it made me unhappy, and moreover, it seems to be visable in my profile as unfinished... (since I've only done a few projects, it's a big thing)


At the moment, I'm starting a new career in a field I used to be active in (partly because ChatGPT makes much of my present offering redundant, or will soon do that ... research, writing etc).


For my fresh start, I am reconsidering the various platforms and options. The Upwork projects have seriously declined after AI competitors entered the market... but it could be worthwhile to give it a try because in my new direction, there are interesting jobs now.


So, basically, if I stay on the Upwork platform, I want a fresh start, now that I know how it works. Delete my old account and make a new account, not merely a new profile, and approach it with the knowledge of the online gig industry that I now have.


But I read somewhere that that's not allowed? Please advice.

Thank you and have a nice day!




Community Member

This is really awful, I hope it gets resolved soon.

Thank you. I actually posted here because I do not know how else to resolve it. Upwork does not take calls; I do not find an appropriate email address; and their support page is extremely light on suggestions for how to deal with something like this……which is weird, because I cannot be the first one.


You are clearly a kind and conscientious person.

But you are putting the needs of OTHERS ahead of your own needs.


You are elevating the importance of one undeserving freelancer. You don't owe this freelancer any more of your time and attention.


My advice to you is to start putting yourself first.


If you have not already done so, close this contract. Leave accurate, factual feedback. If the contract is already closed, just move on. Don't hire this freelancer again.


Don't try to contact Upwork. Don't try not get money back. Refund thinking hurts clients.


As a client, I have hired over 180 freelancers on Upwork. A big part of my success is that I don't expect every hire to work out. A big part of why I'm effective as a client is that I care about my projects and put the projects first. I don't dwell on it if some freelancers are underperforming. I don't use their work. I don't spend time thinking about them or trying to change them.

re: "A refund is a required part of this"


This way of thinking only wastes your valuable time and energy.


You are trying to help this freelancer by balancing his karma and teaching him a lesson. But in truth, you don't owe him anything.


He is an underperforming, undeserving stranger from the internet. I appreciate your thoughtfulness, but you will be better off just moving on.


There are tens of thousands of freelancers on Upwork who are just like this one: dishonest plagiarists. Nothing you do will change that fact.



So Upwork does not try to police this sort of thing? They do not care if plagiarists are scamming clients? They don't even want to know?

re: "So Upwork does not try to police this sort of thing? They do not care if plagiarists are scamming clients? They don't even want to know?"


Why ask these questions?
Are you writing an essay? Are you writing an article?
Are you intellectually curious?

Then maybe those answers matter.


But if you want RESULTS, then the answers to those answers don't matter.


Of course any representative of Upwork will say they care. So what?

It is like going to a big city, and leaving your rental car unlocked with your laptop computer sitting in full view on the front seat while you go into the restaurant.


After a two hour lunch meeting, you come out and your laptop is gone!

Doesn't this city have police?
Doesn't the mayor care about thieves?

I don't know. Who cares. Why ask useless questions?

You should have taken your laptop computer with you into the restaurant. And you should have locked the car.




But while I do what I can to help make the world a better and more honest place, by going to church and setting a good example and doing the right things... I still lock my car and don't leave valuables in plain view in the car.


Knowing whether or not Upwork "cares" provides you with no benefit. Knowing that there ARE some bad people on Upwork, just as there are some bad people in your city, and most everywhere, provides you with important knowledge and POWER.

I really do appreciate the time you have taken to offer your philosophical and spiritual thoughts on the matter. 


As it happens, I am extremely careful about leaving my metaphorical and literal laptop open and there for the thieving…in most situations. For some reason, however, it never even occurred to me to consider scamming here. Obviously that is my failing, and I have learned a valuable lesson.


As to the rest of your advice—whether or not I ultimately end up agreeing with all of it or not, I am definitely considering all of it deeply. And I appreciate the time you have taken to offer it.

Community Member

They do not care

"How much money is involved" is a legitimate question. There is at least one case in this forum where Upwork helped a client after a freelancer created a plagiarized logo for them even though the project has been closed already.


In that other case, the freelancer is a top designer ("said" by Upwork's Freelancer Profile) and seems like there's quite a big amount of money involved. Upwork cannot simply "do not care" in that case isn't it?


Otherwise, you should take Preston's advice.

Hello Christopher!

I entirely agree with your idea!

I actucally met many spams in Upwork, but my experience tells me to put myself first.

Best wishes!

Community Member

Sorry to hear of your ordeal, Christopher. Being a graphic designer/ digital Illustrator myself, I have seen many clients come to me with this same past experience and wanted to comment on that.

Firstly, trouble is clients do not understand the difference between an digital illustrator/ designer and graphic designers. Simple definitions pulled from the web:
"Digital illustrators create original images for either commissioned work or personal projects. As the term implies, they work using computer software on PCs or graphics tablets."
"A graphic designer is a professional within the graphic design and graphic arts industry who assembles together images, typography, or motion graphics to create a piece of design."
Graphic designers in general lack the ability to make original artwork/ typography/ iconography if that is what you are looking for. Seen this mistake being made over and over again.

Unfortunately, low-grade graphic designers bid on jobs they lack the illustrative skills for and do exactly what you described- copypaste/ autotrace designs/ templates and give it to the client and then, as they lack the ability to make any changes to it, things only get worse from that point.

Secondly, you do get what you pay for unfortunately. If you are expecting original, made from scratch designs for a meagre sum, it is not going to happen. The ones who promise you this for a low sum are ONLY going to be scamming plagarists. They target and spam such job posts for easy money.

Some of the clients I talked to said they attended some seminars or online get rich schemes where 'all one has to do is hire a graphic designer for 200 designs at 2$ each and then get rich via POD store sales!!!" 2$ designs are all going to be plagarised, bad, unprintable or all of the former and will not sell significantly. If one paid for that seminar/online class, know that scamming one to pay for this useless info was the only income of the speaker there like all get rich schemes they sell, he wouldn't share this 'secret' if it was making him money and flood the market with competition 🙂

I also suggest do better and indepth research on bidder's profiles next time, loads of clients do not look at them at all! One is asking for visual work and it does not take more than a few seconds to browse through some images. Being lazy with where one puts his money already a recipe for loss.I asked a few of my clients and found that they sometimes didn't even look at my portfolio before hiring me either!

Points to remember when distinguishing the (scam) graphic designer from a digital illustrator:
1) Any actual client reviews on completed projects related to original illustrative artworks related to your need (print or t-shirts as in your case)?
2) Look at their portfolio images.... are there again any relevant works or are they all brochure layouts and logos? So what are they doing bidding on original artwork??
3) Do their (relevant/irrelevant) portfolio images look suspiciously familiar or too good to be true compared to their earnings/ reviews? They do post a lot of plagarised materials as their own works in portfolio as well so if anything is copied in their portfolio, they are a scam.

4) Certifications and proof of any other kind, if any.

Hope that helps in future.

I appreciate the detailed and thoughtful response. You have included some very useful advice, to which I will refer in future.


I did do some of the kinds of things you recommend, of course—but the problem was I was not doing any of them with a suspicious eye. I was looking for quality, appropriateness of the work to the nature of the project, etc. It never even occurred to me to consider that he might be dishonest. I will never make that mistake again.


As far as the price, I understand the you-get-what-you-pay-for concept. But it is only true up to a point. Because I have a VERY limited budget, I have multiple times had to seek contracts with new talent from countries with developing economies. I have had great success and great relations with all previous freelancers. They were all skilled and honest, and after contract(s) with me, they went on to parlay their success, establish a reputation, and then ultimately raise their hourly rate. They gave me good work at a price I could afford; I gave them glowing reviews; everybody was happy. This was the first time I have encountered anyone dishonest.


Needless to say, I will exercise more care in future, and as I said, thank you for the helpful suggestions.


That being said, I would also like to address the event that occurred. Is there any after-the-fact solution here? Or does Upwork simply not do anything in these situations?

Well. If you had great experiences with past freelancers, you should have stuck with them.  It may cost you bit more, but you wouldn't have the issues like this before.


In my personal life I stick with the people I like and some of them charge more than others, but going out and looking for others is not a productive use of my time.

You are most welcome, Christopher. But things are changing on both quality freelancer and client sides. Like Prashant has replied, it is easier (and in long term cheaper in time and effort than hit and miss) to stick with those who worked out well. Keeping on looking for the cheapest than sticking to tried and true ( you can always reach to a bargain with your familiars or reputable new ones if you need bulk)- boils down to you pay for what you get again. They are not interested in building reputation or return clients....  that one time hit is what they want, and they specifically target clients like this as most would let go of paltry losses. Opposite side is also true with scam clients looking for novices and the cheapest freelancers these days. And why would ANY freelance paltform bother too much with questionable disputes on low pay jobs? I call them 'questionable' because of what the (valid)counter-arguments are as listed further.....

As for your after-the-fact solution, I have hired a few graphic designers myself in the past and faced the same thing with ALL of the 3 I did hire after interviewing 16 (only I could call them out immediately as I am one myself) and it was to setup a online WFH design studio with full-time employees, not a one time gig! Plus, a lot of first-time hoodwinked clients have been a steady source of new and long-term jobs for me personally and know of their woes and how most of their official disputes ended. These are the points I have seen the graphic designers use to get away:

1) I have seen freelancers argue "I took inspiration, the work is original and 'from scratch'- no, it isn't original to use auto-trace and give the same design (albeit grainer due to auto-trace) and change colors. Not even a cropped part of it. Or even if they traced it by hand. And like you said, they can't do modifications on them either. They will still try to convince you that their work is de facto original and block you forever, so no face-to-face settlement will come about ever 🙂

Specifically for a refund:

2) Did you reply to their mockups with approval? In terms of a legal trade/service, you approved what they presented and you approved payment. You wanted a tree illustration, they gave you a tree illustration, you accepted it and paid. Case closed.


3) Did you at any point say "I want original work and will not accept plagarism?" or ask of the final presentation "is this original?" If not, you have no proof that the freelancer cheated you and again approved what they gave and case closed. In your good faith and honesty, you may never have asked. If you did, at least their lie that it IS original would then be an argument point, and maybe helpful.

But it is doubtful as point 2 would be the only one they follow in cases such as this- I have heard this has been the outcome for most of my clients on multiple platforms where I work. Strong proof and being adamant might help you pursue it in your case, but failed for all I heard about though. Not one of them got a refund ever.

You still haven't said how much you actually paid for it, but if it is very little, it would be better to bin the design; know you have been had and move on. And you if are only arguing for the sake of work ethics, you could send a report email about the freelancer to Upwork staff with image proofs for them to make a note of it and maybe they will act on it. But trying to get a refund would be a waste of time and most likely not approved.

Use the points I mentioned earlier. Use reverse image search throughout. Mention repeatedly, check repeatedly during the process and do not pay without confirming it. It is added work on your end, but if the pay and reputation is paltry, it will need a lot more involvement/ time but again, there WILL be bunch of designs you will still have to bin. Will that still be profitable for your price point? Or more feasible to reduce the number of designs so each design has better pay, strike a bulk price with fixed milestones with a familiar or new reputable designer instead?


It is your choice (and as you said because of limited budget) to pay and play with hours to find a cheap one, hours to deal with them, pay them and bin some of the works. Do you  really save a few bucks this way or waste both money and time? That is the real take away moving on.

This was a very cogent and helpful analysis, and I appreciate it. Most of all, I appreciate the cold-eyed realism and logical progression of your description of the challenges associated with attempting a resolution. I also value the philosophical thinking and advice you add—about all of which I am devoting ongoing thought. 


You said "you could send a report email about the freelancer to Upwork staff." I believe that at very least Upwork ought to know what happened. It will create a record so that if/WHEN another is scammed, Upwork will recognize that it is a pattern. I have struggled to find any such email address, however. Can you tell me what that address is?


Your careful description of the (lack of) likelihood of success of any resolution attempt has effectively dissuaded me from wasting much more time on it. But I do think it is worth at least informing Upwork.

You are most welcome, Christopher and thank you for your praiseful assessment of my replies. Glad you have changed your mind. This, unfortunately, is a discussion I have time and again with many clients and I have to spend a considerable time explaining to them as even though they moved on to another, they are still sore about it. And I have to spend time and effort to build their trust in a freelancer again. I do hate these sorts and want them to get punished as much as you, no, more so as they take away potential work and they drive away tons of potential clients from freelancing platforms forever from all others.

I might have mistyped email in my ramblings, sorry. I was thinking raising a ticket/ getting in touch with support with the issue other than a 'refund'. Since I work as a freelancer and assume support works a bit differently for clients, I can't answer how it works on your end.

Community Member

This is awful. If you are paying a fair price, you should have got the unique/original work done. To avoid this in future, always try to look at the freelancer's online portfolio and also mention in your contract about unique pieces of work. 

Thank youy for your reply. I did examine his portfolio in detail. I simply trusted that it was his work. Obviously it was not.

Is there any after-the-fact solution here? Or does Upwork simply not do anything in these situations?

Upwork usually offers a refund option. You can ask for a refund or if the freelancer refuses to pay back, you may file a dispute at Upwork. But obviously, your wasted time couldn't be paid back. I am sorry about that. 

Thank you very much. Can you tell me how to find that refund and/or dispute option? Thus far, I have not located it.

totally agree 

Community Member

think you can ask for a refund

Yes... one can always ask for a refund.


But refund thinking hurts clients.

Do you mean ask the freelancer himself for a refund, or some other way? If so, can you tell me that other way?

re: "Do you mean ask the freelancer himself for a refund, or some other way? If so, can you tell me that other way?"

The best thing that a client can do with regards to refunds is to proactively decide to NEVER ask for a refund, no matter what. This choice helps the client save time and money.


Asking for a refund is always a gamble. The "refund" concept exists to help FREELANCERS.  Refunds are NOT there to help clients.


If a client has not been following best practices and finds himself in a situation where he thinks that asking for a refund MIGHT help him in some way, then this is an Upwork page that has information about the process:



Community Member

Sorry for that. Next time, try and have a better contract so that whoever breeches it will be penalised accordingly.




Community Member

I came to wonder if and how low-budget entrepreneurs address budget issues.

Is the only solution to seek low-paid service providers, which will ultimately have an impact on the quality of the product/service, as well as the reputation, and the business performance of the company?

There are investments and incentives available for entrepreneurs and projects from several sources worldwide, including both finance and in-kind services.

How many of such entrepreneurs seriously explored such avenues?

Also, do low-budget entrepreneurs consider that any time they go around seeking low-paid or even free work, they can damage their company's reputation, as such information can circulate and in a way that they have no control over? 

I am interested in the community's thoughts. 

Well, FWIW, this notion of damage to a company's reputation seems potentially elitist to me. To me, it seems perfectly fine that an up-and-coming company with a limited budget would start out working with up-and-coming freelancers who don't charge as much. If successful, both eventually move on to bigger and "better" things, but everyone has to start somewhere. Plenty of millionaires began living in squalid conditions and worked their tails off until they made it and could improve their circumstances. But human beings are a judgmental lot, so there will always be people judging, and no one's reputation is fully safe, even if they have lived peerless lives of honesty, hard work, service, and sacrifice. 

THERE IS NOTHING WRONG with having a limited budget.

There is NOTHING WRONG with paying freelancers a very small amount of money to get something done.


If a client pays only $10 to get an original piece of artwork created, that's awesome!


If the client pays $10 and ends up with artwork he can't use, or artwork which was plagiarized, then that's not entirely unexpected. The important thing FOR THE CLIENT is to put himself first. The client should put the client first. The client should put the client's project first. One important way to do that is to proactively plan to NEVER ask for a refund, not matter how bad or unsable the freelancer's work is. The client is not getting paid to be a mentor or professor. So the client shouldn't waste time trying to make the freelancer a better person. If a freelancer's work isn't good enough, or isn't original, then just dump the freelancer and move on.

I am sorry if you felt personally targeted by my questions, as you weren't.

No one is judging here. I asked constructive questions. 

The potential damage to a company's reputation is a matter of fact, not an elitist delusion. 

Did you look into any incentive programs applicable to your case?

I have not looked into any incentive programs. I appreciate your response. Similarly, mine was not personal towards you, but towards the notion that such things might damage a company's reputation in general. But I suppose you are correct—one's feelings on the matter are of no importance; if it is a matter of fact then it is a matter of fact. Thanks for the reminder that reality is what it is, not what we might wish it to be.

Community Member

This is really awful, I hope it gets resolved soon.

Community Member

It's really bad for you 

Community Member

I am also freelancer
Community Member

Be aware and use proper Chanel.

Community Member

I'm sorry to hear about your experience with the freelancer and the issue you encountered. It's important to address this situation promptly. Here are some steps you can take to proceed:

->Gather evidence: Collect all the evidence you have, including the initial submission on Pinterest, the Redbubble link, and any communications or files exchanged with the freelancer. These will be crucial in supporting your case.


->Contact Upwork support: Although you mentioned having trouble with the support links, I recommend trying again or exploring alternative contact methods to reach Upwork's support team. Explain the situation clearly, provide the evidence you have gathered, and request their assistance in resolving the issue and obtaining a refund.

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