Recently made the move from Elance to Upwork (begrudgingly). My last project posted on Elance ended up to be a bust, in regards to the freelancer; his profile 100% positive feedback, 12 months of consistent work, etc. After 2 weeks (of an 8-10 week project) of hourly timesheets having been paid, he becomes unresponsive. Short of it being that the work hadn't been completed in a satisfactory manner and I'm out those fees. I've spent a significant amount on Elance in the prior 36 months and never had an issue prior to this.
My first job post to Upwork happens to be a reposting of that previous project. Obviously given the climate of my previous experience, I'm digging into potential work candidates a bit more than I had previously. This has led to me reaching out to companies included in portfolios saying they are unfamiliar with the existence of that contractor; "real names," with absolutely no social or professional foot print on the internet.
What's your go-to in regards to verifying the person whom you're working with?
I am not a 'Client' on Upwork but a mere 'Freelancer'. However, I can still understand when you receive zero/ unsatisfactory 'Return on Investment'. Its because of a handful of freelancers like the ones you encountered, that the rest have to "go through the gates of hell, to reach heaven".
However, having said that, if a client wants to do a background check on me....he can refer to my past jobs completed on this very own platform (offline jobs can lead to thin air, as you've found out) or better still hire them for a trial period. It must be made amply clear at the start that the renumeration during the trials will be lower than the real project; and once the freelancer is shortlisted/ selected you can compensate him for his earlier work. For example, if you are willing to pay $5/ hr for the project, pay him just $3/ hr during the trials. Once you know for sure that the guy has what it takes, you can offer him a new contract and also add a bonus of $2/ hr for the previous hours put in by him.
As a freelancer, this mechanism sounds fair to me. Also, from your prespective, there is very little to lose.
re: "What's your go-to in regards to verifying the person whom you're working with?"
Here's my perspective, which is mine alone, and doesn't represent anybody else's thoughts:
I've hired a bunch of people. I don't do verify anything about them.
They either do the work or they don't.
The absolute last thing I want to do is add contractors to my Skype list of contacts or call them or email them, because some of them are annoying and I don't want them to be able to contact me unless it is through Upwork when I want them to do work and they do it.
If somebody isn't doing work I need and submitting it to me and communicating with me via Upwork's messaging system, I just close the contract. Nobody I hire is so irreplaceable that I'm going to go hunt them down and beg them to do more work for me if they disappear from Upwork.