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Dec 17, 2021
From the Trust and Safety Team: How to Spot a Scam

Updated: 3/31/2022 


As Upwork’s Trust & Safety team, we want to ensure we’re doing everything we can to keep our community safe. This includes our evergreen mission to protect our freelancers and platform and provide resources to help freelancers stay vigilant, protect themselves, and report concerning content. 


In recent months, we’ve seen increased attempts by scammers to impersonate legitimate clients. While we’ve been tracking this closely on Upwork and have moved swiftly to mitigate such risks, the FBI has noted the rising prevalence of these concerns across multiple sites that host job postings. 


In this post, we'll provide details about Upwork’s efforts, share common scams and red flags to look out for when reviewing job listings, and note how to report suspicious posts. While we encourage you to read on, the essential steps you can take to protect yourself are to ensure that pre-contract communications (with the exception of Enterprise clients) and all contract payments are sent within Upwork.


Trust & Safety’s Focus in 2022

Our Trust and Safety team has been and will continue to be, laser-focused on efforts to keep our community and customers safe. We’ve done this by: 

  • Doubling our team of security agents addressing scams through additional hiring and cross-training since the start of 2022.
  • Committing engineering resources to enhance machine learning detection and improve tooling to increase operational capacity for scam removals.
  • Continuing to investigate potentially non-compliant jobs through our internal controls and incoming reports from members of our community.

Upwork's Trust & Safety team proactively detects and removes many scam posts each hour of the day. But you can help, as we may not catch all scams before they reach the marketplace. With this in mind, we want to help you know what to look for and how to stay safe and establish trustworthy relationships on the Upwork platform.




Prominent scam methods


Promised Reimbursement 

What's the scam: The scammer will ask you to purchase supplies with the promise of paying you back. Typically, they will ask you to purchase office supplies for, say, $600 and offer to reimburse you$800. However, the scammer will ask you to send $200 first before purchasing. Shortly after they receive the money, they will cut off contact. Regardless of the dollar value, clients should not request that freelancers send money to them or make purchases on their behalf. 


What you can do: If a potential client contacts you requesting money, report them within the Upwork platform. 


Communicating Off-Platform 

What's the scam: Scammers tend to quickly move your conversation off and away from the Upwork platform. Doing so can aid them in evading detection by our systems. 


What you can do: Always use Upwork to communicate with the client, giving the Upwork team visibility and context if an incident should occur. This helps us protect you better, as we have limited capabilities to provide protection once you leave Upwork. 


Please Note: Enterprise Clients (see below for how to identify) are permitted to move communication off the platform. 


Red Flags: How to identify a scam

While Upwork has multiple layers of security, having information on these red flags can help you stay away from the wrong jobs. Our Trust and Safety team has compiled a list of red flags to look for:


Many open jobs, no money spent

Red flag: A client with many jobs open and no money spent. Additionally, keep an eye out for clients with zero or low reviews.


Trust and safety recommendation: When reviewing a job post, there is a section called "About the client." This section provides detailed client information like location, jobs posted, money spent, and their history on Upwork. 


Example: In the example, you'll notice the description has little detail and instead focuses on hard-to-pass promises.  





Unverified payment method

Red flag: The scammer will have an unverified payment method on their profile. Freelancers won't be eligible for Upwork payment protection without payment verification on the client-side.


Trust and safety recommendation: An easy way to verify a client is through their payment verification badge. Any client with this badge has a verified payment method. 


While you can still work for clients with unverified billing methods, there are more risks. If you want to continue with a client without payment verification, please know that you will not receive payment until the client completes their billing method verification. 


How to find payment verification: A client's payment verification will appear in the "about the client" section within a job post.



Not verified









Quick hiring process

Red flag: Scammers will try to hire you at a suspiciously fast rate, typically within the same hour or day. 


Trust and safety recommendation: If a scammer tries to hire you within the same hour or even the same day, look through the "About the client" section to review previous activity and money spent on the platform. If they have hired frequently and haven't paid out, be sure to stop contact with them and flag the job post as inappropriate. 


Example: Scammers will often post jobs featuring easy tasks and higher than average pay. They usually use these posts to hook people and work to quickly connect you with their recruiter. At that point, they will use the authority of a recruiter to collect your sensitive information, including your social security number and bank account number. 


Impersonating a known company

Red flag: Occasionally, scammers will impersonate or say they are affiliated with a well-known company when they are not.



Trust and safety recommendation: On Upwork, most well-known companies use our Enterprise Services. If a client is an Enterprise client, you will see the blue icon on their profile. This can help you identify the client's affiliation with any business or enterprise organization. If the client takes the conversation off of Upwork, without having the blue icon on their profile, and then says they are part of a well-known company, report them to Upwork before moving forward.




Example: Scammer will impersonate a trustworthy client to earn your trust and retrieve sensitive information, such as your social security or bank account information.


How to Report

Reporting any suspicious activity is the most effective way to help keep scammers off the platform—every report received is thoroughly investigated and reviewed. 


“We want to assure you we have a team in place that reviews and investigates every single post that is flagged as inappropriate.” Rianne Andrade, Senior Team Lead, Scam/Spam


We encourage you to view the following steps to familiarize yourself with how to report a job post, or a particular client or freelancer profile:


  1. While on the job post, in the profile, or in the message you'd like to report, you'll see an option to  "Flag as inappropriate." Select this option.





  1. Once you select the green flag, a box will appear. Select the reason for flagging the post or profile. Once you are done, select "Submit."









Learning how to identify these red flags will help you avoid scammers as a freelancer, and reporting can help others in the Upwork community avoid a potential scam. We appreciate your continued help and support! 


Do you have a question for our team? Leave it in the comments below. 

Community Member

Jason, this was a long overdue post glad it's finally here.


One question about the Unverified Payment Method: I was always under the impression that when a client hires someone they have to Validate and Verify the Payment method, without which they can't fund the Escrow? And can't hire anyone on an Hourly contract? 


What am I missing here? 


Community Manager

Hi Ashraf,


Thanks for reading this blog post and for your question!

Yes, in order to send an offer a client needs to add a payment method. They may still be in process of verifying it though and it would show as unverfied in that case. A payment method may also become unverified if it expires or there is an issue with it. 

Community Member

Yeah, I have to comment as well that unverified payment method is not a red flag alone. You should clarify that on this post because new clients will never get bids if you call them all scammers. 

Community Member

I was going to comment the same as Amanda.
The unverified payment should only be treated as something to consider when you are going to establish the contract. Just saying that "the freelancer must make sure that the payment is verified before signing the contract" would be better.
I don't think it should be flagged as a red flag per se.
Several of my clients did not have their payment verified and they verified it quickly when I mentioned it to them.
The only problem, for now, that I have had with payments was with a customer with verified payment. Hourly contract, Upwork paid me.

Also, I don't think new freelancers are going to show up around here. This would be better on "New to Upwork"

Community Member

I agree with Maria and Amanda. This comes up over and over in the forums. An unverified payment method isn't a red flag, it just means the client is new. It only becomes an issue if they refuse to (or say they're unable to) verify it before you accept the offer. Until the offer comes, the payment method is irrelevant.


Community Member

And since we are here, you can do the same for clients. There are also scammers among freelancers.

Community Member

You might want to add something to warn new freelancers about clients who ask for "security deposits" or for money to buy a security badge. These scammers seem to ask for relatively small amounts of money via PayPal, and target freelancers outside of the U.S., unlike the fake cheque scammers.

Community Member

This is a very nice post that new freelancers should know more about, it would be great if the Upwork community has the "highlight/priority/pinned post" and put them on top like most of the other forums out there.


Some clients are pretty new or not aware of ToS, I've met one who had included their WhatsApp number on their job post and they sent me a job invitation. I replied and told them that all conversations are to be held in Upwork before a contract is offered and they quickly removed their WhatsApp number from their job post. I didn't get the job in the end but their payment was verified and the hired freelancer got the earnings.


Recently, I got a client who was quite new even though they've joined Upwork a few months ago and asked me if I can have conversations with them through Telegram and I said I don't have Telegram (which is true!) and that all conversations should stay in Upwork messaging before hire, also explained to them about getting a job offer first before doing any work (and have their payment verified). They're being understanding and followed what I said, I'm still working with them just fine. 😁


Another job invitation from a new client who asked to draw comic pages and have sent some excel and powerpoint documents which I found were quite detailed and informative for the job but before I could continue my interview with them further, they suddenly couldn't have access to Upwork and cannot receive messages until access is restored. I don't know what happened to have someone reported them but at that time, the potential client sounded nice and genuine to me.


So give the clients a benefit of the doubt especially new ones. If they're genuine, they will listen but if they insist on going through their methods after you explain to them nicely, then you can just say goodbye to them and go on your merry way. Stay safe everyone and Happy New Year 2022! 😊

Community Member

Very good.

But, I echo other comments made, and I would like to point out that the vast majority of people who get scammed won't read this until it's too late...

Community Member

I agree that payment unverified is not a red flag. But I see nothing wrong with telling new freelancers that it is, since so many of them have no clue what they are doing and it serves them well to stay away from those until they gain more experience.