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From the Trust and Safety Team: How to Spot a Scam

Upwork Staff

The holiday season tends to bring more scammers to the platform (and just about everywhere else). It's important to stay vigilant during this time and report any suspicious postings you come across. In this post, we'll share the most frequent scam this quarter, red flags to look out for when reviewing job listings, and how to report suspicious posts. 


Our Trust and Safety team has been working overtime to help keep you safe, running multiple machine learning models and numerous reports to find potential scams. In addition, due to the higher seasonal volumes, our Trust and Safety team:

  • Hired additional security agents
  • Transferred team members, and cross-trained to help grow the team
  • Updated product functionality to be more cautious about the jobs shown to users
  • Continues to thoroughly investigate any incoming reports
  • Continues to monitor daily reports for potential scams

Upwork's Trust & Safety team is able to detect and reject hundreds of scam posts each day, but, unfortunately, due to the changing methods of scam accounts, we can't catch everything. It's important, therefore, that you know what to look for and how to establish trustworthy relationships on the Upwork platform.


Prominent Q4 scam:

Target audience: New Upwork Freelancers 


What's the scam: The scammer will ask you to purchase supplies with the promising of paying you back. Typically, they will ask you to purchase office supplies for $600 and offer to reimburse your $800. However, the scammer will ask you to send $200 first before purchasing. Shortly after they receive the money, they will cut off contact. 


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


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. We've worked with our Trust and Safety team to compile a list of red flags to watch for:


Many open jobs, no money spent

Red flag: A client that has 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. Taking on a client with verified payment ensures that you will be paid securely and promptly after completing the job.


While you can still work for clients with unverified billing methods, there are 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 day or hour, 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 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.


Money requests

Red flag: The scammer will request you send them money or ask you to purchase supplies for a job.

Trust and safety recommendation: If a client asks you to send money, contact our support team immediately and flag the job posting as inappropriate.

Example: A client may ask you to purchase a printer for $200, promising that they will send $800 back when the job is completed. After receiving the office supplies or money, the scammer will stop communication.


Communicate off-platform

Red flag: Scammers tend to quickly move your conversation off and away from the Upwork platform.

Trust and safety recommendation: Always use Upwork to communicate with the client,  giving the Upwork team visibility and context if an incident should occur. 

Example: The scam's purpose is to pull you away from Upwork protection. Typically the scammer will suggest moving to another application to continue the conversation, and from there, they can ask for sensitive information and money. Without visibility into the conversation, Upwork is unable to support you. 


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


Impersonating a known company

Red flag: Occasionally, scammers will impersonate or say they are affiliated with a well-known company.


Trust and safety recommendation: On Upwork, you can use the blue icon example to help identify the client's affiliation with any business or enterprise organization. 




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:

1. While on the job post you'd like to report, you'll notice a green flag near the "Submit a Proposal" button with the words "Flag as inappropriate." Select the green flag.




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







Learning how to identify these red flags will help you avoid scammers as a freelancer, and reporting will 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. 


About the Author: Jason Mitchell is a Senior Product Manager with Upwork Trust & Safety and leads our T&S product team. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and a pet chinchilla, and has been with Upwork since January 2020.