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Job warning signs

When reading a job description, what causes you to go "Ut-oh!"? What red flags do you see in applications that at least puts you on your guard, if not actually skip to the next one? Here's some of mine (and others):


First and foremost The work is yours until you are paid in full. You own the copyright until you have been paid the agreed sum. If you choose to work for 15 cents per hour then that's your problem. If it takes longer than you thought..again, down to you. BUT. If you have done your bit according to the contract that you agreed, then the work is yours until it's paid for.


Asking for payment or to use your own accounts (Thanks Dave!) Money comes from the client to you; anything else and you're doing it wrong. Do not ever (unless you know the client really well, and give it second thoughts even then) pay for something for the client unless you have received the money from them first. Deposit for something; webhosting accounts; domain name; subscription for site X that is "essential for the job" etc etc. No money. Ever. Similarly, do not use your own eBay, Craigslist etc. accounts to list things for sale...chances are high that it will end badly and wreck any good karma you have built up there. And it'll be you in the frame if it turns out that it was illegal.


"Bait and Switch" (Thanks Selcalmel!) Clients advertise one job and then offer a different job at interview. Now there can be valid reasons for this; but a big difference between the job description and the work you're being offered should be viewed with extreme suspicion. Mostly on oDesk it's either jobs that you wouldn't have applied for if the job was described honestly or changing the rules to try and get the price down.


Too many people being interviewed This can be a sign that the buyer is dividing the job up and giving the various parts as a 'test' to applicants...with the intention of getting the job for free. It could just be that the buyer is looking for a very specific set of skills, or other innocent motive, but maybe not.

NOTE: (Thanks Brandon!) This also applies to the client's history...check the total number of jobs posted versus people hired. If there are a load of jobs posted but few contracts awarded, then proceed with caution.


Only low bidders being interviewed If you're not one of the low bidders on that job then it's probably not worth applying.


Long list of demands, silly budget We've all seen them; the jobs for an all-singing, all-dancing website for $100, followed by either a HUGE feature list and/or a long list of qualities required by the contractor. Luckily for you, the buyer is advertising the fact that they are a wanker (behaviour which is unlikely to change if you were unfortunate enough to land the contract). This buyer knows the market well enough to know exactly what they want; and must therefore know that the budget is exploitative...move on. And as a corollary to the above (Thanks Louis!):


People who bellow orders, often in capitals "SUCH SUCH WILL NOT BE READ I IF [insert term].... OTHERWISE I WILL DELETE YOUR APPLICATION IMMEDIATELY". Or "MUST ATTACH SUCH AND SUCH OTHERWISE YOU ARE WASTING MY TIME". Some people -presumably after watching Alan Sugar or that twat Trump- think that this is how bosses should behave. I see it mostly as a sign of either someone being new to being in a position to call the shots and is a bit insecure about it, or someone who is a natural git. In either case your job will be more difficult because of it. Also, these types of application are frequently paired with a ridiculous budget. Any buyers who are reading this should note that this isn't the way to go about things...also all capitals make it harder to read and you're increasing the chances of applicants missing an important detail. Annoying people before they've even applied for your job cannot possibly help. Am I the only one, by the way, who feels the impulse to reply in kind?: "Listen up bitch. I reckon I can do it in 10 hours which'll cost you $450 and if that isn't good enough then you can just **Edited for Community Guidelines** would be a fairly short application, probably.


Mention of half-finished job/previous contractor/s There are two factors here...sorting out what someone else has done often takes longer than just doing whatever it is from scratch. You will very probably be inheriting a hairy-arsed nightmare. The other factor -and a question you should be asking yourself (and the buyer, come to that)- is exactly why the previous contractor didn't finish. It does happen that buyers get a run of bad luck with contractors (often after playing in the lower budget ranges), so it isn't necessarily the buyer's fault. On the other hand, it could be. Rescuing a client from a wall-to-wall catastrophe at the 11th hour is one of the best smug feelings you can get as a freelancer; but these jobs are high-risk...you need to ascertain for yourself that the buyer is genuine before getting in too deep. A note to any buyers reading this: If you've already been through two or more contractors and you still don't have a result, you need to seriously consider throwing a match in and starting with fresh code. I've had jobs where it took significantly longer to find out what the hell the previous guys had done than it would have taken to just bin everything and do the job. And with other people's code, you can never be 100% sure that you haven't missed something important/broken/nasty.


One-line descriptions Buyers quite often don't know the information that a contractor needs in order to produce a final product the client will be happy with; that's not a problem and it's the contractor's job to ask the right questions. But when you see a job like "I need a website. Plz replie", just move on. If they can't be bothered, then neither can I.


Payment method not verified Sign either of a first-time user or a scammer. If the unverified user is overly familiar with the way oDesk works...warning! If it's a first time user, you may well have to do some unofficial oDesk support and talk them through it. And you might still get scammed at the end.


Anything where you have to create a user account on another site (that isn't the site you're working on) before you start. No. Just no.


Business plan with failure built in As a webdesigner, I hear 10 plans for world domination before breakfast. Some job descriptions have fail built into the very fabric of the scheme. The worst ones are the ones where you have to mess around with NDAs and soothe the buyer that you're not going to be over the horizon with his masterplan (which often as not turns out to be another bloody facebook or youtube clone). *sigh*


Jobs where 'clients' are mentioned I don't really like sub-sub contracting. Firstly there's there's the thought of the buyer sitting on his arse collecting cash for my work; which rankles a bit. Secondly -and more important- is the 'Chinese Whisper Effect'; where the original client's specs is filtered through the middleman's idea of what the end-client wants. These specs may well not be accurate. You *will* be doing extra work because of this. The same applies to large companies where an underling has been given the task and is now offloading it onto you; but in this case the specs are more often written down. The worse case in this latter scenario can be where it's a committee and everyone present has to get a design change in there -no matter how pointless- just to get their name in the minutes of the meeting.


"It will only take 5 minutes" No it won't. No job in the history of contracting has ever taken only 5 minutes. It takes longer than that to liase with the potential client, for a start.


Jobs that aren't worth it ((Your hourly rate) * (Number of hours you think it will take)) + (Say 10% safety margin for extra missions/unexplained bits) = (Your price for the job). If there's not enough money or not enough time, then it's usually best to move on.


Anything that mentions CAPTCHA or removing watermarks It's naughty. Don't.


Web scraping Nah. Probably illegal (copyright) and definitely immoral. You're stealing someone else's work. Worse...you're automating stealing someone else's work.


Jobs where it looks like a reasonable budget for the job until you read the description and it turns out that the budget is a monthly wage for full-time work of the same type This is annoying and wastes time.


Non-profit organisation (Thanks Mahesh!) A non-profit organisation is not the same thing as a charity. Some are, of course, but some are tax dodges, some are for groups of people, with the aim of the organisation being something you don't necessarily approve of..."Mothers in support of the ruthless oppression of Brits in Spain"; "White supremacy"; "Black supremacy"; whatever. Or -as Mahesh points out- it could just be weasel-wording for the fact that they haven't made any money.


Buyers asking for free work samples/tests (Thanks Anna!) It is the buyer's right to ask, just as it is your right to refuse. It's also discouraged by oDesk. All the veteran contractors (including me) will advise against free samples and in any case that's what your portfolio is for...to show previous examples of work and the standard that you're capable of. For contractors it just is not worth it...if there's 30 applicants to the job, you're spending time doing work for a 1 in 30 chance of getting a job. You can spend your entire life doing this and not make a penny. Now that I've said all that, a free sample is what landed me my first job on oDesk...someone wanted a graphic vector conversion and -having some free time- I just did it and sent an (unusable) sample graphic in. The buyer didn't demand a sample (I would not have applied if that were the case), but I proved I could do the job by doing it. Traditionally in design work, it used to be the case that the designer offered several alternate designs; but those were for *much* larger-budget jobs. It isn't worth even considering for the sort of jobs that are at oDesk. If you do choose to give free samples, always watermark them (Thanks Ernesto!). In the case of writing samples, send them as a graphic or locked PDF so that the text can't be used without paying you.


Free work samples - Part II If the buyer is asking for free samples and if it's the sort of job that can be broken up into smaller tasks then pay extra attention; and also look closely at the number of people being interviewed.


"Great opportunity for newbies" (Thanks Judith!) This means that a buyer is offering a risably small budget for work in exchange for giving you feedback. This is either feedback blackmail or investing time in order to get in the game, depending upon your point of view. You are definitely being taken advantage of; but really it's your decision...as long as you go into it with your eyes open and as long as it's all agreed at the start. Buyers trying to use feedback to change the terms after the job has started, however, should be reported.


Vague specifications (Thanks Louis!) It's harder to work with vague specifications, mostly, but you see quite a lot of jobs with insufficient detail. If you're extremely lucky, it's a buyer who wants this Thing to perform this Function; is busy; has correctly assessed your level of competence; and trusts you to get 'er done. This is rare. It is, however, also difficult to write job descriptions with exactly the right amount of detail. Insufficient detail could be due to laziness; unfamiliarity with the oDesk system; lack of knowledge (which is after all why the buyer is getting a professional in)...lots of reasons. The best way of approaching this -I believe- is to use the application letter and interview to clear up any ambiguities and to focus in on the specs so that you and the client both agree on what the job actually is and where the boundaries are. If you start the job and only have a vague idea of what the client wants, you are going to have problems. Possibly big problems if the job description also states...


Unlimited redo A job description containing these words should be approached with caution. Particularly with website work, as you're essentially agreeing to maintain it forever as part of the deal. Add a bit of mission creep to a contract like this and you're in a world of hurt. I always specify 'reasonable amount of re-do' in the cover letter. It's a contract and you should never agree to something that can suck up an infinite amount of your time for free. I understand that buyers want their work the way they want it and the 'unlimited' is mostly just a way of ensuring that their needs will be met. You, the contractor, also needs to ensure that you're covered, so best to renegotiate this phrase.


"Send us ID" This is not needed to work at oDesk. Don't do it or you will be very sorry. Verify who you are through oDesk, if you must, but ***NEVER*** send ID; bank account details, PayPal, eBay or any other information that can be used by ID-theft types.


Write to me outside of odesk This isn't necessarily a problem...everyone has their preferred methods of communication. At the first hint of paying outside of oDesk you should run away quickly: It's against oDesk rules; will get your account terminated if you're caught; and you will probably get stiffed by the buyer anyway.


Phishing (Thanks Santos!) The way this works is that someone sends you a link (usually an obscured one like "http://bit.ly/whatever"). This takes you to a page that *looks like* a login page to a common internet service (Gmail, Paypal, Amazon, whatever), but isn't. What the page is, is a copy of that login screen and the idea is that you type your password in and it gets captured by naughty people. It's then standard practice to use that email/username/password on lots of other common services to see if they work. If you 1) fall for it and 2) use the same password everywhere, you're stuffed. Don't trust an obscured link; and ALWAYS check the URL on a login screen, just to make sure you're in the place you think you are. Personally, I go a little further than that and keep a link with my (encrypted) password file and I only use my local link to visit web services.


Good luck out there!

977 REPLIES 977
Community Member

I'm just curious guys, would you work for a client who claimed to be interested in collaborating for long term but insisted on chipping in only $1 dollar for the first milestone and upon work completion only he would fund the remaining payment? (PS: the total payment is only 12$ dollar) He also said he should have the right to decline my work if it is not up to his expectation.



I kinda sensed this would be end up being free work even if I gave him exactly what he wants. He could have very well just took my completed work and claimed it's not what he wants, and there it is he gets a free work. It's difficult to work for someone who claims to be interested in working on a long term basis but starts doubting me from day 1. If he can't afford to pay 12 dollars for the first project for the so called "trial", I doubt he would be willing to fork out a larger payment in the future.


Let me know what would you guys do, thank you in advance.

No. He or she needs to pay at least the price of one article/page/hour for your work. Your time is valuable. Mark this one as money offered too low, give it a thumbs down, and look for something else.

Community Member

Here I would like to add few signs, hope it would help the freelancer community.


During my 8 years career on upwork (Formerly oDesk) I have come accross such clients that I would like to share with you.


A. Upwork Job = is for my client (sort of sub contract)

    1. Client post a job with good budget to attract the contractors, they invite good reputed contractor


    2. They start communication with contractor and exchange the skype or hangout or whatever finds easy for communication.


    3. Then suddenly client (who posted the job in upwork) ask to do "just this type", "just this sort" of work (same as job posted but with very --main-- basic functionality like job posted) and tells that "the job posted in upwork is for my client but the things we discuss here is my personal one so lets do it in less budget, and if we succeed then we will be in win win situation to do this job for my client...!!!!" and *blah* *blah* *blah* 


B. Cost estimation base on your locality (based on where you live)!! (sounds interesting ya?)

   Few years back I had hired by one client from USA, I was not having much work so I accepted job and start working (thinking that I could land more jobs after finishing this, also I was not that much good in analyze the people by their talk and so forth). He asked me "where do I live?", "Which area of India?" etc etc. I told him and after the next meeting of this one he start bargaining me for the hourly rate...! I accepted job for 7 USD per hour and he insist me to do it in 5 USD per hour plus with more work burder then agreed for 7 USD, When I say no, he start talking about the "cost of living" and "my budget is not that much" and I immidiately cancle the job and refund his money to that client.


In what locality of world we live, we (freelancers) are adding values to their products at world level!

If we want to do work on local rate then why we come to upwork?



After all I had been following the rules of upwork and I am happy freelancer at all and also educate my clients (new to upwork) of DOs and Don'ts, and in case of confusion upwork support staff are always 24/7 ready to assist us.

Community Member

I just had a client invite me to interview for a job. "Great, I thought, someone actually wants me potentially to do the job." What should have hit my red flag first is the number of candidates being interviewed: over 60.


Still I read the description, it seemed ok, and said that I would like to interview for the job. Eventually I got a paragraphs-long message saying how good the company is, what they offer, and that the interview is on this Saturday. All I said in my initial message was that I wanted more information, so this was red-flag number 2, because I was given a long message that seemed vague and had nothing to do with the job. I was given a link to a page of a company, but I have no way to determine if that company is who I am dealing with.


L:astly, after this message was posted, they cancelled the job. Even though I supposedly have an "interview." This tells me that they are likely looking to want to work outside of Upwork.


Afterwards, I reported the job. The job page in question: **Edited for Community Guidelines**


Maybe I'm being paranoid, but a client cancelling a job when they clearly are looking to "interview" you seems like they want you to work outside of Upwork.



It looks like the job and the client you are referring to have already been removed from the platform. Thank you for reporting.

~ Valeria
Community Member

Hi, I'm new here and really appreciate all the tips that I've read so far in this thread. I hope to have time to read the whole thing soon. For now I have just been able to read the first few and last few pages so please forgive me if this has been covered already, but how do you all feel about the following?


I got an invitation to interview for a Project Manager Position. The client doesn't have a payment method verified or any history on Upwork, and the listing says he is looking to hire 8 freelancers. Proposals are 20 to 50 and there are 7 interviewing. 


I replied letting the contact know I am available to interview and to let me know what time he would like to set the interview up for. He responded saying that he needed to speak to me on the phone about the position because it is complicated. (The description in the job listing is only two sentences long and vague.) I gave him my cell number via the Upwork messaging system and then got a text from him that said "I tried calling your number but it won't connect. Anyway let me know if you get this text." He also sent me a message on Upwork asking if I got his text. I responded to both letting them know I’ve had a couple of contacts call me and my phone service seems to be working properly so I look forward to hearing from him. Then no further response. 


I see posts on this thread warning about giving out personal information. Would this include your personal cell number or is that a fairly common way for freelancers and potential clients to interview? Thoughts?


Thanks for any input you may have. 


It is mostly OK to give out a phone number, but as you are new, be very, very careful of invitations. This client seems a bit off to me.


Here is a really useful list of what to watch out for:



(Unfortunately, it has been removed from its permanent spot in the greyed-out area of the content corner, which you will find under "Official Upwork" in the "Browse Categories"  . . .)

Hi Nichola, many thanks for the quick response and link. Very helpful! I'll make sure to be overly cautious with these invitations. I seem to be getting a lot of questionable ones. 


Thanks again!


Community Member

Although your post was about 5 years old, this is very helpful information for a newbie.  Thanks.


Community Member

You put the details together very well, Bravo.
For new clients, also you will notice there are copy/ pasted messages over and over, the one I recognize nowadays is "You can live in Hawaii or anywhere you choose"

These are from Luxembourg and USA and the United Arab Emirates and are without a reputation whatsoever.

Your trustworthy client will tell you they are in Kenya or Singapore.
We can waste a lot of time on these, so it's best we inform each other on new techniques of their scams.

Community Member

Sorry folks, I could not find the last comment to edit...

However, one obvious post would say "Looking for a VA" etc and they want to hire 99 freelancers with no repu at all and started their account Today.
Another might mention a well-known firm, but with a little investigation, you can determine they have their own temp service to utilize and a company as an established temp service can definitely verify their payments.

Yet another red-flag to me are the firms that take so much time to Describe what an admin assistant does, rather than tell you what you what the scope of work is.
I unfortunately, found a few that wanted me to take care of accounting duties, they promise Over and over there is no cost, but will ask you to open a google wallet account and use your own bank information to deal with their transactions.
"You can input all information on an Excel spreadsheet"

Please be aware that it did not occur here on Elance or oDesk or Upwork.
But all these "Slight of hand" techniques...

I am amused by the few applicants that actually bid for that work. Many of them seem to have their own existence, like an insect

I also feel quite sorry for them, because they don't read these forums.



Community Manager
Community Manager

Hi Elvira, 

Please share with me the jobs and/or links of the posts you have seen so that the team can review and take action against these client accounts if necessary. 

In the future, we'd appreciate it if you could help us report these posts by clicking on the Flag Inappropriate on the job post.

Flag as Inappropriate.png

~ Avery
Community Member

Hello Avery,
I always flag them, that's for certain! The other day on the job post, under "Similar jobs on Upwork" was yet another firm with the same exact description, word for word as the one I was looking at...
Of course, I flag them.
I believe some people get paid (25 cents an hour perhaps?) to cram websites with job posts like that to do something very wicked.
Launder funds or steal your identity.
Or not too destructive, but as discussed above are looking for free work.

It is not too good for the few freelancers who are so gullible and actually submitted a proposal...

But we live and we learn, I've fallen for it myself years ago. Only for a day. The only thing I lost is my time.


And about the links, I'm quite sure I'll see a few today, so will forward them to you, OK? I don't dig back through posts too far. Where can I send them? Am not sure if I send an attachment here it will be of access to everyone and know about the client privacy...




Community Member

Would you believe it?
One of the rats posted another ad just 8 minutes ago!
I have a screenshot.


Community Member

There is a ring of these folks here, I have 8 screenshots and went as far as 30 days, which lead me to a verified client in USA with over 1k spent, but seems it's the same ad since July and they hired several folks to do it, but everyone got 5 bucks and the contract was over and all have great reviews too, yet the client is still looking.
I'm wondering if the people he hired are the ones helping him get accounts in a few places around the globe...
To me, it smells like profile manipulation.
But it might be Pandora's box, right?

Community Member

Thank you so much for the information. 



Is there not a way to stop these unsolicited invitations to interview? A place to change my profile to "Payment Method Verified" invitations only would work for us newbies.  Or maybe this option exists already and I can't find it?



Community Member

I was just scammed by a person posing as a representative of **Edited for Community Guidelines**. They asked me to interview on Google Hangouts which I did, then the proceeded to offer me a full time virtual assistant job, complete with offer letter. I reached out to the company which happens to be local to me and spoke to their cyber security manager. The real company asked me to send them the emails, offer letter and NDA they wanted me to sign, no such job, no such rep, thank goodness not stupid enough to give bank info. Just wanted to share, as I am new. Now any invitations to apply, I tell them right upfront I do not work outside upwork and only with verified companies....now they drop like flies!

Good job.


How many of these do you get a day? I get 2-4 pretty much every day, it's a PITA to have to deny each one.

I'm not a newbie and still got a few.

When I increased my hourly rate they stopped coming in.

But also in my state the minimum wage is $15 per hour.

Raising your minimum hourly rate helps, but you will still get a few. The very best way is to develop steady, repeat clients and then shut your profile down to "no new work." If you find that you are no longer busy, it is easy to open your profile back up for new offers.

Thanks for letting us know, Deborah. We'll have the job and the client's account reviewed and proper actions taken as soon as possible.

~ Valeria
Community Member

Thanks, really useful info

Community Member

Thanks for giving these tip-offs. They have been my experiences so far but fortunately i wasn't a victim. I wanted to flag a particular job post which i believe have violated policy terms by asking for upfront fees so that others can be warned but i can't find the flag as suggested by support center

Hi Yetunde,


Please report the job directly to support so we can take a look. Never pay in order to win a job or be able to work on it, and check the list of tips we've shared here.

~ Vladimir
Community Member

This is helpful
Community Member

Please I wish to ask because I am a newbie, what happens when a client fails to review work done on hours to billed to him by the dead line, does it mean I don't get paid for the that week? Because my client travelled and should be back on sept 24 but his review period elapsed on the 23rd. What's going to happen?

Sarah, you are paid automatically for the hours you logged.

Clients don't need to do anything.

Community Member

Thanks for your valuable TIPS.  M question: Same Company, same proposal, different payment terms  (?)

I received a  proposal yesterday with a pay test survey + an offer. I sent it. Today I got the contract with the same company  and someone else. The terms from yesterday have change. Do I have to contact Upwords to refer  it, or just changes the terms directly with the client before accepted it? Thanks for suggestions.  

Hi Maria Victoria,


You may want to communicate with the client and ask them to update the offer terms before you accept it. 

~ Valeria

Thnks. I will.

Community Member

great advice for a beginner like me...thanks a lot...

Community Member

So a client wants me to write articles for them, at 20 dollars per 500 words, yet wanted to discuss the interview on Skype and wanted to use paypal or bank transfer as the agreed upon terms.  Is this proper or against policies or a scam for articles?



Yes, The client is scam artist if he says that he will pay outside the Upwork and this is against the Upwork's TOC. Be carefull..!

Jay V.

Okay.  Thanks.


re: "Is this proper or against policies or a scam for articles?"


Not proper.

Usually it is BOTH against policies AND a scam to get articles for free.


So you basically have 3 options with this:


a) client will pay you outside of Upwork, and you'll get your Upwork account suspended or terminated

b) client will pay you nothing, and you'll work for free

c) client will pay you nothing AND you'll get your account suspended or terminated

Thanks for all the great advice in this article.  I have one situation that seems to be in the middle.

I come across contracts that are fine through the interview process.  The hourly contract is signed.  Then the client comes up with, "You send me 200 email, then I'll pay $32".

I came across another job(I haven't signed yet), that said, Post items on a website & I'll pay $40 for each item you post.

Terms like that seem hard to track or difficult to put into a contract exactly.  Would that be considered charged as "Bonus or Extra" time?

I've only looked at this on the surface, but would really like some advice on this.


Thank You,

Jeremiah Grande

Admin Assistant

Hi Jeremiah,


It's sometimes happens that during the interview the client and the freelancer renegotiate and decide to change the type of the contract from hourly to fixed-price and vice versa. It's recommended to discuss the terms in detail before accepting the offer to avoid any confusion. Please, note that bonus and manual payments on hourly contracts are not covered by Upwork Hourly Protection.

~ Valeria
Community Member

I'm new to Upwork and the other day I received a job offer for Data Entry/Transcription from a **Edited for Community Guidelines**, has anyone else gotten this also?


I have a few reservations and I would like to hear from anyone else that know about the job offer I'm talking about. I appreciate your help.



Debbie Leach

Hi Debra, You're not allowed to mention people's name here. Why do you have reservations? Is your client payment verified?

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