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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!

981 REPLIES 981

Hi Mark,


I see that you have already contacted Customer Support to report the client. I would also recommend you attach some screenshots of messages from that client where he or she asks you to purchase the software.


I am really sorry your first experience on oDesk was negative, but I am sure you will be able to get past it and become successful on the platform.

~ Valeria
Community Member

Good information. Thanks.


This information is very beneficial for newbie or even for old freelancers too.


I would suggest to Odesk to always email such things via email to newbie, that they can learn more that how they have to work on Odesk.

Tejendra, I agree with you.

I have been advocating increased contractor training (voluntary, with rewards for participation and demonstrated enhanced knowledge) as a key way to lessen the problem of scam job postings. So far this is only a suggestion... I have not heard anything from oDesk about enhancing contractor training.
Community Member

Regarding non-profit, it isn't always a warning sign. I recently redid a site for a non-profit in LA, and the contract went decently well. However, the job description didn't rub my face in the fact that they were non-profit.

Community Member

Thorough observation. I loved the post. Should help a Freelancer save tons of time. As if I was going through my personal experience of few years in a single post. Excellently gathered and marvelously crafted with words.

Community Member

Thanks Darren.


Why don't put this post in the 'Odesk Readiness test for freelancers', I think this is an important thing people should now, after this, freelancer should put their 'red line' close to 2 or 3 jobs in order to leave to be a newbie.


This morning I have finished a mail list with 'This is the last of my free advice' after seeing that a job similar (probably same client) was posted and I was not invited for.


Thanks again.




Community Member

It is quite normal to be offered for a payment outside oDesk but it's really not normal to accept it. You are deceiving actually.


I really liked the part "Buyers asking for free work samples". This happens in writing jobs foremost and I don't understand, what's wrong with a client when I tell them not only I am a regular blogger but also my work is available across World Wide Web.


Happy oDesking!

Community Member

If a client is blaming and complaining about the work of a previous freelancer he hired, that is a wrning sign imho. In such cases it is a good idea to show some excuse, not give the client a chance to pick a fight and get out of the contract amicably as soon as possible.

Community Member

Odesk would like all workers with years experience and education to take unreal tests for the most part, with no clients being a real company with little intent to pay for honest services. I see rates from 1.50 to 2.50 for administration, writing, typing, accounting, file keeping, and full time work for a supposed CEO. There are few who can detail the real work they need and most claim the work needed is part time work that is actually full time. Odesk does not take the time to screen supposed employers at all. In this way, it would be nearly impossible for a real professional to get work through a reputable company on Odesk and good feedback. I would say 9 out of 10 jobs on Odesk are red flags.

Community Member

Needs advise and suggestions on job hunting here...Im a newbie, and this client doesmt have payment verified on the job post and no info about him, i think its not legit but can i have other opinions from others?

And also theres another client, his post would require me to give my email and contact # and add him on skype and google talk. But when I saw his profile on Facebook by using the email he gave, it was a guy who wants to meet girls and all this nasty posts abt getting laid. Im not judgemental I believe its a scam, im still waiting for the reply.

Hi Ela and welcome to the Upwork Community,


If the client's payment method is not verified, you can still apply for his or her job and go through the interview process. However, make sure that the client verifies the payment method before you actually start working on the contract.


As for the second client, if while researching information about the company you discovered something that makes you feel uncomfortable, you should not work with them. If the client acts inappropriately, please report him to Customer Support.

~ Valeria

re: "And also theres another client, his post would require me to give my email and contact # and add him on skype and google talk. But when I saw his profile on Facebook..."


Wow. No. I do NOT need to do research on a client for me to know that if they're asking for my email, contact #, and to add my on Skype and Google talk, that I want to have nothing to do with them.


What if you did research and found out nothing? Would you have sent all your contact information to this "client"?


I hope not.


I real, legitimate client on Upwork should be happy just to contact you via Upwork.


If I have a real, paying client that I trust, I don't mind communicating via email of that's what they prefer. But I ALWAYS prefer to use Upwork messaging.


Nobody client needs 4 or 5 ways to contact me.

I have many real, legitimate clients that contact me through my email or Skype. There is nothing wrong with this and in fact, it can be a good thing given the way the messaging system seems to work.


Do not write off a client simply because they want your email or want to talk to you on Skype.


Do write them off if they have done something that makes you feel uncomfortable.

Yes, Skype is okay.
Email is okay.
But Skype AND email AND Google talk AND personal phone # in addition to Upwork messaging is NOT okay. Even a client hiring you as a personal assistant doesn't ask for all that.
Community Member

This is pretty random but I've read on an FB page catered towards freelancers like us that jobs involving captcha are scams. How is it exactly a scam? I mean, how does a client scam a contractor with captcha jobs?

re: "I mean, how does a client scam a contractor with captcha jobs?"


Well, Robert, we're actually talking about a specific type of CAPTCHA job that is a recurrent scam.


We are not talking about ALL jobs involving CAPTCHAs. I personally design custom, high-end CAPTCHA systems for select clients. They pay well for the work and they get web-based systems with unprecedented, un-hackable security, partially because of the techniques I use and partially because the entire system is un-published, the code is not available anywhere, and so there's no way for CAPTCHA-breakers to study the system and devise a way around it.


That type of CAPTCHA job is obviously not a scam.


But what people are talking about is a widespread scam that uses the same wording over and over and changes some of the contact information, and gets contractors to enter captcha strings for graphics using an application they download.


There are many ethical issues we could get into that I won't address, but the main reason it is a scam is that contrators end up doing a lot of work and are paid nothing. As far as I know, they're not even paid the small pittance that they're promised.


Ultimately, it doesn't matter if the client was asking the contractors to design a poster for Cancer Awareness Month or do work specifically meant to subvert somebody else's security system. The fact that the "client" DOES NOT PAY MONEY TO THE CONTRACTOR is the main reason I call the "CAPTCHA capture" jobs a scam.


And, like I said, there are many other problems with the job, including the fact that it is SPECIFICALLY FORBIDDEN by Upwork's documented Terms of Use.


You could get your Upwork account permanently suspended for messing around with that stuff.

Community Member

Wow! This right here should be in a way our own way of "NEW FREELANCERS ORIENTATION AND GUIDE". Given that everything has been explained in black and white, do's and dont's, what's a clear indicator of a bogus client/job offer. I appreciate the time and effort you invested with this information, we newbies should be well aware and should not be afraid to ask if you feel there are some gray areas that you still don't understand. Smart people ask, we ask because we are smart enough to know we don't things and we need better understanding.

My BIGGEST THANK YOU TO YOU. The perfect map from applying a job, getting interviewed, getting hired for the job and getting the payment. I will surely remember those, again, KUDOS!!

Community Member

Very useful topic. Many thanks to authors.
Just want to add one more warning: always be careful with links and content that client sends you.
Remember that even Word and Excel documents may contain macro viruses and web sites may contain malicious scripts.



@dmitry T wrote:

Very useful topic. Many thanks to authors.
Just want to add one more warning: always be careful with links and content that client sends you.
Remember that even Word and Excel documents may contain macro viruses and web sites may contain malicious scripts.



This may sound silly, but how will we know before opening it? 

In addition to active antivirus on work machine I always use https://www.virustotal.com/

It checks files and URLs via 50+ antivirus engines.

For a single scanning it's even better than any local antivirus.

Community Member

This is a great list of warning signs, it'll help me a lot given that I'm a new recently registered freelancer on Upwork.
I saw one posting that was a fine example of one of the warnings on the list, some guy had the post say:
"I will not accept your application if you don't address yourself as a "minion" 
Ridiculous requirements from some of these clients.

re: "I will not accept your application if you don't address as a minion"

This is not EXACTLY what the client said. (I looked.) I agree this Is NOT a client you want to work for, but the client was actually asking applicants to use the word "minion" in the beginning of the job application cover letter as a way of filtering out applicants who don't read job descriptions.
Community Member


Ron aka LanWanMan
Community Member

(This is actually a rant)


What are your comments regarding clients who post hourly-jobs then ask you to work for a fixed rate?


Also, what if the fixed rate would definitely be lower than your hourly? How far would you consider it?


I withdrew my application from a client I applied to write for at $12/hour.


He then asked me what my price was for 1000 words. I averaged most of my write-ups and came to the conclusion that I am "often" paid at least $20 for 1000 words. This is coming from a person who writes on a per/hour basis (with customized images and customized header, and references included) so I can't exactly give the right figure.


So you can say it often takes me about 1.5 hours to create an article of 1000 words. The client then berated me for the price since he mentioned he has writers who work for $8.5 (probably the highest amount) for 1000 words and that's with everything on top. He also requires at least 5000 words (or more) a week.


I don't know about other writers but I find this cheap. Pouring your time and ideas for peanuts. If he offered me 12 I would've considered.


P.S. He asked me to write a paid (if he accepts it) test and I was about to. Good thing he sent me a message.

Community Member

Depending on the subject matter, I charge as much as $125.00 per 1000 words. Then again, I do translational medicine type pieces and white papers, so clients are paying for scientific or business expertise in addition to the writing. Even for straight SEO type writing, $20 per 1000 is low. 

Community Member

Fantastic, comprehanvise post. Thanks for your effort.


Too bad it describes 99.99% of the jobs on UpWork.  {{sigh}}

No it doesn't. 



But yeah, there are a lot of scams out there but if you know your way around, you should be able to filter probably 70-80% of the time. 🙂

Community Member

Brilliant! And yet soooo sad because it's true. If upwork was to filter out all those job posts you mentioned, there would be about 7 left on the entire site. Can we all be realistic here and agree that the "good old times of freelancing" are coming to an end? Thanks upwork, thanks elance, thank you odesk

Community Member

Brilliant post, thanks, bud. Like someone else already noted on this thread, we should demand oDesk to place restrictions/regulations on clients' job posts. There is a lot of emphasis on what exactly freelancers should do to, but it seems for clients it's anything goes. There should also be more filtering criteria/options for us to filter job offers by. We're wasting a lot of time looking for jobs that present themselves misleadingly or turn out as scam.

Community Member

Should someone refuse to go through the proper channel (award the project via Upwork, payment verification), that's definitely a warning sign.


I was recently contacted by someone who wanted to have a website made for their company. We went though the usual formalities, and my "scam-sense" tingled when they mentioned that they prefer to coordinate the project "directly" (i.e., won't go through the proper Upwork channel). Along with this was a "creit card" problem thay have been experiencing. I also got the feeling that they were asking for spec work (and they have a couple of bad reviews, mostly non-payment issues).


Long story short, I went off the grid (admittedly) and I was surprised that this person called me a jerk the next day, on the main job feed. Not my idea of fame.

Hi Michael,


I'm really sorry you had a bad experience with your client. If you haven't already, please report this client to Customer Support for disintermediation and inappropriate behaviour, or by using the Flag as inappropriate link on their profile or job post, so we can take a look at the case and address it.

~ Vladimir
Community Member

The original post was very informative. Also, everyone should read the Freelancer Policies and the Client Policies. They tell you what is and is not allowed by the freelancers and clients, including "Soliciting or processing payment outside of Upwork is prohibited for the safety and security of all Upwork Users." I received a couple like this already.

Community Member

Okay I know we're not supposed to promote uploading free samples for job applications (and instead point them towards our portfolios and/or any links to websites which have our products) but what if we're not getting hired because we REFUSE to submit samples?


It's been bothering me recently specially when I just read a thread in the coffee break section, poking fun at the cover letter lengths, with one guy saying he got his best job by giving a free sample long ago.


Would you guys just prepare a "dummy" free sample (a generic sample) for applications sake or will you enforce the "no free sample" policy?

If you have generic free sample that you send to potential clients, that is NOT doing "free work."


That is providing a sample of your work in much the same way that you should be providing with your portfolio.


If a client asks you to send a sample of your work, and sends you a paragraph-long synopsis of a 3-page article he needs written, to "test your skills," then the "client" is simply going to keep your article and disappear or othewise not hire you. So you're wasting your time with him.

You're right. I should probably just upload the files I have in my portfolio and play the redundant game.


P.S. Hot **bleep** Preston. Every answer sounds better once it comes from you. 

Community Member

First of all, thank you for this! Coming from a 15+ years only-though-agencies background, it proved itself invaluable in my way to becoming my own agency (and finally obtaining full control of my workflow - Yay!) without being ripped during the process. With only one unpaid job in the 45+ contracts I've got in less than 4 months, I'm absolutely delighted with my Upwork experience so far!


One point that I strictly follow and would recommend to always consider when you apply for a job - particularly if you are a newbie - is to target direct clients, as opposed to intermediates. They always have a deep knowledge of the project - as it's theirs, and usually a side-project they're personally financing -, so they'll have great responsiveness and will both appreciate your quality work and professionality and be glad to promptly pay you for the well done job.


On the other, many times hellish side, intermediates for the most part just want a fast & high turnaround, no-questions-asked job at a ludicrous rate, and will often make you wait for the money - 7-10 days if you're lucky . because the client makes them wait for it as well.


Just saying!

Community Member

I should have read this before I start working with client. I am new to odesk and happily started yesterday and worked seriously with his instructions and offers without second thought. However, as I go along with the job, I think I was a victim now. I am afraid not to get paid for $3/hr for the 6 hours I have already spent. 😭

I  think everyone gets screwed at least once, Unfortunately.

Community Member

What should I do if I've been scammed?!
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