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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

@Jaquelin V wrote:
What should I do if I've been scammed?!

What scam did you fall for? 

Without knowing the details or the magnitude of the scam:


a) report the scammer to Upwork;


b) analyse what you did wrong and put whatever you need to have in place to make sure it doesn't happen again;


c) Move on.

Don't beat yourself up about it. It is common for young newbies such as yourself to get scammed.
Community Member

Had a good run on Upwork just building my profile on here.  Wish I would have seen this thread ealier, had 2 clients who matched some descriptions that were given in the OP.

One actually paid me after weeks of back and forth messaging, now there's the issue of the second client that wants to pay me half for work completed. 

This thread could have saved me a lot of time/effort.

Community Member

Sadly - I find this to be the rule, rather than the exception, to most of the jobs posted here....

Community Member

Using a bunch of TAGS to gain most searches , in the end the works seems very far away to the TAG being used.


Ex. Android , HTML , MS wordm MS powerpoint , Photoshop, Autocad bla bla bla.

Community Member

I am extremely glad I read this... This is my first experience on UpWork now and I have seen several jobs that seem fairly easy, so I had applied and they were requiring my bank information, copy of drivers license, ss card, etc. for a background check...... I understand Im suppose to be dealing with legit companies that do need proper paperwork for full time employees, but I sure don't feel comfortable giving out my information like that to a bunch of people I have not seen face to face. 


So this clears things up a bit. 


Thank you,

"I understand Im suppose to be dealing with legit companies that do need proper paperwork for full time employees"


Yes, but freelancers aren't employees. All they need to know about you is that you can do the job they need done, and where they should send your money.

If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.― George Orwell

Hi Veronica,


Please, do not share your personal information such as ID numbers or bank account information with clients, and report job posts and clients if they request those details.

~ Vladimir

re: "I understand Im suppose to be dealing with legit companies that do need proper paperwork for full time employees"


Even if you work 80 hours per week for a client, they do not need your ID, bank info, address, etc.


They do NOT need to know "where to send money" and they do not need to know what payment method you prefer. They send money to Upwork. Upwork sends money to you. It is very simple.


Legitimate clients understand that hiring through Upwork means they are not hiring employees. If they don't understand that, encourage them to contact customer service and ask about what information they need to get from contractors.

Community Member

Another warning sign - if a job post seems to be 'bragging' about the amount budgeted for the project or the budget in question sounds too good to be true, you might want to do some background check before you hit the apply button.


I was able to read a particular job post - before it got flagged and the 'client' was indicating that he had 'XY' millions to spend on the project.??!!!


It is a golden rule that applies to everyone - If it sounds too good to be true , then it is not too bad if you take a second look at it.

Community Member

Another sign:

We will pay you 2.00$ (I even saw 1.00$.. can you imagine that?)  per hour and there will be an increase after such time and there is potentially endless work for you. This will be a long term egagement.


First, it has been a long time since they have rolled out that the minimum hourly rate is at least 3.00$ if they can't follow that, don't stick around to see what else they don't follow. Secondly, they bait people to "regular" or "long term" work. That it is okay to be paid lower but you will have more hours to log anyway, that is not acceptible.

Community Member

Bravo! Exp U 


It was paramount for me to take a moment & thank you for posting a, refreshingly, direct and honest post. I read every word, agree 100% and will adhere to your shared advice.


My take away:

Take Control


Stay Focused 

Fearlessly Move On 


Well Done. 




Community Member

Great info Exp U! Thanks!

*Am I the only one, by the way, who feels the impulse to reply in kind?'

Nope. I always want to answer that way but luckily it just stays in my head.. lol. 

Community Member

awesome post!

Community Member

Thanks for this helpful post.  Can I just check whether the following should be considered a warning sign... Asking for work to be submitted in portions as you go along for a fixed price job.  As the contract is for x number of discrete units of work, I assume he is simply keen to use each unit ASAP as it comes in.  However, this requires me to upload them individually via messaging (I think this is the only way?) rather than the contract ended button, which seems more secure. I guess I am concerned the client could back out with 90% of the work done, and claim I hadnt done any.


I dont sense anything dodgy about this job, but dont want to make any newbie errors.

Many thanks


The client should assign milestones, and as you submit each part (and reach that milestone), you should be paid for that.


This is the fairest, especially on long-term work.

Thanks Mark, thats helpful.  I didnt realise milestones could be applied to fixed price jobs, for some reason I assumed it was for hourly work.  It makes sense though.  Is it too late to request milestone payment now the contract is underway?  I dont want to irritate a new client.  Although there are multiple units of work, each unit is quite short and the turnaround for the whole job is less than a week.  Milestones might therefore be a bit excessive.  Am I risking anything by continuing?  I may just provide the first half, and then ASAP turn around the second half in one lot and upload the proper way.

It is your decision at the end of the day, but what I look for is;


Are they a first-time client?


Do they have an approved payment method?


Have they put money in escrow?


Do they have any feedback from other freelancers?


Others may look for something else.


Ultimately you have to make a decision based on what you feel about the client. You have presumably passed messages backward and forwards,


Bare in mind the vast majority of clients are decent and honest. Although people do have bad experiences, these are in the minority.





Thanks ace, that's reassured me I am probably being over cautious. The job is funded and the client has completed several previous contracts. Discussions have been straightforward. Have never freelanced before and it feels a bit too good to be true! So I guess I'm looking for problems. Will continue sending piecemeal and upload at the end formally. Thanks 🙂

Community Member

 million you just saved me from one of the traps.

Community Member

Right on, I just pulled an all-nighter rushing a job for some **Edited for Community Guidelines** who claimed he had "problems accessing upwork on his mobile" which was why he couldn't make me an offer but to trust him and that it would happen. I trusted him, and needless to say I never heard from him again! Is there anything upwork can do to help? Or at least flag this on his profile?

Rachel, by working for somebody without having a contract in place you were violating Upwork ToS agreements.


It is important that you never mention this to Customer Service. Even if they are sympathetic toward you, they may feel compelled to sanction your Upwork account in some way. I am not saying you are likely to get in trouble for this, but (a) they can't help you, and (b) there is no reason to risk getting in any kind of trouble.


I think you are safe to ask about it here, in the community forum. We understand you are new, but hopefully you learned from this experience and realize that there is no way anybody can help you get paid for work you did without having a contract in place.

Hi Rachel,


I'm sorry to hear about your bad experience. For future reference, don't start working without an active contract, which would show in your "My Jobs" tab. 


By working on an Upwork job off the platform, you've not only placed yourself in an unenviable position, but also disintermediated and violated a number of Upwork's policies. Please report this client so we can take a look and address the case.

~ Vladimir

@Vladimir G wrote:

By working on an Upwork job off the platform, you've not only placed yourself in an unenviable position, but also disintermediated and violated a number of Upwork's policies.

 I disagree with both Preston and Vladimir on this occasion...


Disintermediation or "Non-Circumvention" as it's now called is to agree or ask to pay or be paid outside the platform. This is NOT what Rachel described. What Rachel described was the client saying he can't do the hiring on Upwork from his phone, which is actually very possible as it's an issue many clients have had) and that he will do so (hire on the platform.)


Delivering work before a contract is in place is putting oneself in danger of not getting paid. However, it is not disintermediation and whilst strictly speaking "delivering services" falls under the rule from the freelancer side here,  it's a bit harsh to accuse her of "a number of policy violations!" so yes, she SHOULD report the client in case there is a pattern and he keeps doing this to other freelancers.


 OBVIOUSLY nobody should throw away their time working for free, and should always wait to have a contract in place before starting work, but here it would be the client in real violation of policy (free work fraud) with the freelancer being the victim, not a perpetrator.


@Preston wrote:

It is important that you never mention this to Customer Service. Even if they are sympathetic toward you, they may feel compelled to sanction your Upwork account in some way. I am not saying you are likely to get in trouble for this, but (a) they can't help you, and (b) there is no reason to risk getting in any kind of trouble.

I actually think it is important that it's reported to make sure the client isn't pulling that stunt with freelancer after hapless freelancer.
a) CS *may* be able to help by contacting the client and slapping his wrist. He MAY then hire and pay up. It's worth a shot
b) I honestly don't see why and how if, as Rachels claims, there was an agreement to be hired and paid on Upwork, which the client didnot honor. That's really a policy violation on side of the client. Yes,if one were to get all über-fussy then "delivering service" is "circumvention" but I would say the chances of her getting into trouble are close to 0
Community Manager
Community Manager

Hi Petra,


Non-Circumvention clause is not limited only to conducting payments off the platform, but it does apply to working on Upwork jobs without a formal contract. Please see the excerpt from the User Agreement:




You agree not to circumvent the Payment Methods offered by the Site. By way of illustration and not in limitation of the foregoing, you must not:


  • Submit proposals or solicit parties identified through the Site to contact, hire, work with, or pay outside the Site.
  • Accept proposals or solicit parties identified through the Site to contact, deliver services, invoice, or receive payment outside the Site.

Upwork members have an obligation to report any member who offers to conduct jobs or payments off the platform, since this is a violation of the Exclusivity Period.

~ Vladimir
Community Member

I don't do work or bid on jobs based on what jobs MAY be given to me in the future. It bothers me when clients include a sentence like, "i need a quote on a one-page flyer, but i will have much more work down the road." It seems to be included as a some kind of negotiation tactic for me to give a better price on THIS job based on some future job that I will likely never get.


That throws up a warning sign to me.

re: "I don't do work or bid on jobs based on what jobs MAY be given to me in the future"


What makes them so sure I'll *want* to work for them in the future?


Especially if they pay less than my other clients?

Read the first page on this forum it will save you a lot of heartache!

Community Member

Thank you! I'm new to UpWork and new to freelance work so this is very helpful indeed. I want to try NOT to be the newbie that comes back to UpWork Community in a few months' time asking for help about dodgy clients, scam work, etc etc. Smiley Very Happy

Community Member

Thanks for the tips. I am relatively new to upwork.com and this will be helpful. Luckily I havent got scammed till now (fingers crossed).

Community Member

Thank you so much for posting this! I am still fairly new to freelancing, VERY new to Upwork, and most of these things posted describe the jobs I have done for others on the other site I'm involved with. (I have been paid for all work, aside from having to practically beg for it from one of my clients). I do feel as if I am being taken advantage of in these contracts, but since I am getting paid and getting valuable experience, I'm just sort of building a portfolio out of it and moving over to here.

- Barbara Herrera -
Community Member

But where are the good jobs then?


The 99,9% of the jobs you can find here show one or more of those signs. 


There are a lot of good companies out there, why do Upwork only attrack wanna-preneurs? 


Think about it guys, there is a lot of money out there, clients who might be willing to spend decent budgets (so more commisions for you). 


Maybe bidding is not a good idea, or you need to set some limits, I don't know, but you can do it better. 

Community Member

Anyone aware of **edited for Community Guidelines** work panel? Someone hired me & wants me to log-in there everytime I start working. Username & password came from that person so I don't have to register. If I'll change my pass the confirmation will be on their e-mail not mine. And when I looked at my Job list it says there's no active jobs. Man Sad

@Mary Ann D wrote:

Anyone aware of **edited for Community Guidelines** work panel? Someone hired me & wants me to log-in there everytime I start working. Username & password came from that person so I don't have to register. If I'll change my pass the confirmation will be on their e-mail not mine. And when I looked at my Job list it says there's no active jobs. Man Sad

 I've never heard of it but that doesn't mean much.


The biggest problem is that if the job does not show up on your active jobs list then you haven't been hired for the job. Or the client is trying to move you away from Upwork so that you don't work through Upwork--this can get you kicked off the site.


The client needs to hire you through Upwork and pay you through Upwork.

I just checked on the work panel. It's a captcha job where you have to enter codes all day. These are not good jobs to take and you will probably not be paid. Don't do captcha jobs like this.


It sounds like your "client" is not very ethical. A lot of people fall for these types of jobs and end up not getting paid. Don't waste your time with an unethical job and an unethical client.

Community Member



This is simply so good that it should be posted agin regularly on this community. New freelancers will be aware since the beginning! Thanks so much for this!


High regards,


Maria Del Carmen Muniz

**edited for Community Guidelines**


19 proposals for what? I don't understand. Who could make a proposal for this client? And there's lots of jobs like this.


I tried to get a jobs which I wouldn't accept if I got feedbacks (if i had a choice). But this is a new bottom.

Community Member

The joke of the day: "this is an easy job that can be done in 5 minutes".... then, why don't you do it yourself?? 

Okay, not 5 minutes. 1 hour maximum. My point is that client thinks it will take few days.


Deacon T, what courage do you mean? I have nothing to lose here.


Dale M, you didin't see screenshot that I'm talking about. Somebody deleted it from my message:


**edited for Community Guidelines**


P.S. this forum really needs to be fixed. Rich Text editor inserts <p> but then forum says it's inappropriate HTML tag. Also this text editor is horrible at all - I can't insert text near the image. Also forum doesn't have a decent reply option - it doesn't attach name to the message and I have to copy and paste it manually.
I know, I should write it in proper topic but I don't want to torture myself one more time.

And I can't attach png. Is 2003 back?

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