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How Not to Get Scammed on Gig Worker Sites like Fiverr and Upwork


Whether you’re a fashion designer, video editor, writer, or graphic designer, sites like Upwork and Fiverr have opened up a world of possibilities for remote gig workers. 

By providing an ecosystem of clients, talent, as well as a built-in operational structure and payment system, these platforms are great opportunities for gig workers to land legitimate clients from every corner of the globe. 

Things have come a long way in just the last five years with these user-friendly cloud services. If you are a freelancer, you can create a profile, build an online portfolio, and essentially open up shop, whether you live in a huge metropolis or an island with a population of 300 (as long as that tropical island has internet access!).

Unfortunately, though these sites do a lot of vetting and have some built-in protection systems for freelancers, there are still many ways you can get scammed if you are not careful. 

For this article, we interviewed Rebecca Cullen, a freelancer who has used Upwork and, unfortunately, knows the good, the bad, and the ugly of gig working platforms! We asked her about her overall experience using cloud platforms for freelancing. 

These are the scams that Cullen ran into and her advice on how to avoid a similar situation happening to you. 

Advice from Rebecca Cullen

The first service I used was Crowdspring, a crowdsourced freelancing platform, but I really didn’t like the concept of doing creative work for free in hopes that my tagline or slogan would get chosen. 

That being said, I did land my first great freelancing client there, who ended up hiring me for several gigs. 

After that, I migrated to Upwork and have, for the most part, had a positive experience there. But my first Upwork client actually turned out to be a scammer and not the first! So I do have some advice to impart to freelancers. 

Scammers will prey on newbies: people with no ratings and a scant portfolio. 

Their first assumption is that creatives will work for lousy pay to build up their reputation (I was never on board with that concept, and you shouldn’t be either). 

The second assumption is that you are an easy mark. 

Google Drive is a no-no

Don’t use Google Drive. Instead, use Word or a similar attachable file.

Why? If you share a Google document with someone, they can alter it and it’s harder to arbitrate a situation and show the exact work you turned in. 

Also, if they create the Google document, beware. They can alter it and lock you out, and you will have no way to prove in a dispute that you turned work in. 

Make sure a milestone is funded 

If you are doing a job with milestones, do NOT do any work unless the next milestone is funded. Never make good faith assumptions. Upwork has mechanisms in place so that you will be paid for the work you do. 

Never do free work 

I know some freelancers who do sample work for free to prove their skills, but this is a very slippery slope. Personally, I think it’s a terrible idea. Flag and report any Upwork client who is asking you to work for free to prove yourself. Chances are, they will use your work (and the work of dozens of other suckers) and you will never be compensated. 

Be super specific about terms

In writing, there is always going to be rewriting. But there are minor tweaks, and then there are major overhauls. Also, if you don’t set boundaries, there is literally no end to the number of revisions someone can demand. 

Specify what each milestone will entail and exactly what you will be delivering so there are no surprises. Ensure them that you want them to be happy. At the same time, don’t let them walk all over you.

Oprah says you should always listen to your intuition

She’s right! I had a feeling right off the bat with one client that he was going to be a scammer, and he was. 

I worked off of an outline that he approved, and I did extensive rewrites to address each and every one of his notes. This guy refused to pay me the next milestone of our deal insisting that he could not use my work and he would need to rewrite it entirely. Nevertheless, he said that unless I started over, he would not be able to pay me. Sensing that this guy was never going to pay me what my time was worth, I had to walk away. It was an unpleasant experience, but I got out before he scammed me out of even more work.

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