Freelancer Scam: How to Spot Freelance Scams

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Disadvantages of Freelancing: How to Spot Freelance Scams

The biggest disadvantage of working with freelancers

You might have already read dozens of articles about the pros and cons of working with freelancers. And perhaps, now and then you would see headings about the danger of freelance online scam. Unfortunately, this is true: since you can never be entirely sure, whom you meet on the Internet, the risk of running into a scammer is high. 

Now, before we proceed to the ways, you can distinguish between a real freelancer and a fraud, here is a shortcut to the solution of this particular problem. If you only want to work with reliable, competent freelancers, follow the link. If you want to be able to tell yourself whether a freelancer is legit or scam, read on. 

Read on, and this article will teach you how to stay away from scams on Upwork, Freelancer, and other popular crowdsourcing marketplaces.

7 The Most Common Freelancer Scams

Hijacked portfolio

This is one of the most common scams: a cheater steals a high-grade portfolio of another freelancer and places it on a freelance platform under his account (the latter are usually created for fraud, and often have little to none details filled in). To do this, one does not need to steal the actual source works: many freelancers showcase their portfolios on services such as Behance. 

Sending malicious software

When you were a kid, your mom probably told you to not go with strangers anywhere. Nowadays, you probably teach your children to not open attachments in the letters sent by the unknown addressees. Still, when working with freelancers via online platforms, it may be difficult not to exchange files at all. 

Some scammers will send you malicious programs attempting to steal your data as you launch them. These may be keyloggers tracing whatever you type on your keyboard, or trojans creating security breaches in your computers, etc. Quite often, such software will be masked as briefing documentation or work files.

Disappearing after receiving prepayment

This is also called ghosting, and it is one of the most common Upwork scams. Not just Upwork, in fact. It’s a vast problem across a large number of freelance platforms. 

A ghost usually accepts your order and requests prepayment, which is standard practice and is not suspicious. After the money is transferred, the ghost vanishes without a trace, and their account turns out to be deleted or suspended.

Mimicking accounts of top freelancers

A mimic creates an account looking very much alike to the account of some top-rated freelancer but differing in small details. Or, they can copy such an account, and use it on freelance platforms not used by this particular top-rated freelancer. 

Mimicking top freelancers’ contacts

This is a more sophisticated version of the scam above. A cheater creates a messenger account (in Skype or elsewhere) similar to the one used by a top-rated freelancer. I.e., if a freelancers username looks like JohnDoe77, a scammer might use a name like John.Doe77 (an almost identical username, but with a period in the middle). Then a customer receives a link to a real freelancer’s account and fake contact details. 

Thinking they deal with a real person, customers call the scammer without suspecting anything. After receiving prepayment, a scammer vanishes. 

Fake testimonials

Although not hurting customers directly, people faking testimonials on their freelance accounts are still scammers, because they deceive clients into believing they hire actual professionals. This scam is often used by either beginner freelancers with incomplete profiles, or by professional scammers who know the merits of trustworthy testimonials.

Broken deadlines and poor quality of work 

This scam is probably the worst scam in freelance (or one of the worst for sure) because it does not forthrightly violate the terms and conditions under which customers work with freelancers. You hire a freelancer for a gig, and they do their job–but its quality is so low that it can be merely called a completed order. This is if you do not give up working with such a scammer yourself first: rather often, they intentionally delay deadlines. 

How to Spot and Avoid Freelance Scams

Red Flags

Several signs can help you avoid scams on Upwork or elsewhere before getting dragged into an unpleasant situation.

Full upfront payment requests

Requesting upfront payments is a normal thing for a freelancer to do. This is a sign of professionalism: a prepayment is a form of guarantee that you value a freelancer’s work. However, professionals rarely ask for a full upfront payment. Instead, they prefer to receive the money in milestone payments.

Identity verification requests

Some scammers will ask for your personal information to “verify your identity,” motivating it with the desire to know who they are going to work for. Freelance platforms, if used correctly, provide many ways for both freelancers and customers to ensure each other’s realness. 

Asking to process payment offsite

You should be more than attentive when discussing matters of payment. All the financial transactions between you and the freelancer you hire should be processed via the freelance platform. 

Empty accounts with little to none details

Of course, a freelancer might have just registered on the platform and had no time or possibility to fill in all the information about themselves. But why make it your problem? Let them deal with their account details, and look for someone else for the job. Empty accounts and freelancer scam go hand in hand. 

No credible data such as phone numbers, photos, etc.

Sometimes you will run into accounts with beautiful portfolios, positive testimonials or reviews, but little to none specific information proving that this person is real. It is better to stay on the safe side and avoid contacting such freelancers.

Evasion Techniques

Never rely on Upwork or Freelancer fraud prevention mechanisms. To be on the safe side, it is advisable that you take appropriate precautionary measures yourself. 

Creating milestone payments

Many freelance platforms allow you to create the so-called milestone payments: chunks of money you release to a freelancer upon them having completed a particular portion of work. Such an approach minimizes the risks for both sides. Use Escrow or other similar services to make payments safer.  

Work solely via the freelance platform

Once again, the platform you have found a freelance on should be the platform on which you hold all project-related discussions, and process all the payments. 

Do not give out any sensitive data such as logins, passwords, card numbers, etc.

Why should this even be a reminder in the 21st century? 

Protect your hardware

The golden rule is simple: use updated and licensed antimalware software. Check every incoming file for viruses, and try to work with freelancers with positive reviews from previous employers and a high percentage of completed orders.   

Try to communicate with a freelancer in person.

Anonymity is the primary weapon of a scammer letting them remain unidentified. On the other hand, a fair freelancer will not have any problems with talking to you in person. If you want to know how to spot a scam online interview the freelancer you’re thinking to hire. 

Background checks

Try contacting the previous clients of a freelancer showcasing a portfolio looking too good to be true. Ask around: freelance platforms provide many opportunities to double-check on a contractor’s background and order history. Check on the freelancer’s social media profiles, review their other projects, browse portfolio websites, etc.

Hire at trusted freelance platforms

The best way to avoid ghosts is to hire freelancers on platforms for vetted specialists such as Every freelancer cooperating with such platforms usually undergoes a series of thorough background and proficiency checks. As a result, clients get to work with verified freelancers, which eliminates the risk of ghosting or failing the project. 

Never agree to a large prepayment. 

Typically, freelancers charge on average 30-50% of the price for their services in the form of prepayment. This is fine if you can afford it, or if you trust an independent contractor you have found online (e.g., when they have a credible portfolio, and all the background checks you performed prove that this person is reliable). However, if the prepayment size gets larger, it is a good reason to be wary. 

Do not count on a freelancer with low hourly rates to be a professional

This is obvious, but people tend to forget about it surprisingly often. It might be tempting to hire a person with a price significantly lower than market-average, but think on why do they charge so little for their services? Either they are not good at what they do and know it, or they are trying to make you hire them whatever the cost. Both options do not sound promising. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Hiring Freelancer

Overall, working with freelancers has both merits and dangers. And while you should not neglect the former, you can certainly minimize the latter. 


Working with freelancers is cheaper

Even if you hire several top-rated freelancers to work on your project, it will still cost you less than the same number of hired employees.

Swift response to your requirements

The main difference between a freelancer and a team of in-house employees is noticeable: a freelancer is easier to reach. You can communicate everything you need much quicker to a freelancer. And more efficiently. 


There is a wide range of professionals of all sorts on the freelance platforms. Whatever set of skills you may require, you will always be able to find a corresponding contractor.


Due to the nature of their work organization, freelancers are bound to adapt to the emerging situations on the fly. For you as a customer, it means that unexpected changes to the project can be communicated and implemented promptly. 



This is the number one concern. The Internet is full of scammers of all kinds, and freelance platforms, although striving to maintain secure working environments, cannot weed out all cheaters. Perhaps, the only exception is the so-called platforms for vetted freelancers, where every contractor is tested for their professional and personal qualities before being assigned to a job.

Language Barriers

Effective communication is paramount to successful completion of the project. However, many freelancers originate from non-English speaking countries, and can sometimes demonstrate poor language skills. 

Cultural differences

This is another typical problem stemming from working with freelancers from abroad. The differences in perception, ways of thinking, customs, and attitude, with no corporate ethics to regulate the relationship between you and a freelancer, may result in conflict. And you typically don’t want conflicts with someone doing a job for you, do you?


What happens within a company, stays within. Sensitive project information, valuable data, financial credentials – all this is usually protected by numerous regulations and contracts signed by the employees. However, when working with freelancers, you have to disclose sensitive info to the people you don’t know and have no influence on. 


The absolute majority of freelancers are hardworking, industrious people paving their career paths. Unfortunately, even among them, there are scammers, whose only purpose is to profiteer on your expense.

The most common means of luring your money out include: 

  • Hijacking other people’s portfolios: a scammer steals a portfolio of other freelancer and showcases it as their own 
  • Sending malicious software: scammers infect your PC with viruses hoping to obtain (or damage) valuable information stored on it
  • Ghosting: a freelancer just stops answering calls and emails and disappears in the middle of the project.
  • Mimicking the accounts or contact data of top-rated freelancers: scammers pretend to be top-rated contractors
  • Faking testimonials: scammers fabricate positive feedback as if it was left by satisfied customers. 
  • Delaying deadlines hoping the client will withdraw from the project. 

You are not defenseless against these schemes. The ways you can avoid them include:

  • milestone payments, 
  • background checks on a freelancer you selected
  • Protecting your PC and personal/word data stored on it with advanced antimalware
  • personal communication. 

And there is also another, more comfortable way.

The ultimate answer to the question, “Is freelancer legit or scam”?

As we have already pointed out, there is a way to negate all the disadvantages of working with freelancers. Here is the ultimate solution to the problem of putting your trust in strangers: hire at Coding Ninjas. As a platform for vetted specialists, we take our pride in carefully selecting only those professionals who are genuinely comfortable and beneficial to work with. The whole process of vetting is multi-layered, and consists of the following phases: 

It guarantees that only motivated and qualified freelancers are allowed to work for clients. No scams, no risks, no suspended projects: you simply place an order, and we do the rest. 

Give it a shot. Hire at, and you will not want to return to regular freelance platforms ever again.