Rachel Munford
May 10 · 8 min read

I think I got scammed but I’m not sure.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

I have been on Upwork for over 2 years. I have never had a job through Upwork.

I have been outbid, ignored and flat out rejected for the majority of those two years.

95% of the time I heard nothing from projects I sent a proposal to.

Upwork is an online platform that connects clients with freelancers in a variety of areas. Clients post adverts for jobs they need done and freelancers propose their services. Clients then choose a shortlist and interview potential freelancers. They pick a freelancer, they agree on a contract type and the work is done either through an hourly rate or a fixed price with milestone payments.

Freelancers have a certain number of proposals they can send a month and they choose their own rates. Only downside is that Upwork take a percentage of what you earn. They take 20%.

Despite using Upwork’s online resources on how to write a great proposal, I was not overwhelmed with jobs. I was not even considered for most jobs because I had never had a job on there before despite my degree and background in communications.

How was I supposed to get work without experience on the site and reviews to prove that I could do the job? I was competing with people who had more experience and could probably afford to charge a lot less.

At the end of April, I considered closing my account.

[Disclaimer: This is not an attack on Upwork. Many freelancers do find work on the website, and websites like it. There are many genuine clients who pay for the work and appreciate it. This is just based on my personal experience and what I have found online. Any mention of a client within this article has no identifiable information to keep the client’s interactions with me private and any quotes are from memory so may not represent the original conversation with the client.]

Then I got an invitation.

I was invited to send a proposal to a job. The client wanted someone to rewrite a long essay into a feature article. This meant cutting nearly 1000 words from the piece and giving the client a template to pitch high profile newspapers with.

Because I had never managed to get a job on Upwork (I refused to push my hourly rate any further down that $26 USD which comes to roughly $20 USD after the 20% cut), I was flattered.

This client had found my profile and asked me to submit a proposal!

I got an interview — which was essentially a quick exchange of messages to clarify my experience and knowledge.

No more specifics were given on the article and what it had to include. All I had to do was rewrite it and provide a pitch template. I was apparently given free rein to help this client get the best article possible.

For this work I was guaranteed $100 USD without the Upwork percentage cut. Roughly when I calculated it down, I was only going to get around £60 for nearly 4 hours of work. If I had been a slower worker then I am sure it could have taken me a full day.

One article by Sami Linnanvuo talks about freelancers who are not so legit and are scammers: he lists dishonest behaviour as “freelancers who have fake reviews”, charge more hours than they’ve worked, and “do not perform the work themselves”. The article talks about how Upwork is enabling these scammers to make money off of unsuspecting clients. I agree that some of the features of Upwork that Linnanvuo mentions are worrying.

I do think that in terms of the power relationship, the clients hold most of the power…

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

Bad clients versus bad freelancers…

Clients can be as bad as dishonest freelancers.

In the defence of freelancers, I have heard plenty of stories from people who have tried to get jobs through Upwork where many clients want to pay them below minimum wage in the UK and do not care how little the freelancers are getting for their time.

For example, I have heard of freelancers working for $7 an hour and with the 20% cut from Upwork that comes to a massive $5.60 (which is £4.30 and the national minimum wage in the UK is £4.35 for those under 18 and £7.70 for those between 21 and 24). For a project that may only be a few hours a week, that is fine but when you’re working a full-time project that requires a lot more effort than the client has stated then that wage seems unworkable.

Clients can be fickle, and have no understanding of the value of the work you are providing. This is not to say that if a client does not understand the complexity of editing or writing for media that they should not hire a freelancer but for some clients, the expectations of freelancers (who are being paid less than they would for a local newspaper) to produce content worthy of Vanity Fair is unfair and damaging.

Moreover on Upwork, clients hold the power on who they hire and how the contract is monitored. You can literally watch someone’s screen to ensure they are doing the hours they say they’re doing.

I have also heard from freelancers who have had the exact same experience as me and when they have pursued a dispute through Upwork (when a client has requested a refund for the money they owed the freelancer and the freelancer has tried to argue they should be paid for the hours they have worked), they were let down by the system.

Benek Lisefski talked about why freelancers turn to sites like Upwork and where to find your ideal client. Lisefski takes each benefit of working with Upwork and shows the reality of them. As mentioned later on, the feedback system disadvantages new members or dormant members because why would a client hire someone with no reviews?

There were so many red flags that I ignored.

Let’s just go through the issues I just naively ignored in the job that made me delete my Upwork account…

Context: I had been on Upwork for nearly 2 years and never had a client. This was because I used to work full-time in communications after I opened my account and despite the wealth of experience I had in the real-world, that did not translate into reputation in the Upwork landscape. When I first started on Upwork, I didn’t need the money and was hoping to just gain experience but I was not willing to go below the UK national minimum hourly wage. Until I recently lost a job, Upwork was just something I tried and then it became a platform to try to get clients with. After this client experience, I deleted my account.

Flag number 1: The client had invited me when they knew that I had no record of successful jobs, or any jobs. They invited me when I had no experience. At the time I thought they wanted to give me a chance when no one else did — but they clearly wanted me to be inexperienced with the process of getting and keeping a job.

Flag 2: The client did not specify what aspects of the article needed to remain unchanged. They did not give me an example for reference of a style to emulate. They did not give me time to ask any questions and ignored any questions about the topic and angle.

Flag 3: The client asked my hourly rate then corrected me to ask for a fixed price rate because they were from a “startup” and had a tight budget. I originally quoted around $126 dollars to allow me to account for the UpWork fees and the conversion into pounds as well as revisions which I explained to the client. The client then stated they could only pay $100 and wanted to hire me. I agreed because I’m a people pleaser. I wanted to stay on the client’s good side and land my first job.

Flag 4: The client did not give me any time to ask for specifics before entering into a contract.

Flag 5: The client split the $100 into two milestones. I would get $50 on receipt of the completed work… There was no explanation on what the second milestone I had to complete was to get the rest of my money.

Flag 6: I heard nothing from the client until I submitted the work before the agreed deadline.

Flag 7: The client messaged to me “chat” and proceeded to tell me that the article I had submitted had missed the point of the original draft they had sent me. It was missing key messages explained at length in the original draft. It was all wrong and I had failed to understand the purpose of the article… I had missed the message of an article I had spent 4 hours rewriting (Sarcasm).

Flag 8: Before I could offer a revision and rewrite the article again (which I was willing to do and had said before entering the contract), the client cancelled the contract because the article no longer fit the original purpose, they could not pay for this work. They then requested a refund for the money I was owed for the first milestone.

When I look back on this relationship, I now think this client was not going to pay me at any point. They cancelled my contract and did not enable me to leave them feedback. They did not have any official feedback to give me which seems strange since they wanted to cancel the contract because of something I had supposedly done wrong…

I had worked incredibly hard for this client and really researched how to do the job effectively then they dropped me after I handed in the work.

Despite agreeing to revisions, they did not allow me to revise my draft to include the new details requested. They had a lot of reviews which were positive but as I’ve read, it’s not hard to manipulate the reviewing system on Upwork.

They appeared like a great client on a superficial level but every interaction I had with them put me on edge and made me feel like I was doing something wrong when I knew I wasn’t.

I tried to leave the relationship professionally and apologised for any miscommunication. I had thanked them for the opportunity and wished them the best in finding a freelancer to do the job.

Then they thanked me and spelled my name wrong…

Now don’t get angry, but I refunded the client the money because I didn’t want to go through a dispute when I had heard so many stories about Upwork ruling in favour of the client anyway.

It was my decision and I just felt so tired of the platform.

I didn’t know how long a dispute would take and I just wanted to come off the website. I closed all my proposals and deleted my account the same day as this interaction. I did not keep screenshots or any form of evidence because I didn’t want to have to pursue this in criminal or legal way.

As put in my disclaimer at the start, I am writing this to talk about my experience which is my opinion not the legal facts.

I just wanted to wash my hands of the experience and move on.

I wanted to tell people my story so they knew of the potential negatives of working on platforms such as this.

For now, I’m going to stay off Upwork.

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Rachel Munford

Written by

Freelancer. Writer. Poet. Scottish. https://rmunford.com/

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +503K people. Follow to join our community.

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