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Freelance Job Scams: 5 Red Flags You Should Know

Are you ready to launch your freelance career or pick up some new work? Everyone can use extra cash and there are lots of ways to make money online. However, all opportunities are NOT created equal. Freelance job scams are all over the internet. 

Believe it or not, there are people who prey on people like you, freelancers ready to get to work, and sometimes, it’s hard to see what’s a scam and what’s not. Especially when you need the money. 

Worse, falling for scams can be more than just a waste of time. Some of these scams can end in you losing money too. Scary, right? As someone who almost fell into many of these traps early in my freelance career, I can tell you that these scams can take a serious toll on you and the business you’re trying to build. 

Why do freelancers fall for job scams?

Understanding why freelancers fall for common job scams is important, because it can help you avoid the same pitfalls. According to Freelancing In America: 2019 from Upwork, nearly all of the top concerns freelancers have relate to their earnings. Unpredictable income and not being able to put money into savings are two concerns at the top of this list.

Freelancers who have worries about their financial health and income stability are the ones that are most likely to become a victim of these scams. Freelancing can be difficult, whether you are just starting out or you’re dealing with a slow period in your business. That can make any gig seem attractive, and cause you to miss warning signs. 

With this in mind, these are the common job scams you need to know about as you start and grow your freelance career. 

5 freelance job scams to avoid

Educating yourself on what job scams are out there is the best way to avoid them. If you want to work as a freelancer, keep your distance from gigs that include these red flags.

Requests to work for free

This is one that I fell for a couple of times and it’s one of the reasons I tell freelancers NOT to work for free. After applying to a job post or pitching a client, you may get a request back asking you to do some free work.

These scammers will claim that they will choose what freelancer they want to work with after evaluating their test projects or samples.


At best, these potential clients don’t respect you and likely never will because they don’t understand the importance of paying you for your time. 

At worst, they’ll get a bunch of free work done by a handful of freelancers and never actually hire or pay anyone. These requests aren’t always malicious, but they almost always are a waste of your time. 

Don’t complete a “test” or a unique free sample as part of the application process for a freelance gig. Instead, create a portfolio of work to send to potential clients and ask them to assess your work based on the samples you provide. 

Fake job posts 

According to a survey from FlexJobs, there are about 60 to 70 job scams for every one legitimate job posting. If you’re going to look for work online, you will almost certainly come across bogus jobs. I came across more than a handful when I was using job boards on a regular basis, as many freelancers do. So the question is: how can you spot a fake post? 

You may know the old saying: “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” In freelancing, if it seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is. If you see a job post that claims the work is “easy” but pays thousands of dollars per month, you’re looking at a fake.

Freelancing can be extremely lucrative, but you’re not likely to come across any real jobs that offer thousands of dollars from the start on a run-of-the mill platform or freelancing website. 

Pay to Play

I’m not one for generalizations, but if any clients ask you to pay any money to work with them, they’re scamming you. This may seem obvious, but these kinds of scams go far beyond “clients” just asking for cash. They may tell you that you need to pay an application fee to be considered for the role. Alternatively, they may say you need to invest in a certain tool or software to begin working with them. 

You should never have to pay to play for any freelance gig. If anything, it should be you, the freelancer, who asks them to pay in advance by requiring a deposit to begin work. 

Requests to work “off-platform” 

If you are considering freelancing on a platform like Upwork, you may know that there are certain restrictions and fees that come along with that. They may be a bit of an annoyance, but these restrictions are also there for your protection.

Often, scammers will put up a post and then try to encourage freelancers to work outside of the platform. This is usually against the terms of service and it can also put you at risk. These platforms have policies in place to protect you if a client won’t pay up or is up to something sketchy. You can’t take advantage of these policies if you move the client relationship off of the platform. 

A client requesting to work with you off platform is a lose-lose situation. If they have bad intentions, you’ll lose out on cash. But beyond that, even if they are telling the truth, taking a client off the platform could get you completely banned. 

Fake websites or email addresses

This one is less common, but can be especially dangerous. Scammers can pretend to be from a major company or even impersonate someone who works at an otherwise credible organization. These fakes can be tricky to spot, but there are some things that you can keep an eye out for to avoid this scam.  

Look closely at the website domain attached to the email address. If there’s a misspelling in the company name, the job is most likely a scam. Less sophisticated scammers are a bit easier to catch. The “from” field may indicate that the email is coming from a professional, but the actual address may show that the email is coming from a common email provider. (ex:

When you see an opportunity or offer come to you via email, inspect the message carefully. If anything looks off to you, do not reply to the email. If the scammer is in fact impersonating a real company or professional, you may want to reach out to them as well. 

Find real freelance jobs: how to verify a freelance opportunity

Not sure if a freelance gig is legit? You can do some digging on your potential clients and reduce your risk. Here’s how: 

1. Research the company or client

Always do a quick Google search to get some information about the company or client offering the gig. On some platforms, like Upwork, you can see reviews that other freelancers leave on clients. You may also be able to see reviews that a company’s employees left for them on sites like Glassdoor. 

2. Chat via phone or video call 

Many scammers will only communicate via email or instant message. This doesn’t mean that every client who prefers email is a con artist. However, if you’re seeing other red flags, it’s best to chat with the client real-time, via phone or a video call. You can tell a lot about a client when you communicate with them this way. If the gig does turn out to be real, this also serves as a chance for you to figure out whether or not it’s a good fit for you. 

3. Present your contract

In my experience, flaky clients or scam artists don’t usually want to sign legal paperwork. After an initial conversation with a potential client, present them with your contract. If they agree to your terms, that’s a good sign. It likely means that they’re serious about wanting to work with you.

The contract I use in my freelance writing business comes from AND.CO and it was created in collaboration with the Freelancers Union. If you want to snag this contract for yourself, you can sign up for AND.CO here

Red flags or not, you should never start work for a client before a contract is signed. Having a solid contract in place is an absolute must for any freelancer. Often, it’s what will protect you if you do become the victim of a scam or if a client refuses to pay you for your work.

Skip the gig scams

If you’re having trouble landing client work, I know that it can be tempting to apply for every gig or take any offer you’re given. However, you should know that working with the wrong clients or falling for these scams can actually hurt your career in the long run. 

Always proceed with caution if you aren’t sure whether or not a gig is real. You can use these tips and strategies to avoid these freelance job scams before they impact you and spend your time on clients that will help you grow your business.


Do you want to be a successful freelance writer? I have a free e-course to teach you how to build a business from scratch. Inside, you’ll learn everything you need to know to launch your career and become a successful freelance writer.

You can snag this course right now by heading to this page. See you there!

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