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Is oDesk a Scam? Signs That You're Dealing With a Dishonest Client

Updated on September 28, 2015

oDesk is Now Upwork

I'll update this hub ASAP to reflect the changes.

Warning: Some oDesk Clients Are Scammers

oDesk scam artists are everywhere. They hide behind semi-decent feedback, offers that are too good to be true, or high expectations that are impossible to fulfill.

Not every job on oDesk is a scam, though. There are thousands of honest, ethical employers that post listings each day. You just have to wade through a lot of jerks to get to them. oDesk has enough work for any freelancer to make a full-time living working from home, so it's worth your time to learn how to spot scammers so you can get to the good stuff.

How do you know if you are about to fall victim to an oDesk scam? What should you look for as you're reading a job listing? Keep an eye out for the warning signs below during your hunt for scam-free gigs.

Image Credit: Flickr - Yusuke Kawasaki

Inconsistent Feedback

Everybody has a bad day here and there, so don't be alarmed if an employer doesn't have perfect feedback. Maybe he was in the hospital or had the flu or something. Just remember that most people only get majorly sick once or twice a year, so anything more than that is a red flag.

Read each comment carefully and look for warning signs that you aren't dealing with an honest employer. Negative feedback makes it obvious that you might be dealing with a bad employer, but pay attention to whether the employer also has a lot of "No feedback given" during the last few months.

No feedback isn't always a good sign. Some contractors are hesitant to leave bad feedback because they're worried the employer will retaliate with bad feedback of his own. Other contractors believe everybody deserves a second chance and hate to ruin an employer's credibility.

If you aren't sure what to think about an employer's feedback, protect yourself by asking for 100% upfront pay.

Vague Instructions

Avoid oDesk gigs that say things like, "I need some articles". Really, you need some articles? That's great, but how many words should they be and what topics do you want them written on? Also, how many do you need?

Vague instructions increase your odds of getting scammed. After you win the project, you might realize that you just bid $50 on 500 articles. Don't do that to yourself.

You also might get stuck dealing with an employer who has no clue what he wants. That means that each time you write an article, he'll demand a revision request or just completely reject it. You don't want that.

Overly Detailed Instructions

This employer is so picky, you wonder why he didn't just write the dang article himself. You know the type - the kind of client who writes 1000 words about what he needs his 350 word article to have. Yes, it's good to know what you want, but a guy who's this particular will probably end up hating anything you create.

Employers like this usually don't set out to deliberately scam you, but he might refuse to pay you if - and when - your work fails to meet his standards. Proceed with caution.

Unrealistic Expectations

When I first joined oDesk, I was stupid enough to get scammed by a guy like this. He wanted a bunch of spammy forum posts and decided that he would only pay me if they all stayed up. Obviously comments like that get rejected or deleted fairly quickly, so I didn’t get paid. Sigh.

Before you commit to a gig, make sure that there are no impossible guidelines or threats of pay refusal. You can try requesting upfront pay, but this guy denied my request. I was new to oDesk and wanted to build up my feedback, so I decided to take a chance. I’ll never do that again.

Offers That Are Too Good to Be True

You don't find a lot of high-paying gigs on oDesk, but it's good to be cautious when you do. Yes, some people really pay writers what they're worth, but many people try to get away with paying $1 or $2 per article. If you see an employer promising to pay $50 to $100 per article, be careful. Ask for at least 50% upfront, especially if the article is rather lengthy or requires heavy research.

Trial Runs

Never, ever, ever, EVER agree to do a trial run on oDesk unless you are doing it for an hourly rate or cash up front. If you agree to an hourly rate, make sure that you log into oDesk and use their platform to do all of your work. Never trust a client to pay you for the hours that you worked unless those hours are done directly through oDesk.

I've had quite a few friends get scammed by trial runs recently. One girl was new to the freelance world and had no clue that trial runs weren't the norm. Another figured that she had no reason not to trust the client requesting the trial, so she went ahead and did it.

You should also be careful about submitting trial articles, especially if you're submitting them as samples and not paid work. Many oDesk scammers request custom samples and then turn around and steal the content after stating that the position has already been filled. Build a portfolio and use it to apply for online gigs. Never give a potential client a unique writing sample unless you're applying to work with a large, dependable company like Demand Studios or Textbroker. Just don't do it.


I didn't read your article in time and already got scammed by a sleazy oDesk client.


What Should I Do if I Got Scammed on oDesk?

You're not going to like what I'm about to tell you.

You should fight it as much as you can, but be prepared to lose. oDesk tends to side with contractors. I can tell you this from personal experience. I had one guy who flat out refused to pay just because he ran out of money. He liked my work, he just had no money. oDesk told me that I was out of luck.

I filed a complaint on another guy. He gave me 50% down and then vanished. Turns out that he did this to a bunch of contractors and then vanished. I trusted him because he gave me a partial payment in advance, but he was still a scammer. At least I didn't get $0 for my work, but still.

If you know where your work is going to be used, you can contact Google or the webmaster or or wherever. They might help you reclaim the rights to your content if the client refuses to pay. I've had good luck with doing that and then republishing my content elsewhere. I'm not about to let somebody use my work for free, and you shouldn't either.

Have you ever fallen victim to an oDesk scam? Share your story below.

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    • Charito1962 profile image

      Charito Maranan-Montecillo 

      4 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      I started my account with oDesk last May 2014. I've done a few tasks so far with good feedback from the clients. I make it a point to read the client's history before I apply for any of his jobs.

    • Heidi Vincent profile image

      Heidi Vincent 

      4 years ago from GRENADA

      It is really sad that there are so many dishonest people out there who think that they can truly get ahead by taking advantage of others. Thanks for sharing these useful tips.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Thanks for your lens and advice, I've tried to do some work via oDesk and ended up quite disappointed. I'm a cartoonist and most of the work in this category offered on oDesk is a budget work. These budgeds are so bad, that I would make more money, if I drew it for myself, retain my copyright and sold licenses to use it through microstock photo agencies.The few jobs with an hour rate offered here required previous feedback, so I took three jobs I wouldn't ever take under different circumstances. One was practically a trial and I got paid peanuts:(, other was a toy design and the client was very satisfied with my work, but for 8 hours of my time I got paid peanuts again. And what's was worse, the client wanted to pay me without the involvement of oDesk, so no feedback for me again...Third time I took an oDesk job I really wanted to finally earn some feedback, and got a job translating few articles on a bussines website from English to Czech. I did the work more than three months ago and I still haven't got paid.As a freelancer I won't waste my time on oDesk again, maybe when I'll need to hire someone for my business.

    • ThisisMissyMiss profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from The Fabulous Midwest

      @rking96: You're welcome, rking96. I hope that it goes well for you.

    • rking96 profile image

      Rick King 

      5 years ago from Charleston, SC

      I haven't fallen victim, but I plan to hire some writers via oDesk in the future. This is a good perspective to have when looking for writers as well. Thanks for the info

    • ThisisMissyMiss profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from The Fabulous Midwest

      @Cushk: I'm glad you enjoyed it, Cush. Good luck with your future oDesk adventures!

    • Cushk profile image


      5 years ago

      wow - I've never really done much with oDesk in the past specifically because I was unsure about the scammers but this is great advice. maybe I'll look into it more in the future! Thanks!

    • ThisisMissyMiss profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from The Fabulous Midwest

      @mommytalks lm: You're very welcome, Mommy! I hope that you never fall victim to an oDesk scammer!

    • mommytalks lm profile image

      mommytalks lm 

      5 years ago

      Some seriously GREAT tips - thx!


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