Freelance graphic designer nearly loses $1000 to elaborate Upwork scam

James Tuliano

The number of opportunities for freelancers is potentially endless. No matter what you specialize in, there is always going to be somebody that can use your services. While it sometimes can be difficult to find clients, platforms exist online solely to help freelancers find work with relative ease.

One platform that freelancers frequent to find work is a website called Upwork. Upwork is a place where employers can create job listings for people looking for work (either short or long term), and a place for freelancers to find work.

There are many legitimate job opportunities posted on Upwork every day, but there are also, unfortunately, scammers lurking around every corner, ready to pounce.

“At no point was I suspicious,” stated Al, a freelance graphic artist that was just sent a check for over $2000. “I was stoked for my new job.”

Al was recommended by Upwork to a job posting that seemed to fit his credentials. The client was looking for a 2D Animator and Designer, and Al quickly sent his proposal to the employer.

Al posted his entire experience on a Reddit post. You can read it in its entirety here.

The employer, pretending to represent the major thrift store chain Savers, conducted the interview through an app called Wire via text. Al admits that this was a red flag that he missed.

The text-based interview went on for over an hour and he was then offered the position two hours later and was sent a fake contract.
The fake contract.Al/Reddit

After the contract was signed and handed over to the scammers, he was then told to print out a photo of a check worth over $2000 and to use his phone to deposit it into his bank account. He was to use the money from the check to purchase office supplies and to “pay a vendor.”

Unfortunately (luckily), the check was not able to be deposited through his phone. Al planned on heading to the bank in person tomorrow to deposit it.

“My new fake boss then directed me to send $1000 via Venmo to his vendor,” Al explained. “I kept offering to use a debit card. They asked if I could do Zelle.”

Al then created an account with Zelle, a legitimate money transfer service that scammers often use. He was about to send the money, but there were issues with his new account that prevented him from doing so.

After telling his boss that there were issues with Zelle, his boss replied by asking what department/grocery store is close to him (likely so that he can do a wire transfer or to purchase gift cards to use instead).

This is when it all clicked for Al.

While this story had a happy ending, it doesn’t always work out this way.

Scams often utilize fraudulent checks, as banks will typically give you the full amount of the check immediately, even though it takes a week or two to actually clear. Once the check bounces (since it is fake), the bank will take back the money that was credited to the victim as well as charge them a fee.

Scammers will utilize the time period between the initial deposit to the check bouncing and make them send the money that is in the victim’s bank account. Scammers will sometimes have them transfer cash via a wire deposit, purchase gift cards to send to the scammer, or, like in this case, send the money to them via Zelle under the guise of paying a vendor.

“I’d never heard of a fake check scam, specifically, prior to this experience,” Al explains to me. “I printed out about 10 different copies of the check at different sizes trying to get it to deposit through my mobile app.”

Unless you have been scammed before or work for a financial institution, fake check scams are not common knowledge. It is a loophole in the current United States banking system that can cause financial ruin to the victims.

Not only does the victim lose the money they sent to the scammer, they also are charged a fee for the check bouncing by their bank or credit union, as well as additional fees if their balance goes down into the negative.

Al’s experience on Upwork was, obviously, extremely negative. He had one more interview after this scam experience with a potential employer on the website, but he figured out that it was another scam before it progressed any further.

Luckily, Al has discovered new opportunities without having to use Upwork.

“I have since found some decent work through my personal contacts, and hopefully I won’t have to wade back into Upwork’s unmoderated wasteland of scams and delusional recruiters, especially since Upwork eats 20% of the paycheck at the end of every gig.”

“We take great measures to keep our global marketplace safe, and we’re committed to doing our best to prevent or address suspicious activity,” Upwork states on their scam prevention page. “…with so many users in the Upwork marketplace, suspicious activity may appear on the platform from time to time. We count on your help and diligence to make the Upwork experience as safe as possible.”

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James Tuliano is an independent journalist from Cary, North Carolina. Tuliano is interested in covering the community, business, scams, and current events.

Cary, NC

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