Specifically on sites like freelancer and fiverr, it seems as if literally nothing is stopping a client from:

  1. Sending me requirements

  2. Waiting until I deliver the work (or insisting that I deliver a working copy and not just screenshots for payment)

  3. Telling the "system" that they are not satisfied, effectively getting their money

It is notable that the person has to have the funds already - but nothing stops them from retracting the funds. Its not like I get a say in the matter, if a customer says that the work isn't satisfactory, even when an idiot could see that it was. This actually happened to me and now I am scared that every job I do will be community service. As such I stopped applying/answering on these types of sites.

Looking at the successful people on these sites, I wonder how they got any money at all. How in the world are these sites a viable source of income if it basically is set up in a way where the client can choose to pay or not regardless of the delivery?

  • 1
    Is it possible to set up payment in several stages? That is what I do in the real world when there might be a trust issue. – morsor Aug 11 '16 at 6:17

What you have described is a huge problem when using freelancing websites in general.

There certainly are "scammer" clients out there. There is a degree of mutual trust required in a client-contractor relationship and some people exploit this.

This could occur in client-contractor relationships outside of the internet, too. Consider a client approaches you with work, you deliver, and they disappear without paying you. You'd have to be particularly naive for this to happen (deliver without payment) but it certainly happens.

So there are a couple of issues to mitigate the chance:

  • Use milestones as payment after each part of the project.
  • Have small milestones in the beginning.
  • Ensure that the client is reputable by looking at their job history and ratings.
  • Don't deliver work without payment.
  • Take on realistic work. If the work offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.

The above applies to more than just online work, but freelance work in general. However, with the internet it's a lot easier for someone to just disappear.

How in the world are these sites a viable source of income if it basically is set up in a way where the client can choose to pay or not regardless of the delivery?

The site is just a tool. If you are naive you will get scammed, just like in real life. It's a matter of knowing the limitations of the tool and ensuring that you don't get scammed by setting up your payment scheme correctly. I have been using these sites for years and have never had a client dispute a payment. I also am very strict about who I take on as a client.

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    This happens among companies too. I worked for a 100 employee company doing work for a 20 000+ more company, never had a problem, and then suddently we started getting scammed by a manager there. The scam also consists of telling us the work was notgood. My boss was stupid enough notto distrust the client moral standard, so I asked to quit and found a new job.'client is the king' is sometimes a verynaive approach! – user5193682 Aug 11 '16 at 11:54

I think you exaggerate the problem on sites like these. Yes it can and does happen, but usually these are rare incidents. Scammers will target newbies because you have no track record to back you up. I gets better with time.

There is no golden chalice in freelancing. These sites should not be your one egg in your basket, and for most people they are a short term supplement to an income. The super star sellers you see have usually worked incredibly hard for a long time to get where they are, and hard work and time are no guarantee that you can get there too.

These sites are supplements, not solutions to, your freelancing career. Do not be too paranoid though. I mean, what are you out really, a few hours work, a few hours doing what you are supposed to enjoy doing as a freelancer? Don't let it upset you. And do a bit more customer research before risking a big hit. If they are going to scam you, they have almost certainly scammed other people before.

Hope that helps



Use a site that guarantees that its freelancers get paid.

Perhaps I'm not supposed to promote a particular service, but Upwork is the one I know that does this. They have some kind of Escrow and Dispute Resolution systems to make things safer for freelancers.

Right now, in fact, Upwork has told me that that my current client's account is in suspension -- maybe his credit card was declined or something, I wouldn't know. But I was still paid for the work I've done to date.


When it goes about software develoment, you can sometimes provide restrained or tagged versions that are sufficient to prove proper working, waiting to deliver the unrestricted version after payment.

One might argue that the buyer can then fear you keeping this version, but this doesn't make much sense because it wouldn't pay you anything to do so.


I second what Harry says - if there's any way of tagging, partially covering or watermarking your work, do this and REFUSE to provide the final files until payment is received.

Any decent client will be understanding, if you explain why to them in the right way.

If in the case of you somehow providing the files and them not paying, since they did not pay they do not own the rights to the work. Post it everywhere you can think of, maybe even give it away for free if it's suitable - surely if they say it's not satisfactory they can't dispute you using it elsewhere, since it's useless to them? *evil grin *

It seems a bit tit-for-tat, but I've done it in the past to prevent a scammer client from using designs I supplied (at least not without exposing themselves) and they later didn't pay for.

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