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Avoiding Elance Scams: A Practitioner’s Guide

Elance can be exceptionally helpful for getting work done.  However, websites like Elance are filled with scam artists looking to take advantage of newer users or folks who don’t know much about writing code.  There are a lot of SEO optimized sites explaining how to avoid getting scammed and there are sites offering to advise you on avoiding getting scammed if you pay them money (smells like a scam about a scam).  This post is practitioner’s guide to avoiding those scams – I have hired dozens of individuals and firms on Elance and I’ve included a running DO NOT HIRE list of providers that perpetuate those scams.  So if you have been scammed, please send me an email describing the situation at newtomefeedback at and I’ll add them to the blacklist on this post.

Here are six simple things that you can do to avoid getting scammed.  Just do these and I think you’ll have a great experience on Elance:

1) Ask Questions – Once you have received bids based on your initial specification, send a list of questions to all of the bids you receive.  Have a list of “how would you do…” questions regarding your project.  Don’t worry if these questions show that you are naive and don’t know what you are talking about – frame it is a simple query to screen providers.  Cap it off with a question asking for feedback on the specification that you laid out and how it might be accomplished more efficiently/at a lower cost.  This makes it easy to weed out the coders who know what they are talking about and those that don’t.  It also makes it easy to see which firms are just marketing organizations and which ones.  In my experience, this simple set reduces the chance you get scammed by 90%.

2)  Hire Individuals – This sounds counterintuitive and I have had to learn it the hard way.  There seems safety in the large firms on Elance with great ratings, but these firms manipulate these rating aggressively and will outsource your work to individuals anyway.  That’s right these large firms are really marketing organizations that hand off the work to coders who may or may not be good and are certainly not of your choosing.

3)  Don’t Believe Elance Feedback – Firms and individuals on Elance can manipulate the feedback in a myriad of ways – including getting Elance to delete bad feedback.  So use it as a guide, but not as a decision-making tool.

4)  Don’t Hire in India/Pakistan – This is a soft rule for me.  I bend it every once in a while if #1 and #2 check out.  I’ve only been scammed by Indian/Pakistani firms.

5)  Bad Communication is a Red Flag –  If you have to have conversation after conversation and email chain after email chain explaining the specification with multiple people – ABORT.  The opposite is also true – if someone wants to get hired with no questions about the job and can do it all perfectly immediately – ABORT.

6)  Google the People You Hiring – This is so obvious, but it took me a long time to start doing it.  It is a no-cost background check.

So with that, I’ll get to what you have been waiting for – the Elance Blacklist.  The firms and individuals below may have done good work for some people, but they have documented evidence that they have scammed trusting employers.

The Blacklist

Xicom – I have been scammed by them personally, but examples abound.

SynapseIndia – Click here for one example.


31 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thanks – I’m looking hire someone to develop an application for me and I was just researching Elance. Point #2 is an interesting one, I was actually filtering potential hires on the basis of revenue coz I figured if they’re making a lot of money it must be for a reason. But you’ve made me stop and think. Thanks for sharing your article…

    May 30, 2011
  2. newtome #

    Hey, thanks for the feedback, let me know if you have problems with anyone.

    May 31, 2011
  3. Elance Scam me of $900 and I have seen people that got scam of $2000 please don’t do it

    July 23, 2011
  4. Anonymous #

    Thanks, It may save my company several hundred bucks.

    November 30, 2011
    • newtome #

      No problem. Let me know if you have any issues.

      December 22, 2011
  5. Nick Wreden #

    I’ve used elance 4 times, and have had disappointing experiences twice. Once a Pakistani company took the deposit and only did minimal work. Another time the freelancer did half of the required job, and then deleted the research she had found when I asked her to complete the task. I’ve used once with mixed results. In my opinion, these sites need to do a better job of policing their freelancing, perhaps by asking for evidence of credentials.

    January 8, 2012
  6. Bryan Johnson #

    I’ve done work as a database/application developer on Elance. Living here in the United States I really wasn’t expecting much success with all of the Indian, Pakistani, and other competition from people who live in areas where the cost of living is a fraction of what it is here in the States. But I was able to convince potential clients of the value of hiring someone who speaks English, understands business concepts, and can demonstrate actual work experience. In six months I went from being a neophyte to operating as a top ten provider for my category. Unfortunately, I had a client that tried to scam me. They wanted a database developed but said they couldn’t afford what I was asking and wanted me to meet the price points of my competition. That wasn’t going to happen. So we worked out a payment schedule with the understanding that if they missed payments the software would go into a suspended state until payment was made. This was documented in my proposal. The client agreed to the arrangement and their agreement was also documented. A month after they missed a payment the software stopped working and they protested to Elance. As a member of Elance, I had agreed to arbitration by signing up to use Elance. The arbitrator said that the payment schedule was irrelevant and that I owed the client the source code to the software and a refund. I left the site. That was a year ago. I often go back to see just exactly what’s happening there. But unfortunately, the vast majority of the providers who still operate on the site are not from the United States. Do yourself a favor and post the job on Craig’s List, do your due diligence and avoid being scammed.

    January 11, 2012
  7. abc #

    I am a freelancer. Be careful when you take on jobs from persons in the US and working in UAE.
    I have had a very bad experience, especially when a tutor/lecturer soliciting assignments for his students.

    January 24, 2012
  8. Anonymous #

    I have recent

    February 21, 2012
  9. Anonymous #

    I’m working with contractors on Elance for several years and spend more than $100.000 on various projects there (btw, i’m from Europe ) – my experience is totally different, mostly positive – there are a lot of false information and bad advice in this article.

    First, there is no way to manipulate the feedback on Elance – once the feedback is posted, it can not be altered, changed and specially not erased – this is just not true…

    Advice about hiring individuals is also not true – people may have different experience with contractors, and there are good and bad contractors among individuals, as well as among companies…there are many different ways to check the contractor, but claiming that individuals are more reliable than companies is just a bad advice.

    Although there are some useful advice in the article, it is based on personal experience and really bad luck with contractors (there is a way to choose a good contractor, individual or company) – this article is certainly not a useful guide for people who want to work with contractors on Elance.

    March 27, 2012
    • randommusings #

      The scheme is having friends, associates or family post a job and hire you and leaving you positive feedback. While it is a bit more indepth then what I am posting, that is the short of it.

      July 21, 2012
  10. ELANCE rips off Clients: I asked questions before tying up. I asked the consultant if he knew how to navigate GoDaddy’s Hosting site. I asked if he guaranteed no loss of data. Both answers were in the affirmative. They gave me an hourly paid WP consultant from Russia who wrecked my web site and destroyed my data. Then they took my money. Elance has a dispute method which is deeply buried in their website. When you think you are disputing you are just being directed to the scam artist who did the “work”. Elance admits it is not easy to find the real dispute channel. And if you choose the pay by hour method you have NO recourse if the contractor messes you up. Nor do they tell you this in advance.

    July 9, 2012
  11. Ch. Ahmed #

    I work on Elance as a contractor and condition is exactly the same, as explained by author. However i have noticed that people often get into scams and nasty situations because they often hire companies who are not capable and again outsource. Up to some extent employers are also at fault because they have to chose a capable person for job and instead they go for lower rates or high profile companies with low quality work. Author your 4 point is not reality based, i am a Pakistani and i haven’t scammed any one. From a little experience you dont have to blame other innocent people. However i condemn any scammer.

    July 15, 2012
  12. Shashank #

    Yeah, well I am an Indian, having delivered several writing and coding projects to clients across the globe and with truckload of feedback and good earning under my account, I guess that makes me the ideal Indian eLancer?
    Yeah true for Pakistanis though, they scammed one of the firms I knew based in India and did nothing! Many such petty thiefs in India as well but ..never mind!

    August 6, 2012
    • Anonymous #

      Yeh, I got scammed by the Pakistani. I will never use them again.

      November 27, 2014
  13. blala999 #

    I have been spammed by on elance. I typed about three weeks of captcha work and did not get paid. Rough estimate, I may be have about 10 to 20K. I called elance and they told me that this company has been delisted, so by this I guess what they are saying is that I will not get paid for all the typing that I have done. Elance says that they guarantee all payments for work done. Where is my money elance???????????????

    August 9, 2012
  14. Hi every one,

    Remember please, do not decide good or bad about any thing, simply on short personal experience. There are always different type of people from very good to worst every where.
    Basically some time there are less experienced or new freelancers join the websites, without proper information it also create miss trust and bad impression.

    At Elance, there are many talented and honest freelancers too from Pakistan. and working from many years.

    Best Regards,


    December 29, 2012
  15. wbwb #

    In 2011, I “hired” Indian American freelancer named Delson Armstrong (Delson90) to write a screenplay, or two scripts actually.
    He recommended paying outside Elance, and I paid him $7500 upfront. He wrote couple of pages, but then I saw that he ran out of motivation. Maybe it had something to do with the money, and there was no contract. He realized that I live in Europe, and he was in New York, so nothing´s going to take the money away from him, whether he does the work or not.

    During first 16 months, he kept on saying that everything is going as planned, he´s been working hard and written this many pages, but he doesn´t want to show it yet. Excuses and explanation “I will show it tomorrow, next week, I have been sick, it´s thanksgiving here…”
    But nothing happened.
    Anyway, I was hoping for a new start even though we both knew that he´s a shameless liar.
    16 months: he wrote a synopsis for a regular agent story, and stuff like that.
    20 months: he returned 600 dollars.
    24 months: he really started writing this regular agent story he had created.
    26 months: he had a 6 week pause and deleted his Elance after receiving 2.5 star feedback from another job.

    I basically paid his rent or holiday trips,and wasted 6900 while he kept me hanging for two years.

    July 4, 2013
  16. Alex #

    I am a German – English Translator,
    sadly most of the jobs what i got in
    was from some Indian guys which just tried to get translations for free about

    I even Reported some of this job providers, but with no response from

    For me its just sad, i am looking forward to find a better freelancer, translator website.

    August 20, 2013
    • blala999 #

      blala999 here again. I do not type for elance anymore or any of the typing sites. I have just stopped all together and gave up. I do not know if I am going to be scammed or not so if anybody out there knows of a legitimate typing, data entry or transcription site that will not scam me, please by all means, let me know. It will be greatly appreciated!!! Thanks.

      August 21, 2013
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  18. Great Point to remember, but I’m a Indian Freelancer. And that’s so bad that these things happen from India too. No offence, but just because of some spammers, its not right to Blame entire community or Country for that. Even I’m a new Elancer, but I know lot of Indian/Pakistani elancers, who have a great reputations on Elance.
    But anyways, Thanks for the Tips.

    December 29, 2013
  19. I hope I wouldn’t experience scam and unreasonable feedback in elance. Some clients don’t stick with agreements. Since I have a 5 star good feedback as of now, I hope clients will not hesitate to hire me.

    February 7, 2014
  20. Even elance jobs with verified clients or have paid one contractor can still be a scammer. I did a blog for tips on detecting verified elance clients as scammers and also click on my url and you will see that this company Star Writers Group is a fraud / scam.

    March 14, 2014
    • Check out my latest post. I am glad Star Writers Group does not exist anymore, but still, check out my site for elance scam detection updates.

      October 26, 2014
  21. Anonymous #

    Good article. But what are the guidelines for non paying buyers? I end up working for a buyer who sounded legitimate, but didn’t pay me for 98 hours of efforts @ 15 dollars per hour. The buyer is based in USA. Can you afford to lose such amount?

    April 27, 2014
  22. Mike R #

    I find your point #2 extremely irresponsible and untrue. I understand that you have been scammed a few times by “companies” but I think you have some responsibility to share in that as well. India can be useful, but you have to know how to manage them. If you post a job with a vague scope of work, you will get 50 Indian contractors giving you bids and telling you they can do it no problem. Obviously you are looking for bargain basement development, so I am not sure why you are surprised that you got scammed. I only assume that since the examples of companies you posted were all from India. I am a company that occasionally bids on jobs on Elance when I need to fill some bandwidth, but my engineers are degreed, non subcontractors and have worked at leading companies in their fields. I understand that India can charge 10 dollars per hour, but that’s exactly what you are going to get, a 10 dollar per hour guy. Expecting the same as a seasoned engineer or software developer that has experience at a leading firm in the U.S. is a bit unrealistic.

    June 11, 2014
  23. LT #

    Hi…just wanted to add that I am in the process of signing-up to Elance and have (already) spotted several obvious scams (in the job listings) and when I went to the FAQ to find out about Identity Verification–their verification company “Artemis” embedded a Trojan Horse in my computer. I did not even click on their link…I was on the Elance FAQ page.

    Fortunately–my McAfee caught it.

    August 6, 2014
  24. Anonymous #

    I have had nothing but positive experiences on elance since working there in 2011. Great contacts, great employers, on-time payment. All good!

    August 22, 2014
  25. Anonymous #

    All Elance care about are their commissions. This site offer little protection or recourse for their customers.

    November 27, 2014
    • Anonymous #

      I am an elance provider with mostly good experiences – almost had a company fail to pay for a $500 job, but eventually did pay. I’ve learned the hard way to have employers fund escrow before starting any work ( even if you have had a previous positive relationship with them). It will automatically release payment within 30 days of job completion. Also, nobody should ever do thousands of dollars worth of work without getting paid! You can set up milestones do you are paid at regular intervals. Be smart when accepting terms and things will flow well!

      December 29, 2014

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