Upwork is asking me for a $12,500 refund because their client was using someone else’s credit card.


Image from NBC News

Before starting to read this, you should be aware that this article is concerning an Upwork complex situation and refund that’s been forced to my account after two years of working on the platform.

If this has happened or is happening to you, let me know in the comments below as I am compiling a list of people as to resolve this situation altogether. (We are currently 6 freelancers.)

I’m a successful Upwork freelancer, and I love it. I’ve made over $100k on that platform and was able to career shift through it. The reason why I’m posting about this is to understand whether I’m being in a fair or a non-fair position from an external perspective.

It’s important to note that I’ve informed Upwork’s support that I’ll post this problem externally online on Medium and my website. They didn’t inform me not to.

Here’s what happened:-

I started off on Upwork a few years back. I built my status slowly and learned a huge deal along the way. In 2018, I signed a client as usual. Let’s call him “Robin” for the sake of the non-disclosure agreements. 

Robin was far by the best and the worst thing that ever happened to me on Upwork. I’ve worked with him till Sept of 2020. Robin worked with me fairly and I never had any dispute with Upwork on him. He needed presentations for investments, plans, designs, financial sheets; all within my area of expertise. 

It was perfect. I even met Robin in real life in Zurich, instead of virtually. We continued working via Upwork while locating in Zurich, as to not violate any Upwork terms. 

Here’s the first thing you should be aware of.

There are two ways of recording how you work on Upwork, either hourly through the software or adding manual hours. They state it very obvious that a freelancer falls under the Upwork protection if they record their hours through the software, not manually.

I meet Robin, and we conduct a brainstorming session and a few meetings. The only reasonable thing to do at this stage is to add manual hours. It doesn’t make sense to open the software on a blank screen, and just click somewhere to keep the computer alive. Hence, I recorded manual hours, lots of them. I usually do that with other clients as well, it’s never a problem.

Here’s when it could be a problem: If the client on Upwork asks for a chargeback (refund). Then he might be entitled to it if you’re manually recording the hours.

I’m on very good terms with Robin. He would never request a refund from Upwork, I’m sure of that. 

Anyway, that lasted for a couple of years and ended when he informed me that he has issues with Upwork and his credit card. I just told him to go sort it out and call me when he’s ready to work again. I will not work with him for free till he fixes his credit card on Upwork. In all cases,I don’t care really, I have several other clients, and Upwork pays me per week. So, worst-case scenario, I would lose one week of earnings, but that’s tolerable.

That was the end of it.

Until May of 2021, when I receive an email from Upwork:

We are writing today to let you know that a payment made to your account has been reversed by your client’s bank.

This reversal (chargeback) is a result of your client contacting their bank and asking them to reverse the payment for the following transaction(s):

Amount: 

$1,306.67
$2,200.00
$3,453.33
$1,200.00
$1,580.00
$2,820.00

Total: $12,560

I went nuts. A day after, a few other freelancers whom we were working with, started contacting me saying that Upwork is asking all of them for a refund as well. 

Is Robin really asking for a chargeback? That’s impossible. I start investigating by calling Robin. He apologized and said he never called any bank, additionally, he said this is a bit of a mess-up as he forgot that there is “a credit card connected in his account that wasn’t actually his”.

Let me translate this. Robin has been using someone else’s credit card for two years, and this other person realized that money was being withdrawn in the previous two years on a platform called Upwork without his consent. 

Now, here’s what I thought of.

  1. I’ve worked with Robin for two years, and I worked hard for this.
  2. I will not give a refund, as this is not my fault.

Then, I spoke to Upwork.

They told me, here’s what you can do: —  Provide us with proof of your work, and we will try to convince the bank to not ask for this chargeback on behalf of their client. — That option sounds illogical in all sorts of ways. Why would a bank take my side (a freelancer from another country) instead of his own actual client who never actually requested those services?

Nevertheless, I sent Upwork two years’ worth of projects. They respond 40 days later telling me that they tried and failed. Then they said something that seemed, in my point of view, a bit of a human-right violation.

“You have to pay this money back, what we want you to do is work on our platform and we will take your earnings from there. Till then, you’re not allowed to withdraw any earnings.” (Paraphrasing)

Let me get this straight — Upwork, a billion-dollar company, wants me, a freelancer, to work for free on their platform for approximately 230 hours (with my hourly rate) because a client on their platform was using someone else’s credit card? How in god’s name is that my fault?

Yes, the clients can ask for a chargeback if I record the hours manually and their case was proven. But that’s not the client asking for the money. That’s the credit card owner, who is another person. That’s Upwork’s fault for not vetting their clients.

Eventually, I keep trying to open a communication channel with Upwork and their support concerning this refund situation. They insist on this situation.

They eventually wrote this message.

“Hi Al, 

We have already discussed this in our numerous communications from May.

Whoever owns the credit card can ask their bank to chargeback a payment. We cannot get around this, unfortunately.

We consider this matter closed as we believe we have gone over this with you at length.”

They consider this matter closed. I even tried to raise a complaint on this “Escalation” department — their response “We’re sorry, the executive escalations are the highest tier.”

At the moment of this writing, I’m still on the platform. It’s a little bit demotivational knowing that the next 230 hours that I’ll work will go to Upwork instead of me because of this, so I’m slowed down on a motivational level.

I’ve worked honorably and by the book on Upwork for a long time. When things were not making sense, I still followed the rules. I could’ve easily gotten paid from Robin outside of Upwork. Heck, he was physically in front of me. Yet, I respect how Upwork opened my eyes to becoming the person I am today, and for that, I’m forever grateful.

Whenever I speak to someone about this, they are shocked and deem it unfair. I decided to write this here because I would love to hear opinions on both sides of the matter. If you have any opinion on this matter, please share it with me.

In my opinion, a better way to think of this is as follows — If you’re working as a cook at Mcdonalds and it turns out that Mcdonalds has been scamming the world without you being aware. Do you, as a cook, have the responsibility to pay what you honorably earned back to the world? 

Thanks,

Al Anany


My Upwork Profile - Al Anany

Upwork Profile (23 December 2021): https://www.upwork.com/freelancers/~0155e42f63471e6bdf

Website: https://www.alanany.com

Ever since this article and the situation, I’ve gone on to create my own freelancing platform focused on the niche of business documents – Albusi

Albusi aims to tap into the freelancing market by resolving its problems. Some of the documents provided in the first phase are: Business Plans, Pitch Decks, One-Pagers, and Market Research.

39 responses

  1. Dude, get off Upwork.

    Do not do any work for them.

    Invest that time and build your name on your own or some other platform.

    Take your clients off Upwork.

    Would love to see what you’re doing.

    You don’t owe them a thing.

    1. John Olson

      Don’t work for free. Get a lawyer.

    2. Jdare pilsk

      Mr Anany,

      What you have here is what I’m t legal system in the us a ‘tort’. And the legal system here is designed to right the wrong as it relates to torts. Call a lawyer in the jurisdiction in which the terms and conditions state you must. Your lawyer should start by sending a letter to upwork along the lines of… negligence here occurred. No doubt. And we can pretty easily track the dots of the negligence back to your actions (or lack there of), and we will seek redress in superior court (the sum is likely too large for small claims court, but maybe. Depends on the jurisdiction). Ideally upwork will get the message and restore your ability to capture revenue at the next billable hour on their platform. If not, you ask them for discovery (interrogatories and requests for productions). Then you start visiting a judge and ideally they get the picture that it’s a no win battle and the reputation hit will force them to a settlement that ideally includes your legal fees, too. But yeah, this one is pretty straightforward if the story is accurate. Lawyer up and right the wrong.

  2. Al Anany,
    Its sad to hear the story. Please do not get demotivated. You will get more clients in future.
    We also found out a dark model that is circulating on Upwork, it is Id Impersonation or Id fraud. its on a rise and there are people who make IT company for example using a generic name like “FL Office” which are hiring experts ask experts to give interviews and get projects and later give the code to low budget developers on Upwork and ask these Low budget developers to use the username/password of expert users to publish the code changes or updating Jira and confluence. Real Companies who are actually paying the recruiting companies are not aware of this model.
    You can read here:
    https://community.upwork.com/t5/Coffee-Coconut-Break/Why-companies-are-not-hiring-IT-freelancers-directly-on/m-p/999111

  3. Aloha,
    I believe it’s time to invite a lawyer in this conversation you have with Upwork. This kind of behavior is unheard of to me. Your story feels like a short story from a dystopian book. All the blame and the cost is put on you, but the profit is held by Upwork.

    Wish you all the best.

    1. Actually, that is exactly what happens when a chargeback occurs. The bank takes the money from the payment processor (be it PayPal, or Upwork, or any other processor) and they take the money from the merchant.

      The chargeback is between the card-holder and the person who was paid. (The OP, in other words)

  4. Hiya, your story about the client using another credit card is trending on Hacker News 🙂
    https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=29862860
    (That’s news[.]ycombinator[.]com/item?id=29862860 in case your software strips it.)

    Have a nice day,
    Will

  5. I don’t know how not too swear after reading this. It seems it would be done in any case no matter what hours will be charged. So in the end why they are taking 5-10% commision for guaranteed pay??? I can get hourly tracker for much cheaper than that?

  6. Jean-Pierre Rupp

    These platforms should start using Bitcoin Cash, and if the client refuses, then charging extra to pay for fraud insurance.

    There are very few reasonable alternatives to the sort of transactional finality that is needed for this kind of transaction.

    Physical cash is not an option. Bank transfers are an alternative, but can be costly outside of areas with SEPA or similar agreements in place.

    Credit card transactions aren’t “hard” enough. They can be reversed fairly easily as you’ve seen.

    I think it is Upwork’s responsibility to do due diligence and ask for proof of identity to avoid this sort of problem, if they choose to allow the use of credit cards. You don’t have the tools to do that, so it is impossible for you. It’s their responsibility to do what is possible to mitigate this sort of fraud.

    I think you might be able to take them to court over this, if you are so inclined.

    1. Bro,
      keep away from upwork.
      They may not give any value to freelancer.

      One day they simply deleted my 4.9 star profile for unknown reason.

      in the end, they will write to us something like

      “… we consider this case as closed. Thanks for your understanding”

    2. Same thing happened zo me in December 14k chargeback. My reaction Was stop working on Upwork!

    3. The OP can take “Robin” to court, not Upwork and not the card owner

  7. Get a lawyer. That is Robin’s debt, not yours. You did the work and were compensated, you do not owe Upwork anything except bad press.

    1. Vinicius Correa

      I’m credit card expert and once you aren’t in charge to process Robin’s payments, Upwork have to deal with chargeback issue.

      This situation looks like eBay trying to get a refuse from the seller once the buyer refuses to pay a purchase.

      I don’t know how much a lawyer costs in your country, but this could be a good case. Otherwise, leave the platform and find some alternatives.

  8. I don’t think is the first time Upwork has managed to get themselves in this situation. But, honestly, I feel I am missing some more information about this Robin guy. Couldn’t he have helped you fix this issue? Who’s credit card was he using?

    Just feels like some details are missing.

  9. If I were you, I’d sue Robin for the payment. He owes the money, not you. You pay back the money to Upwork, and turn the situation is resolved, no?

  10. Robert Michaels

    You need to take this up with politicians. A law must be passed that requires upwork (and all other similar companies) to verify the identity of the clients and that their methods of payment are valid and linked properly to the purchaser. Otherwise, companies like upwork should be made liable for the chargeback.

    Your situation is just another reason I refuse to take credit card payments in my service business, anyone can “chargeback” on you and prevail. I don’t take PayPal, Nenmo, or any other electronic “voodoo” payments either. Cash, check, or money order only. I know where the client actually lives and I can repossess my expensive parts promptly. If someone writes a check and then stops payment at their bank – – that is considered “Theft of Services” in Texas by my local county prosecutor, for $25 I can file papers and have a warrant for their arrest issued (NEVER had to do it either). Every job I do requires my signed contract in writing.

  11. Is this fair?

    No.
    To be honest, it’s not fair neither to you nor Upwork, the bank, the credit card holder, etc. Robin is a thief – that’s the clear culprit here.

    Is this reasonable?
    That’s another story.

    Upwork is pulling their weight because they believe they add more value here than you (as an individual). And don’t yell at me for this… but they’re right.

    Could yo go solo and avoid Upwork? Yes. Could you retain customer acquisition? Unlikely. This is the story of aggregators and how much value they add. If Upwork is powerful and can pull these trump cards, it’s because they add huge value to content creators out there.

    What can you do? What you’re already doing. Upwork is more powerful and adds more value than you individually. Upwork DOES NOT add more value than your community combined. If your story becomes the potential story of any Upwork freelancer…they probably will pushback vs. the credit card/bank.

    Just don’t get caught up in a “Upwork is being unfair to me situation”. I would frame it as “Upwork puts its freelances under considerable unpaid work risk”.

    1. Simon Durkee

      I’m surprised no one has suggested, split future Upwork income. 50% goes to the debt and 50% goes to you. You’re not working for free and they get their money back. It’s the only solution that is equitable to all parties.

      BTW – I have extensive experience in credit card processing. It is VERy DIFFICULT to reverse a chargeback. Upwork is at the mercy of Visa/MC/Amex, and you are at the mercy of Upwork. Upwork can choose to not use Visa/MC/Amex but they add enough value to accept the chargeback risk. You can choose to not use Upwork but they add enough value to accept the chargeback risk.

      You can walk away from this, use a competing platform, and not pay a dime. Upwork has already paid back the $12k+ and are stuck, which is the primary reason why they should consider the 50/50 split of future income.

      Good luck with future endeavors!

  12. Sent this letter to them on your behalf:

    This is half press inquiry half annoyance

    I read: https://alanany.com/2021/12/23/upwork-12k-refund-client-using-another-credit-card/

    I was going to promote and use your service to my numerous professional friends as I step into the role of an industry leader and consultant. I cherish what you are doing and want you to do better

    I did a full stop when reading this. Not only will I refuse to support your service I will actively discourage others and actively encourage them to seek other directions until you make this right

    Take care of your own. Lead by example. You created this problem and you are responsible to make it right. Don’t shift the blame down the line

    Lead us into the new era. Please don’t set this example

    With great sadness,

    Chris Hector
    Principle Engineer and designer
    Sequential

  13. Kuba Tyszko

    Here’s the catch – chargeback is usually allowed UP TO 120 days after the transaction, so you might be able to question the previous charges (not sure about the exact timing of everything).
    It really shouldn’t be your problem that the card owner did not notice anything for TWO YEARS – that’s pure negligence. You could try contacting upwork (although they might stand by the matter being “closed”) and working at least a compromise with them to only agree to chargeback the transactions <120 days.
    Other than that, you're at a loss, even if you did the work, the card owner can SIGN a document with their bank where they declare that they didn't authorize the charges – no matter what you say they're going to side with them.
    It sucks but that's often the cost of doing business, even though I DO AGREE that upwork should be insuring the transactions and taking at least SOME responsibility. I'm pretty certain that their terms state that they wouldn't be responsible for any losses – but hey, THEY ARE the ones who verify the identity of the other party – you could probably sue and claim that they didn't do it well enough to protect their and your business.
    So again, I'd recommend writing a CERTIFIED letter to upwork, pointing the 120 days for chargeback and breaking the transactions to which you MIGHT CONSIDER agreeing to (<120) vs the ones that are too old.
    Also, you should point out that it's THEM who process the payment and they did not properly verify the payee, so you don't feel like you should take the hit.
    This happens ALL the time with services like UBER where passengers use fake card, take the ride and disappear. UBER is who usually takes the hit in such cases, even if there are chargebacks.

  14. GreenTail

    Upwork should pay you immediately and try to recoup the loss by making some contact with Robin.

  15. Take your work off Upwork, stop working for free, lawyer up.

  16. Upwork should be responsible. I’m not sure why you’re paying them a commission if it’s not to guarantee payment. I could understand a month or two chargeback dispute, but going back several years is ridicules.

    Still I wouldn’t just leave the platform. Being independent means sometimes eating unfair losses. Every contractor (and company) in the world has similar stories that are even more ridicules. Make your decision based on whatever is going to get you more money in the future. If Upwork still helps bring in clients then in the long run this is a lesson not to log work manually anymore. And an active Upwork profile helps outsiders see your reviews and activity.

    Also this got you on Hackernews so hopefully you’ll land more clients outside the platform.

    Losing the cash is BS, but life is sometimes. Good luck.

  17. It seems like you should be going after Robin. If Robin paid you with someone else’s credit card, then Robin is a fraud and needs to pay you. You should sue Robin, especially if you have as much information about him as you seem to. He is not an upstanding guy. He could easily pay you for the charges that were reversed because he “accidentally” used someone else’s credit card.

  18. It’s a Robin vs Upwork problem, not yours.
    Upwork forcefully inserts itself as an intermediary in all cash transactions, so that they can guarantee their cut, but then refuses to correctly protect against and consequtively bear a common risk of a credit card fraud?

    It certainly wouldn’t be helpful, but I’d be itching to reply that that $12k has already been spent on such and such, and you tried to charge it back and argue with your bank, but it failed because it’s been too long ago, and you’re sorry but there’s nothing you can do.

  19. I agree that it is not your fault. I just wonder why Robin can’t pay the monies involved.

    The credit card owner has the right to get his money back. Robin owes the money if he has not been paying. Yet this should be between Upwork and Robiin.

  20. Alastair

    There’s nothing you can do about the card payment reversal, and your contract with Upwork probably makes that clear. However, as a result of this, Robin owes you the money. If he won’t pay, you will need to look at how you can recover it from him. I’d talk to a lawyer about it, and show him the Upwork contract as well as anything you agreed with Robin. You should be able to get more specific advice from there.

  21. $12,560 is a LOT of money, you need to get a lawyer involved, don’t let that go.

    I’m not sure whom you’d need to go against, but I assume it’s either “Robin” or Upwork.

  22. Tactical Dot

    Hi,

    you asked for an external perspective, yet the current replies are (imho) not helpful.

    1. Yes, you need a lawyer to get through the License Terms. Depending on the country you live in and EULA/TOS of Upwork, it may be just the legal terms you agreed on. Despite being unfair or highly irritating, if you agreed to that and that agreement withholds in your country – sorry.

    2. From my business experience: If I would create a product like Upwork, we’d discuss what’s the most common fraud is going to be and establish polices against it. First thing that comes to mind: People using stolen credit cards. Second thing, Client and Upwork-Worker working together in a scheme. So from the corporate point of view its kind of reasonable to say: That’s not our problem. There are a million things to happen, like a worker delivering stuff that “explodes” month after the delivery, a customer that tries to get a free-bee and says “i never received” or canceling his CC, .. stuff like that. A company can’t judge that. What are they going to do? Investigate every case on their own expenses? That’s not a business model – a company won’t make itself liable. Lets say one of the people involved lives in India and the other on in Europe. Which legal system to apply?

    So .. external point of view…? The company is not evil. They just established polices to protect themself. You didn’t. If your legal system doesn’t protect you. Bad luck. Lesson learned. Many people go through this when starting a business. Customers not paying or stealing your work is #1 problem. Hurts but its part of live. Dont make it personal.

    3. My personal approach would be taxes. If Robin payed you with a. fake CC (or got financial problems himself through Covid and just tells a story or whatever) then chances are, he didn’t pay taxes accordingly. Despite all the legal trouble and your personal emotions, I’d inform Robin, that your going to report him for tax fraud if he didn’t pay you until two weeks from now. He is not your friends. If he’d be your friends you’d work for him for free.

    4. I am from Germany. We have a very, very different legal system. But I am working with International partners, many in US. Its quite common to forward liability. Your lawyer need to find out how much of the money Upwork wants back is actually covered by their EULA/TOS. They aren’t always 100% right. Maybe they just threaten you and already know they only may receive back 20% but try anyways. Why not trying? That’s typical corporate lawyers.
    Yet you may have to pay that (random number) 20% back. Upwork may most likely will have forwarded the liability to you. So Robin still owes you money. If he is in the same country as you and you have a proper legal system, go after him. Depending on the country, if he was a private customer, you can lock his private income, too. Like his house or his car. If he was acting from a company and that company is setup properly – or resides in a different country. you may be out of luck. Your lawyer may suggest trying it, but if he has GmbH or Ltd, just don’t. Only your lawyer will earn money.

    5. Iam an nerd. And I am only CTO of some rich fin-tech corp because I was recruited when they founded it way back. I am super much struggling with this kind of stuff, too, and by now have two company attorneys around me to protect the company. What I learned through the last 20 years: Its money. You make it, you lose it. If the other side played you, be smarter next time. But don’t spend your time crying “its not fair”. Children in Africa dying is not fair. You told yourself, you make 100K a year. That’s a nice salary, isn’t it? You could work on your own conditions and had a good life. Covid didn’t affect you. No stupid boss. This dispute is 10% a years salary. If you do 100k next year on Upwork, too, that’s how it is.

    Life could be worse, couldn’t it?

    Als the best. Feel free to contact me or lets have a coffee in Germany.

  23. Thanks for publishing this. At this point, I am pretty sure you have already cost Upwork millions in lost revenue! 🙂 They need to offer insurance for CC transactions if they want to pass along chargebacks. I certainly will not work through them until they do.

  24. Hi there,
    First of all, I am very sorry to hear about your experience. Back in 2012, I had a very similar experience with Fiverr and they froze my fundings too. If UpWork is not going to protect us freelancers against this kind of threats why the hell we are paying that %20 commission?

  25. So it seems to me that ı can work with freelancers on upwork and when ım done ı can get refunds? Wow thats very profitable I should hire people on upwork.
    (being sarcastic)

  26. I would totally get off that platform ASAP. Lot of platforms are trying to win quality workers.

  27. I don’t understand how the client was able to get a chargeback after 2 years? It’s usually 120 days max. Like HOW?

  28. Why isn’t Robin paying Upwork back? They received the work product and now have realized that they never paid for it – they are the one that committed fraud.

  29. The standard Upwork agreements specify that disputes can only be resolved by arbitration (unless the user has opted out of that within 30 days after first joining). So while the OP can get a lawyer, he won’t be able to successfully sue Upwork; he can bring his claim to arbitration, and his share of the arbitration fees won’t exceed $250.

    (Arbitration is specified as occurring in Santa Clara County, CA, USA, applying the laws of Delaware, for those who wondered about what the jurisdiction is).

  30. This was my question also. He’s the one who linked a card that wasn’t his to his account. He’s the one who allowed services to be paid using that card – basically defrauding the person doing the work and the platform as well as stealing from the card holder.

    That is the person who should be paying for the work done and repaying the money that was stolen.

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