A fundamental Freelancer.com flaw

4 02 2011

As regular readers of this blog will be well aware, I’m a fairly big fan of Freelancer.com. The site gets a lot of bad press and most people seem to find this blog after searching for the terms “Is Freelancer.com a scam?”. My answer to this is, and always has been “No”. The trouble with Freelancer, or rather the trouble with Freelancer users, is that they don’t read, understand and abide by the terms and conditions. Many people sign up for an account without having read what they are signing up for, and muddle their way along, thinking that this is the next get-rich-quick scheme.  Unsurprisingly for me, but apparently surprising to a lot of people, users who breach the terms -whether they realised it or not – quickly have their account(s) shut down. These people find their way here, or onto one of a number of complaints boards, and rant and rave about how unfair Freelancer.com is, when actually, it was their fault all along.

Surprising though it may be to regular readers of this blog, today I’m going to break with tradition and make my own complaint about Freelancer.com. I have found a chink in their armour; a situation where I find them to be completely accountable for the injustice that befell me today.

So the story goes like this. Yesterday afternoon, I spotted a project on Freelancer.com in which a chap requested editorial assistance with a document that appeared to be some kind of literary academic assignment. He’d posted the document to be edited online, so I could see that it was only very short, and placed a bid for $30. I specified in my bid proposal that I could copyedit the document and return it to him within 24 hours, and also requested a milestone payment of the full balance.

My bid was accepted – hurray! I clicked “accept” and received the official notification from Freelancer telling me that the project had begun. Having received the buyer’s email address, I immediately emailed the buyer, thanking him kindly for awarding the project to me, and requesting again (just in case he missed it in my bid) that he set up a milestone payment for $30.

Then nothing. OK, so it was late afternoon by then, perhaps the guy was busy.

When I sat down at my computer first thing this morning and checked my emails, there was still nothing from the buyer, so I logged into my Freelancer account and checked the project page. To my surprise, I saw that another freelancer was now the selected provider! How could this be?

Of course, my first instinct was to email the buyer, which I did, but I have still not heard from him. I guess he’s well and truly changed his mind, though the other provider he selected placed exactly the same bid and turnaround time, so I’m baffled by his indecision. Anyway, then, for the first time, I used Freelancer.com’s live help chat facility and spoke to a chap called Jeremy. He asked me for the project number and my Freelancer username, then went quiet for about 10 minutes while he checked my story. When he came back, he simply said, “The project was cancelled yesterday”. Well actually no, Helpful Jeremy, as you can see from the link to the project page I just gave you, the project is still open – you can see my bid there – but a different provider has been selected. How can this be?

Helpful Jeremy helpfully said, “I suggest you try contacting your buyer”. Yes Jeremy, I have done that, but he’s not going to refund me the $5 fee I paid to Freelancer now, is he?

Says Helpful Jeremy, “No. Please be aware that we do not refund commission fees. My best advice would be next time for you to request a milestone payment in advance”.

*Head -> Wall x 10*

But Helpful Jeremy, I DID REQUEST A MILESTONE PAYMENT. I specified this in my bid, and that bid was accepted. The buyer cannot physically set up a milestone payment until I have accepted the project, right?

“Yes”. I imagine if Helpful Jeremy had been speaking, not typing, he would have said this in a very quiet voice. Then, helpfully, “I understand your frustration Lisa, is there anything else I can help you with today?”

ARGH!!

I fail to see that I have done anything wrong in this situation, and as a result, I fail to see why I should forfeit the $5 fee for being a victim of the buyer’s indecision. The fundamental flaws in Freelancer’s system, as I see them, are as follows:

1) I was somehow “deselected” as the winning bidder, but was not informed by Freelancer.

While I was speedily informed by email that I was the winning bidder of the project, there was no email or notice from Freelancer to tell me that I had been “bumped” as the winning provider. Surely, when a buyer awards a project, and the freelancer accepts it, an agreement of sorts has taken place, and it should not be the case that the buyer can simply change their mind and select someone else at all, let alone without the deselected provider being notified. If I had been less careful and not looked at the project page this morning, I could have carried on with the editing work I believed I had been given to do, and been none the wiser. As well as losing my $5, I could have also wasted my valuable time on work that I didn’t have to do.

2) Freelancer does not refund project fees – even if the provider is bumped.

I get it. I get why Freelancer doesn’t usually refund project fees. They say that they are acting as an introduction agency between buyer and freelancer, and once they have done their job and connected the two, what happens next is up to the buyer and freelancer. This would be fine if work ensued, but in this case, the buyer backed out and chose someone else. Surely the buyer should pay the forfeit here, not the innocent freelancer?  What’s more, presumably the newly selected provider has now also paid a $5 fee, so Freelancer has earned an extra $5 here, at my expense, for doing absolutely nothing.

3) You cannot raise a dispute unless a milestone has been created, but what if a dispute arises before the milestone has been created as asked for?

In this case, if the buyer had set up a milestone and then changed his mind, I would be able to raise a dispute. The buyer would then be found to be clearly at fault, and I would be awarded the milestone payment. But, even though I requested one in the bid that he accepted, the buyer didn’t set up a milestone and I am left powerless (and $5 out of pocket).

Freelancer, to eliminate this loophole, I propose that if a provider has requested a milestone payment in their bid, it should be compulsory to set up that milestone at the time the buyer awards the project. Then, if the freelancer chooses to reject the project, the milestone can be returned to the buyer, and if the freelancer accepts the project, the milestone is created and held. If the buyer *then* decides to change their mind, the freelancer can raise a dispute. This seems to me to be a sensible and workable solution to a problem that discriminates against the powerless provider.

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16 responses

4 02 2011
Olaf Schutze

Hahaha,

This is only the beginning. Such, what you call annoyances, I did experience some years ago, even as paying member.
Two projects at freelancers scam site – is only a small step.
YES, freelancers.scam is nothing else than a site, to rip off freelancers.
Make your 50 projects full – 12 of them not paid, 3 times your deposits from GAF
stolen – and compare it to what, what you write now, to that, what you will write them.
After they than have disabled your accounts, deleted your help desk tickets, ignoring
your emails over 6 month – they kindly ask to file help desk ticket. I think, it is time to wake
up and call a thief a thief and a scamer a scamer.

4 02 2011
lisaamartin

I still disagree that Freelancer is deliberately trying to rip people off, I just think I’ve stumbled across a loophole that needs to be closed. I’ve sent my complaint to Freelancer Support, and also sent a separate ticket making a suggestion as to how they can remedy this situation and make it fairer to freelancers. They are yet to reply (and I *hope* this is because they are thoroughly reading and discussing my letter!), but I will keep this page updated with any new developments if and when they arise.
PS – “hahaha”? Are you taking pleasure in this?

5 02 2011
enrique ybanez

I myself came across the same situation. I was awarded a project, I accepted it, I was charged an upfront commission fee, then the employer backed out the last minute. After that I’m poorer by about 7 bucks due Freelancer.com’s non-refundable commission fees. I was upset of course. I contacted their help desk, and they explain to me this and that. I can see a logic on their explanation, but you’re correct that ‘loophole’ needs to be rectified. – Anyways, I was informed that they will implement a mandatory 10% milestone payment set up before a buyer can award a project, well, I’m looking forward to that.

5 02 2011
lisaamartin

Hi Enrique,
Thanks for visiting my blog! I received an email from Freelancer today, in response to the complaint and suggestion I sent them, and I too received the response that “pretty soon”, they are going to implement a mandatory milestone payment of 10%. I hope this is not too long in coming because to be quite honest, I’m nervous about using Freelancer now in case this happens again!

17 02 2011
MrGam

Lisa,
No matter how nice Freelancer promises are, the fact that things are allowed to happen without any swift reaction to prevent another occurrence can only mean one thing. Freelancer has grown sooooo big for their health; and that is nice.

It opens the field to more competitors that will try to get the more responsible buyers and providers. Until then we will have to live with examples such as :
1. Buyers who solicit resumes from countless providers and simply canceling the job afterward: http://www.freelancer.com/projects/Data-Entry-Excel/Data-Entry-Government-Research-Data.html
2. Buyers that allow Freelancer to collect commissions when they do not intend to push through with the job: http://www.freelancer.com/projects/Data-Entry-Research/Resort-project.html

With their stock reply of “we do not refund commissions” , one cannot be blamed for thinking that the buyer in the second example is affiliated with Freelancer.

No one else can be blamed for the kind of unwanted experiences and perceptions that we receive as buyers/providers except the guys that run Freelancer. Nothing personal here since I do not know them; but the collective pattern of the incidents reported here in your blog give a good indication of what their priorities are.

Long live competition!

20 02 2011
MrGam

By allowing the job posting at http://www.freelancer.com/projects/Audio-Services-Data-Entry/Genral-service.html, one gets the impression that Freelancer is placing its priorities in numbers and not on quality.

It is not really a job posting. It was created by a provider that has been with Freelancer since October 2009 but still hasn’t been awarded any job. His post has attracted responses from providers that seemingly do not read or understand what to make of the erroneous post.

A cynic would think that the creator is an employee of Freelancer that has been instructed to prune charlatans from the rank of providers. The fourteen providers that have responded to the job posting “bait” can already be branded as “spammers” in the sense that they simply just fire off canned responses to anything that appears on the job posting list.

On the other hand, I think that Freelancer does not really care what people make out of themselves when posting or responding to job offers. “Caveat emptor” or “Let the buyer beware.” would be an appropriate tagline for this site. If the job creator awards his “job” to the fourteen providers, Freelancer is richer by $5 x 14.

I had to make this observation after doing a few job applications with PPH. Thanks for recommending PPH, Lisa.

Cheers!!

18 09 2011
Emma

Hi, I have been using freelancer for a few months now and I’m really pleased with the service. I just got an e-mail saying my account has been suspended and a request of ID. I have sent the ID. I know exactly why I have been suspended, a colleague at work has signed up on freelancer (I recommended it) and I have completed a project for him. To be honest, part of the reason was to increase my feedback, but I did genuinely do the job for him. I just wondered how long it will be before freelancer get back to me? I was in the process of messaging a few different people about their projects and they were going to accept me. I am also in the middle of a project for someone. I am so stressed out as I don’t want to let anyone down. I’m not so much bothered about the money in my account, but I want a future on the website. How long do you think it will be before my account is reactivated?

Thanks

Emma

18 09 2011
lisaamartin

Hi Emma, thanks for your message. To be honest, I doubt that you were suspended just because you worked for someone you know as because you completed a genuine project, there is actually nothing wrong with that. One of the most common reasons for account suspension is exchanging contact details with someone before a project is officially awarded – have you ever done that? Unfortunately Freelancer are not known for their speedy customer service, so I’d give them a couple of weeks and if they still haven’t reactivated you, or at least sent an email, then I’d try asking their live support. Unfortunately, while you are suspended you won’t be able to bid on new projects or exchange private/public messages, but you should still be able to work on the project that you’d already started as presumably you have the buyer’s contact details? You won’t be able to withdraw any money from your account though, until you are reinstated.

18 09 2011
Emma

Thanks for your response. Do you know what happens if someone tries to accept me for a bid or message me? I don’t want to be accepted and then get non-completion of project because I can’t respond.

3 03 2012
fatema

Hello, I am new on freelancer.com, I want to know that, when a freelancer get a project then how i can be sure that i got a project ?? What would be first step to do? In which place i found that “accept” button. Whether buyer give me a private message or not . Anything will be shown on my profile? Please give me details information about that.

7 03 2012
lisaamartin

Hi Fatema, the absolutely crucial thing to note here is that if you have officially been awarded a project, you will receive an email from Freelancer that asks you to accept the project, and the project will then appear in your dashboard. You will also notice when you do this that the Freelancer project fee is instantly deducted from your account. You have NOT been properly awarded a project if the buyer simply messages you to tell you so. If this happens, please ask them to officially select you, otherwise you will be in breach of Freelancer’s terms and conditions.

Another piece of advice I would give you is make sure that your buyer actually intends to see the project through by confirming the project detaisl, timelines and so on, in the private message board. If you are awarded a project and accept it and THEN the buyer then decides that they don’t want to continue, you will lose the project fee and it is not refundable. I have argued with Freelancer on many occasions that this is unfair, and they have promised to put a compulsory milestone payment in place, but we have yet to see it happen.

You might want to also read my post on what happens next, after you have been awarded a project: https://lisaamartin.wordpress.com/2010/12/09/faq-ive-been-awarded-a-project-via-freelancer-com-now-what/.

Happy freelancing!

28 09 2012
Laura at SEO article content writing

Hey Lisa, this happened to me as well. I blindly thought that they would wait until at least I will get a milestone. As the client disappeared and around 85 dollars from my PP as well, I filed a complaint against the company with PayPal. I think that going to BBB with this case would be a good idea.

19 05 2013
Nishant

I just lost $10 in the same way but the worst part is that it was my very first project… 😦

7 10 2015
Andy

I use freelancer a lot and they have stolen money from me a few times. The first time, someone i had done legitimate work for since raised a project that broke the terms. The banned them from the site, but not after refunding the money they had paid out to other freelancers for legitimate past work. Their customer support even admitted it was a mistake. However, their policy is “NO REFUNDS” so i would not get the money back that they accidentally took from my account – how can this be legal?

The second time was again some legitimate work i did and was paid for. about 3 months after doing and being paid for the work the client (according to freelancer customer support) had contacted his bank to say all the payments to freelancer site were not made by him. So the bank took the money back from freelancer, no from me. However freelancer saw it fit to take money directly from my account to cover their loss. Even though it had nothing to do with me. Upon questioning customer support and pointing out that they can’t hold me financially responsible for this. Their customer support person informed me that they have a new policy in their terms and conditions where they can take money out of their users accounts whenever they like, regardless if it’s legal or not. Literally, that’s what i was told! I couldn’t believe it.

Then yesterday after spending all day working on a project for $150 (milestones created) the client had a problem with the site payment system and kept getting an error when trying to release the milestones. Freelancer decided to refund their money for the milestones. but still charge me. despite how i spent all day doing the work. they literally gave my earrings away and charged me a fee because they had a problem with the site.

There are many sites that offer the same services as freelancer but conduct themselves legitimately. I would recommend people use one of those sites and steer clear away from freelancer. They are basically cyber thieves.

I actually found this site whilst looking for a class action lawsuit against them. As they have openly admitted that they are breaking the law with intent and stealing from their users.

1 12 2016
Rashid Mehmood Awan

i am recent victim of freelancer.com injustice system which is completely employer oriented. i worked for a client 4 months ago, i completed job for 250GBP and taken a good review. after 4 months client appeared to freealncer.com dispute claiming that we have taken down his website. Despite of No Evidence he provided to freelancer.com. they have given decision in his favour and charged me with my hard earned 250 GBP. I tried to convey message that we never ever got back to client website and they sanctioned my account for NO BIDDING. Now i cant bid unless i pay off client won amount.
Freelancer.com is completely unsafe to work.

They will never ever listen to freelancers, So its for employers only.
Beware of this fact. this is genuine fact and i can show proof of it.

8 04 2017
Saad Ahmed

Hello Lisa,

The rules on freelancer.com changes frequently. I completed a project recently for someone, it was paid, he gave a 5 star rating. He than asked me for a revision, well actually…he asked me to add more content – I tried to explain the difference between a revision and an addition. I offer unlimited revisions, but this client wanted more content, even during the project, his requirements kept changing. I was helpless in this case, I have completed around 190 projects, all with 5 star ratings – I cannot afford a single bad review or rating.
Anyways, I woke up and opened my laptop and saw this email from freelancer.com with the subject line “Your funds have been locked”

Freelancer.com deducted $450 out of my account for a project that was paid, the employer had created a dispute where he wanted to give me $300 and said that he needs $150 to hire another freelancer.

While this stirred a strong whirlpool of anger within me, the fact is, there nothing I can do, I presented the evidence and gave my opinion, but I am 100% sure that the dispute with go in the favor of the employer. Even though it is ABSOLUTELY clear that revisions (where the styling is accepting in the first draft) do not include unpaid rewrites or additions.

I knew that this client would give me problems, he is one those clients who would go to a Rolex shop and tell them that they are too expensive, than depart to the icecream shop in front and try at least 10 of their flavors before taking the “one scoop” that he would regret spending money on – the rest of his life.

So yes folks, it doesn’t matter if your project is paid for, your client can dispute, it doesn’tt matter who will win, freelancer.com will deduct the disputed amount out of your account.

I guess its about time – for a personal website.

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