February 13, 2018

After being completely honest, Upwork banned my account for 'being dishonest'

There are plenty of articles online despising Upwork. For those that don’t know, Upwork is ‘the world’s largest online workplace where savvy businesses and professional freelancers go to work!’ Once I felt comfortable writing Go - I decided I could take some small side gigs to make connections and earn some extra cash. For reasons still unclear to me, that didn’t last for long.


After the post reached #1 on HackerNews, an UpWork representetive contacted me.

At the end, posting on social media did work (as usually). I believe there are lots of developers that face similar issues as I did, but do not pust it publicly or their issue doesn’t get viral. Also noting that if I could get in touch directly to someone from UpWork instead of outsourced support personal, this issue probably wouldn’t occur at all.

I’ve registered on both oDesk and Elance (companies that merged into UpWork) before I was serious about programming. I’ve heard from friends, colleagues and local forums how they earn extra side money by completing some ‘simple’ gigs - translation, transcription, data entry etc. After applying to few gigs, I wasn’t quite successful in getting a gig and decided it wasn’t for me.

Fast forward few years, being a software developer for 5 years I felt comfortable looking for gigs besides my full-time job. I was mostly interested in small tasks that should take few days to complete. On Upwork, I found plenty of them. The good thing is/was that very few people apply for Golang related gigs - so it isn’t hard to find one.

The first contract I received was from a client that wanted to implement Swagger into their Go project - lovely. I even wrote an article on that few weeks ago - HERE. Even though the gig was way underpaid ($15) - I did it mostly to get a positive review, as reviews are very important on such sites. Besides adding the annotations needed for auto-generation of Swagger, the client asked me to fix issue she had with CORS and then to show her how to run swagger locally via Docker.

Once I did both, the client paid me a total of $45 and left a 5-star review (“Great Guy..Helped me a lot).

Two days later I get another contract - a simple CLI in Go. Great. Client’s budget was a bigger ($40), although I proposed $50 which he immediately accepted. At the same time, I get an email from Upwork - that I need to verify my identity by a ‘10-minute video chat.’

Profile verification email

Before starting the verification process, I completed the second gig but didn’t send the code yet - I wanted to review it a bit later.

I clicked on the link from the email, joined the conversation and turned on my microphone and camera. After the interviewer introduced herself, she asked me for my address, city, country. The call quality was far from perfect, as (from my perspective) she had a very bad connection during the verification process.

Upon answering these questions, I was asked: “How is it possible to propagate a session id in PHP”.

“I don’t write PHP” - I replied. She talked a bit more, but I could barely understand her anything due to connection issues.

“Please wait for an email regarding your account status in 24 hours or less. I appreciate your cooperation. I’ll be closing this chat now. Thank you for contacting Upwork. Have an amazing day!”

“That went far easier and quicker than I expected. Lovely.” I had no clue what’s going to happen next. Eight minutes later I received the following email:

Account suspended

I felt disappointed. I provided everything they asked for, and now my account is suspended for not being honest. I opened another chat instance, that was nearly immediately closed with the message:

Agent : Feb 3, 2018, 1:47:26 PM
Hi, Thank you for contacting Upwork! This is Agent M.
Please give me a few minutes to pull up your account.
Please Stay on the Line.

Visitor : Feb 3, 2018, 1:47:32 PM
Agent : Feb 3, 2018, 1:49:11 PM
I see that your account has been permanently suspended. For more information
regarding your account status, you will need to contact our Customer Support team
by submitting a support ticket at https://support.upwork.com/hc/en-us/requests/new

Thank you for contacting Upwork.
Have a great day.
Agent M. just closed this chat.

Before I had the time to read this reply the chat was closed. I did open another chat instance few hours later, and instead of saying ‘OK’ wrote the issue I had before chat was closed:

Visitor : Feb 3, 2018, 4:09:07 PM

I talked to one of your colleagues today.

After trying to verify my profile (by video, providing my details), my call was closed,
and I received an email that my account was suspended for being dishonest.
I finished work for a client and would like to deliver now, but I'm unsure what 
happens now because my account is suspended.
Can you please look at the ticket and instruct me further how to verify my profile?

Thank you!
Agent N : Feb 3, 2018, 4:09:23 PM
Good day! This is Agent N and I will be assisting you today.
Please give me a few minutes to pull up your account.
Agent N : Feb 3, 2018, 4:15:12 PM
Thank you for waiting. I am sorry but your account has been closed and I am unable
to help you any further. There must be an email sent to you that explains why your
account was closed.
Visitor : Feb 3, 2018, 4:15:41 PM
You can look it up under ticket number: (#TicketNUM)
Agent N : Feb 3, 2018, 4:16:29 PM
Please refer to the ticket sent to you regarding your issue.
Agent N : Feb 3, 2018, 4:17:18 PM
I am sorry but your account has been closed and I am unable to help you any further.
Agent N : Feb 3, 2018, 4:17:26 PM
Thank you for contacting Upwork.

Although I did receive some feedback, it was meaningless. I still didn’t know why my account was suspended.

I messaged my client, telling him I did finish what he wanted but I’ll wait until tomorrow to send it, hoping that I would resolve my issue by then.

The next morning I saw a message from the client saying:

Hi Emir,

A few minutes ago, I just received an email from Upwork stating:
Hello Client,

I’m happy to report that Emir Ribic’s Upwork profile has been verified.
Should you have any questions or need further assistance, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

Upwork Trust & Safety
Can you test Upwork.com again?


Obviously, I thought that the issue was resolved and that I can proceed using my account. Instead, when I logged into my account, I noticed that my profile was indeed verified but the account was still suspended. The message I received from their support:

Account verified

The message clearly states that I can submit proposals and accept offers from client - which was not the case. A paradox - my account was suspended for not being honest during the verification process, a day later I got verified but my account was still suspended.

I replied to this ticket (as it was a newly created one by their support team) asking whether my account is going to be ‘unsuspended’ but the ticket was closed without any answer.

As I completed the gig day before, I sent my client the solution we agreed to. Instead of the agreed $50, the client paid me $100 and left a positive review:

Excellent work! Very technically skilled and very detailed oriented.
Developed a very helpful golang solution.
Delivered project early while always delivering amazing, high-quality work!
Very highly recommended!

I felt quite happy knowing that I helped someone and earned extra $100. On the other hand, my account was still suspended.

Upwork has a support account on Twitter, to which I sent a message and explained my problem - my account was suspended for no obvious reasons. They did reply:

Hi Emir. I'm sorry to hear about the suspension of your account. Unfortunately,
the suspension of the account was due to a violation of Upwork ToS and, in this case,
I kindly ask you to refer to the notification sent to you about this matter.
We have systems in place to check freelancer accounts to make sure they are not
violating our Terms of Service and suspend accounts as needed.
Please, review our ToS for more reference on this topic.

Was this message automated/scripted? Probably yes. Still, I tried to recall whether I violated their TOS. I did remember that on an occasion or two, I sent a proposal to a client or two including a link to my resume. I’ve read from many redditors that they do the same quite often. I felt I might get the job easier if someone lands on this blog, reads the articles and opens my GitHub. At the end, someone from Upwork can use this as an evidence against me - true, as it it violates the ToS, but let’s be honest - if you are freelancing as a software developer, it’s very, very hard not to give any contact information to your client. There are many ways that even if you refuse to communicate outside of UpWork (which I totally support), that you will need to do so. If your client demands usage of git (which they will if the project is anything larger than small tools), you’ll probably share your contact information by committing to that repo (commits contain email and your account info, e.g. GitHub account).

Not to mention that my name, surname and employment history is publicly available on my profile. A simple google search involving ‘full name + company name’ gets my contact info (I found Linkedin and Facebook).

Could that be the reason I was suspended? I didn’t have to wait for long. The last client I worked with (Golang CLI tool) contacted me in an hour, telling me that the money was refunded to him with a message containing the reason my account was suspended:

... Unfortunately, Emir Ribic did not pass our identity screening. ...

Yet again, they repeat that my account was suspended because I did not pass the identity screening, despite them verifying my account.

At that time, I opened a thread on UpWork’s community forum (containing same explanation). Two days later I was banned from it (without any proper answer) because ‘my UpWork account is suspended.’ A few hours later, I received two emails (ticket replies) from UpWork’s support.

I didn’t reply to this ticket or create a new one. I felt it was enough, even though I still didn’t know the reason my account was suspended. If someone from UpWork reads this and is not a freelancer hired by them (as was the case for every single person from support) I would like to know the real reason.

I assume the ToS I agreed to while signing up allows them to suspend my account for no particular reason.

At the end, I would recommend anyone to never focus and rely on a single stream of income. Imagine working hard on building UpWork (or similar site) portfolio, quitting a full-time job to go fully remote, and then getting suspended for no obvious reason.

2018 © Emir Ribic - Some rights reserved; please attribute properly and link back. Code snippets are MIT Licensed