Pakistanis earning by selling their skills on freelance platforms such as Fiverr and Upwork are stuck in a Catch-22: without reviews they won’t get work and without work they can’t get reviews. But in true jugardu style, as anyone could have told you, they have found a way: buying fake reviews.
This is how it works: Freelancers register with these websites and create their profiles describing their skills. A profile will tell you their “gigs” or services that they sell (graphic designing, copy writing, video editing etc).
“When a new seller joins the freelancing platform and puts up their gig, they need someone to put up a positive review on their profile,” explains Agha Nasir Hussain, who is AI lead at Presidential Initiative for Artificial Intelligence & Computing and has been training freelancers for three years. “To get that positive review, they either have to ask a cousin or friend living abroad to post a fake job. They then apply for that job, get it done and an exchange of payment takes place.” The cousin transfers money to their account so the freelancing platform sees official documentation of work and money between the two parties.
This is “unethical yet necessary,” adds Hussain.
If you do not have a cousin or friend abroad then there are people on Facebook groups who sell reviews and work through multiple buyer accounts registered within Pakistan or abroad. The review seller takes money in advance, including a service fee.
Gaming the system?
A review seller who did not want to reveal his identity explained how the system works. “For example, if you are a designer who can illustrate and design logos for companies and brands, you create a profile and publish a gig. You then approach me to get fake reviews.”
The designer and review seller make a deal. “I will post three reviews for $25,” explained the review seller, “but you will pay $55.” The rate is between $10 and $15 and they give packages for bulk reviews from verified buyer accounts.
The review seller puts together a requirement that matches the designer’s work. He posts a job for, say, a logo design and keep the price at $10. He creates another job for graphic design for $10 and then another for an illustration for $10. The designer transfers $55 to the review seller’s bank account and then applies for exactly those jobs he posted. The review seller picks the designer, who submits some of his old work. The jobs are “done” and the review seller returns the $30 to show that a payment transaction has taken place. He earns $25 and the designer gets three favourable reviews.
This helps the freelancer gain “credibility”.
Where does it go wrong?
The problem with fake reviews is that it is unsustainable. You can buy as many reviews as you like but when it will come to doing real work, you won’t measure up. Constant failure to complete your jobs can risk a permanent ban from the platform.
People even get into trouble if the platform catches fake reviews and disables them. The website will then scan all profiles reviewed from a fake account and they all get booted out.
Freelancer Awais Manzoor from Lahore, whose account was suspended on Fiverr, said that he violated third-party content twice. “I was working fine at Fiverr,” he said, “One day I made a gig for a video and I received a notification for third-party content and my gig was removed. I made another gig but it had a third-party violation disclaimer as well. Before I could do anything, my account was logged out and I received an email that my account was suspended.”
How does freelancing website detect if reviews are fake or real?
Every computer has an internet protocol address (IP) address through which the location, online activities of a user can be tracked. If a fake reviewer routes directly to a specific seller profile or seller gig and assigns them a job even though they have no prior experience, the website may find it suspicious and flag both accounts involved.
Websites can also spot a faker when seller gig prices fluctuate. People usually lower their gig prices to the minimum to get fake reviews and then take them higher once the reviews are done. Crawlers may find this suspicious and flag the accounts.
Fiverr issued a statement last year about fake reviews, which is punishes with permanent suspension. “To prevent any misuse of our feedback system, all feedback reviews must come from legitimate sales executed exclusively through the Fiverr platform from users within our Community,” it said. “Purchases arranged, determined to artificially enhance seller ratings, or to abuse the Fiverr platform with purchases from additional accounts, will result in a permanent suspension of all related accounts.”
Plenty of seller accounts from Pakistan have been blocked on Fiverr and Upwork. This has made the platforms stricter for Pakistani sellers who are facing a hard time getting jobs.
What can be reasons behind an account ban?
Arsalan Khan, a freelancer who has been working online for three years, started from scratch and owns his software house in Lahore now. He lists the reasons an account can be disabled on Fiverr:
1. If you use multiple accounts from the same computer and IP address: He says, “If I have a software house and there are nine people working under one roof, I need nine different computers and nine different internet connections to generate a unique IP address for each person.”
2. If you gets a project as a seller and put it up again on the same platform as a buyer. This can lead to a permanent ban from Fiverr.
3. If a seller gets more than three reports in a month from buyers.
4. You account can be suspended if you have third-party content violations. This happens when a seller copies someone else’s content and gig. This is considered plagiarised content and the account holder can be disabled from the platform.
5. If a seller is rude or tries to make personal contact with the buyer to get contracts outside Fiverr.
6. If the freelancing website’s crawler detects that you have forged reviews or the reviews you have received are fake. The platform may put you on its ban list for life.
“People usually make these mistakes and then try to generate tickets and make requests to get unbanned,” added Arsalan Khan. “They come to me for help but I tell them that this cannot be undone.” He laid emphasis on following the rules of the company. “If a company has a policy, we have to follow it,” he said. “Pakistanis do not read terms and conditions; they just start going wild which has to led to a bad reputation for all Pakistani freelancers. Pakistan does not have PayPal and people around the world are not comfortable doing business with us and this fake review stuff has hit us hard.”