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I was hired as a freelancer via an Australian freelancing platform, did the job and got money credited into my account. However, they suspected that my client made a fraudulent transaction and does not allow me to actually withdraw the funds using this line from ToS:

We reserve the right to suspend a User withdrawal request if the source of the funds is suspected to be fraudulent.

Now let's suppose the client will never respond to their request for documents/information. Given that this transaction will not be otherwise found fraudulent/reversed, does the platform actually has the right to indefinitely hold the monies they have no ownership over?

Is there any law that would protect the freelancer in that case?

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  • @isakbob, hello and thanks! Will do. – MiloserdOFF Nov 8 '19 at 3:29
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does the platform actually has the right to indefinitely hold the monies

No.

But they do not claim to have such a right though: the ordinary meaning of "suspend" is not "indefinitely hold".

A reasonable person would expect the suspension to be temporary — pending any investigation / police inquiry as to whether the funds were actually fraudulent.

Such an investigation could lead to two possible outcomes:

  1. The funds are fraudulent. They will be returned to the legitimate owner. The freelancer could sue the client but, otherwise, will be at loss.
  2. The funds are not fraudulent. The platform will have to release them to the freelancer.

Should the platform do nothing to find out whether the funds are actually fraudulent, the freelancer could seek court order to make them do so or release the funds.

  • Thank you for answering! Do you know any specific law according to which this is true? – MiloserdOFF Nov 8 '19 at 3:32
  • @MiloserdOFF The most specific law behind this is the law of contract. If the platform holds your money without a good reason (such as ongoing investigation as to whether the money is fraudulent), you have a valid breach of contract case. – Greendrake Nov 8 '19 at 8:05
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Given that this transaction will not be otherwise found fraudulent/reversed, does the platform actually has the right to indefinitely hold the monies they have no ownership over?

Indefinitely: yes; forever: no. Once the fraud investigation is completed the money would be released (if clean) or sent to the true owner (if fraudulent). If the contract is silent on how long this will take, it must be done in a reasonable time.

Is there any law that would protect the freelancer in that case?

Possibly. I'll get back to this.

What contracts are there?

I'm guessing that there are three contracts:

  1. One between the freelancer and the platform (the F-P contract),
  2. One between the client and the platform (the C-P contract), and
  3. One between the freelancer and the client (the F-C contract).

Under the F-C contract, the client owes the freelancer money. Under the C-P contract the platform agrees to collect the money from the client. Under the F-P contract the platform agrees to remit the funds to the freelancer (less the fee, I assume).

Under the F-P contract, the freelancer assumes the risk of fraud on behalf of the client. This is a perfectly sensible thing for a contract to address; contracts are fundamentally about risk allocation after all. So, if there is fraud or suspected fraud, the freelancer cops the loss. They have no cause of action against the platform because the platform is only doing what the F-P contract requires - that is, there is no breach of contract.

The freelancer does have a cause of action against the client under the F-C contract, so they can sue the client for the money. The client may raise the defense that they already paid the client through the platform - and then things get complicated.

The platform may also have a cause of action against the client under the C-P contract because they are out their fee. This doesn't help the freelancer because they are not privy to that contract.

Getting back to it ...

Australian Consumer Law applies to all three contracts (unless they were for more than $300,000 - if so, you'd already have called a lawyer). The freelancer could try to argue that assuming the risk of fraud was an unfair contract term and therefore void. It probably isn't.

  • Thanks for your answer! I understand that I bear the risk of fraud. The question is more about the case if the platform does not find an actual fraud but also they are unable to verify that it was a clear transaction (e.g. client did not provide a document, etc). Is there any limit on how long such an investigation should take? – MiloserdOFF Nov 8 '19 at 3:39
  • If the contract doesn’t say, it should take a reasonable time – Dale M Nov 8 '19 at 4:55

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