Translator scams and how to protect yourself from them 24

Freelance translators should think of themselves as business people. As such, they should pay serious attention to risk management, including the actions needed to minimize the risk of being the victims of a scam.

Scams are everywhere and they are extremely varied. It is said that one in ten adults have fallen for a scam. Some of the victims are  poor and desperate, but others are educated and clever, and  believed themselves to be immune to this kind of plot.

Reports from ProZ.com members seem to indicate an increase in translation or translator-specific scams.

There are two broad categories of scammers that should be on a freelance translator’s radar screen: those who want a free translation, and those who want our money.

1 – Scammers who want to steal your translation

This kind of scam involves a “client” who will offer you a real translation assignment but is not planning to pay for it. Legitimate outsourcers who are having a bad time and are late in their payments are a real problem, but they do not fall into this category.

This kind of scam is harder to detect because the scammer is usually well-acquainted with the translation industry and can emulate the “look and feel” of a legitimate outsourcer.

There are two basic categories of translation-stealers:

  • scammers who make up a fake “agency” that will simply vanish the moment you deliver your job, and
  • scammers who falsely claim to represent a real and prestigious agency.

Scammers in the first category should be detectable through normal risk management procedures. Those in the second group are more dangerous because superficial risk control could validate that the outsourcer is trustworthy, but miss the fact that the person contacting you does not represent them.

Emails from new potential clients should be carefully scanned. A visit to the “about me” section of the real outsourcer will tell you what their email domain is, say for instance xxxx@good-agency.com. Be wary of agency emails based on a free email provider, for instance name.good-agency@gmail.com (it is OK for freelancers to operate with this kind of email but an agency doing so should trigger your alarms). Be also on the lookout for small variants in the email domains ( for instance xxxx@goodagency.com ) introduced to mimic the real outsourcer.

2 – Scammers who want to steal your money

We’ve all seen or heard of some of the more common, general scams: a notification that we’ve won the Spanish lottery, or an email from a person who requires our help in moving a small fortune outside their country, etc.

There is also a translator-specific kind of predator that is not interested in your translation, but who will offer you a fake job opportunity as a hook to take money from you.

Some classic examples of these which have hit the community more recently are:

  • a job offer where advance payment is offered, usually in the form of traveler’s or certified bank checks. The amount received by the translator turns out to be much more than the payment agreed upon and they are asked to cash the checks or money order and wire back the difference. The checks or money orders later turn out to be counterfeit or stolen.
  • a steady flow of work is offered, on the condition that the translator must acquire a certain tool (usually a CAT tool), and the scammer happens to offer that tool at a greatly reduced price. Of course once you pay, you never hear again from the “client” (or receive the tool).
  • A very convenient in-house position is offered in a different country, and some down payment is requested from the translator in order to temporarily cover a legal immigration requirement or relocation expense. Again, once you have paid you can forget about them.

These schemes usually come from people outside the industry, and there are telltale signs that should ring alarm bells in the head of savvy freelancers:

  • The language (frequently English) is uneducated and has typos and grammatical errors (note: poor English alone does not mean one is a scammer, of course!)
  • Real outsourcers tend to deliver straightforward messages (“we look for a translator in {language pair}, expert in {field}, for a job of xxx words to be delivered on {deadline}; please report availability and rate”). Fake outsourcers, on the other hand, tend to add lots of unnecessary details (“I need an interpreter for my wife and two kids who will be visiting your country for a week; they will be basically shopping and will move in a rented car. We will be there because I am senior manager of a Fortune 500 company and will be attending a conference.”)
  • They are not aware of your expertise, to the point of sometimes asking for “the language pair you are most comfortable working with”. Strange assignment where you can pick that!
  • Uncommon job descriptions such as widely varied and unrelated areas of expertise (“poetry, nuclear reactors and accounting”) or in-depth details on how the communications will be handled in the project (an important factor, but not at this point of the exchange).

In short, try some old-fashioned common sense: if someone you don’t know contacts you to ask for a payment now in order to get a huge reward tomorrow, hit the “Delete” button.

Basic risk management considerations

Risk-management is a comprehensive discipline that should be present in all your actions; in the case of scams, you should focus on the evaluation of people contacting you for the first time.

The better your risk management process, the less likely you are to find yourself having invested time, effort and money in work where no payment is forthcoming (or worse; in the case of the traveler’s checks scam mentioned above, victims also found themselves in an uncomfortable position legally, having cashed fraudulent or stolen checks).

You should be suspicious of people who contact you and:

  • offer you something for nothing. If it looks too good to be true, it’s probably a scam.
  • ask you to pay some expenses or to buy some tool in order to get access to a very convenient opportunity.
  • try to rush you into a decision

When contacted for the first time by a potential outsourcer who looks truly interested in your services, you should:

  • Get the full name, address and phone number of the company and name and position of the contact person.
  • Investigate the IP information in the incoming email (see the ProZ.com Wiki article Risk management: Email) to make sure the email comes from where the company is. Investigate discrepancies.
  • Find the company’s website, find their email domain and verify if the incoming email fits it.
  • Call the company at the number found on their web page and ask for the person who contacted you, to verify if the contact was legitimate.
  • Google for the contact’s and the company’s names. Many scams are reported in forums and this can help warn you.
  • Look for the company in ProZ.com’s Blue Board and other online risk management resources. Pay special attention to negative comments and to recent ones.
  • Make sure to get a purchase order before you start working.
  • The first job you do for a new client should be small. This is reasonable for both sides of the deal, as a new translator is also a risk for the outsourcer.

Don’t be afraid that these normal risk management precautions will offend the outsourcer and make you lose good opportunities. Professional outsourcers will recognize the actions of professional freelancers and are likely to respect you more for doing your homework.

What to do if contacted by a scammer? The best you can do when you detect or suspect a scam is to ignore the messages. Answering the message, even to insult them or try to outsmart them will at the very least let the villain know that your email address is active and all the more valuable for spamming.

Sharing your experiences in dedicated forums and other social media is also a way to help raise awareness among colleagues of this scourge.

Further reading and resources

The ProZ.com Wiki has a few articles which are meant to help out when it comes to detecting scams, and translator risk management in general. These can all be found in the category for risk management in the Wiki.

Be sure you are familiar with this information and incorporate what is useful to you as a professional into your risk management process.

Is there something missing from the risk management articles, a method you have used successfully? Help your colleagues out by adding it! All you have to do is click the “Edit” option for the article or the section of the article you wish to add to, enter the information and hit save.

ProZ.com also has a forum dedicated specifically to allowing translators to discuss and warn each other of new scams: http://www.proz.com/forum/946

Stay safe!

Enrique Cavalitto

24 comments

  1. This is excellent advice. I’ve worked in the security industry for 10 years, also investigating online fraud, and this is exactly what I would look for, and recommend that others look for.

    There’s always a risk of falling for a scam, and there’s no shame in it when it happens. Pick yourself up, maybe take the time to warn others, and stay on your toes – at least you’ve learned something from it, and it won’t happen again.

    Again, absolutely excellent post. This needs to be at the front of everyone’s mind.

    Like

  2. Hi Sommerfeldt, thanks for your kind words!

    It is painful to follow translators forums and to learn of so many cases of fraud inflicted on them!

    Most translators are good people, bound by a personal code of ethics, eager to deliver ever better quality. They will respect rules of engagement, be polite to clients and colleagues and will spend sleepless nights to avoid a late delivery.

    Most translation agencies are also good companies who will treat translators as valuable partners, and when agreement is reached between agency and translator (and it happens all the time, every time a job is assigned), there is a very high probability that the deal will be respected by both parties.

    This fair environment may contribute to the vulnerability to unscrupulous scammers of some translators used to assuming good faith.

    This does not mean that we should become paranoid. Safety is the result of sensible policies applied in a consistent way and reviewed regularly.

    Risk management provides a set of tools to identify threats, evaluate their probability and impact and devise responses.

    Like

  3. there is this one going on at the moment, be careful, unfortunately i gave my address and might receive the check but they’ll be disappointed if they think i’ll cash it!

    Hello ,

    Thank you for your urgent respond to my request. I was in between projects, a little bit of a busy day that is why i have not been able to respond to your email earlier than now. I am a disable private businesswoman, looking for a translator.I have checked your CV and i am pleased to tell you that i have chosen you to work on the project for we are in between a new business that will require us to write out in French. I truly understand your stand, about your manner of work. I attached a sample of the work titled project, just want you to have understanding of what we are about to do together.

    Am an investor, i work on short time business still working on strong capital but we all start somewhere.

    My address is ..

    C/Pico Aneto 72 Bajos 2
    07008
    Palma de Mallorca
    Islas Baleares

    Now i guess you have an idea of the woman you about to start work with, attached is a sample. The delivery date is negotiable, be deliver April 13, 2011

    The total number of the words are .. 42002 words so to convert from English to French,i believe you know its a bit large work project states the followings..

    ++ Please state it out, the amount you charge for per word
    ++ please calculate the total amount, also state out the discount..
    ++ categorically state your city and country of residence?
    ++ Can you state out your date of delivery and method in which you will have all done

    I hope we can come to term for success of this project. Thank you

    Best regards

    Jesica Martorell

    Like

    • Hi gaelle, thanks for sharing! The message you post is a classic example. Note the excess of details not at all related to the job offered, a typical sign that one might be dealing with a scam.

      Like

  4. I once read that a good way of protecting yourself against a scam translation request is to send the finished document encrypted and provide the corresponding password only after you receive payment as previously agreed. Does anyone know of shortcomings for this procedure?

    Like

  5. Pingback: Scams targeting translators: the advance payment scam, and how to get the word out? | Translator T.O.

  6. Thank you so much for this important article, now after reading it we can be aware of all the funny things that we may encounter in this business.

    Like

  7. Thank you so much for this article!
    I’ve only been working in this business for about three years now, so sharing knowledge and information with experienced professionals is crucial for me!
    I recently received an iffy job offer: The “client” told me he was located in Atlanta, GA, but was going on a business trip to London and needed documents translated for a presentation he would then give in Germany in a few weeks.
    Because of the wordy explanation I was skeptical and told him I would charge 25 % upfront via PayPal for new clients. He claimed he wasn’t familiar with PayPal (?!) and offered money order or cashier’s check. I wasn’t sure what to do and started searching the web on translation-related scams, found this article and went through the risk assessment steps.
    I tried googling his company in Atlanta and was unable to find a website or even a coherent entry in the yellow pages. When I checked his IP address and learned that he is actually located in Egypt, I stopped searching.
    It’s very frustrating to think there are people who do this but it sure feels good to “catch” them and not fall for their foul tricks!
    Thank you for saving me time and money!

    Like

  8. Thanks a lot for the article. It’s a pity that I have not been able to read it before. I have recently done a translation for an outsourcer who posted a job offer at Proz. I was initially interested in this offer as the outsourcer had a reasonable Blue Board record: an overall of 4.5 (7 “5” entries and one “1” entry for non-payment). The job involved implementing a few changes to a prior translation and translating some parts of the source text that had not been translated. I delivered the required translation on time (although no proofreading of the prior translation was required, I even spotted a few misspellings in this translated text and mention them to the PM). Today, to my surprise, I have received an email from the PM saying that my translation was unusable as I had not implemented the required changes and that she was going to disregard my translation and send it to yet another translator.
    I have asked the PM for an example of these non-implemented changes but have not received any answer. As the job I have done has been delivered on time and has been totally accurate, I have forward the PM the corresponding invoice but have not received any answer either.
    Should this be considered as one of those “Scammers who want to steal your translation”? What can a translator do when s/he receives an email like this after delivering on time a quality translation?
    Thanks!

    Like

  9. In my case I was contacted by a “businessman” who was looking to have two texts translated (finance and investment related) based on my language pair English-German.
    Since I was burned by a fake complaint about two small sections for an Eastern European investment company last year (non-payment), I was cautious and asked for 25% up front. Today, the day I was planning to start the job I received two money orders for a total of almost $2000 when the down payment would have been $120. The bank and Moneygram told me there were fakes/had already been cashed.
    The strange thing was in the early communication that he didn’t provide a sample text, and didn’t seem to care that I was quoting on the high side.
    He claimed to be doing business in Atlanta and London – bit the money orders were mailed from Illinois, from a non-existing residential address.
    I assume he wanted me to deposit the money orders and pay him back the difference.
    Glad I caught it before putting several days worth of work into it.

    Like

  10. Just met the similar scams from Proz.com. I got contacted by a guy who claimed to be from the UK…He offered me a big translation job, and told me he would be sending 30% of the total amount as an advance payment. But today, I got a check of 2800 dollars whereas my 30% was supposed to be 420 dollars. He then sent me an email claiming that the amount he sent was wrong, asking me to cash it and send the difference back to an old woman needed surgery in Cairo, Egypt, via Western Union. It hit me weird so I called the company on the check, and confirmed it was a bad check…so translators, please be very careful of those scams. Most translators just want to do their own business in an honest way, but with all contact information online, they’re easily become the targets or victims of scams.

    Like

  11. I appreciate your advice – I wish I had read your post before I myself became a victim of a scam! I recently provided my translation via translatorsbase.com and found out that the so-called “agent” was an absolute scam. I received no payment for what I have done. Stupid of me. But at least this kind of experience should be shared among hardworking fellow translators.

    Like

  12. Thank you for sharing this useful info. Recently I was requested to translate a scientific text from English to Belarusian by a person to pretended to be a student. No contact details, just yahoo-based email account. When I asked for a 50 down payment via Paypal, she said that her uncle would pay all 100% immediately, but with a personal cheque. No questions about deadlines and amount of pay (and I quoted my highest price) – definitely a scam. So be aware, watch for alert signs and don’t forget to do at least a background check!

    Like

  13. Many thanks for applying time in order to publish Roman Shades “Translator scams and how to protect yourself from them | Translator T.
    O.”. Thank you so much for a second time ,Reuben

    Like

  14. Interesting article, but one category you missed was the “prospective translator scam”. Certain unscrupulous individuals steal identities of real translators from portals such as translatorcafe, set up fake emails on gmail, and offer services to agencies and other freelancers. They then pass any job through googletranslate with no postediting, and bill the unsuspecting client as if it were bona fide. My inbox is filled with about 800 such applications. They never respond to any messages, and often have disabled email addresses.

    Like

  15. Good evening to all colleagues, just a short message to share the fact that I also was contacted a couple of weeks ago by a certain Daniel Lowell, with a very strange email address (irishlotto…), saying he was a journalist and asking for a translation about the Arab spring. I did my research on him and wasn’t sure about his credentials, then later I found out it was a “money back” scam. Luckily I had not accepted yet the project, so no harm was done.

    So, keep your eyes open.🙂

    Like

  16. Is a ‘purchase order’ something quite specific? Do you have a sample? But unless they pay a retainer, it has no effect, does it? If they are on the other side of the world, unless the money is in your account, you can’t chase them down in any way, can you?

    Like

  17. Thank you very much for the article; and the comments. They are so interesting, and keep us aware of the reality of the job and even of what other fellow colleagues face.

    Like

  18. GREAT LIST of Risk Management!
    Reading it, I realize I have been in this business as a freelance translator, interpreter and language instructor for long enough to have encountered each of these categories…
    there are 2 giveaways: anyone offering you TOO MUCH MONEY – and poor language skills or too long an explanation.
    I have to say that employing PayPal is usually a good deterrent. Any business who uses “I don’t know PayPal” as an excuse to pay by check, money order, or – my favorite – direct bank deposit (just give me all your bank information – I will do the rest…) is suspect.
    Every new client who offers a too-wonderful an offer – gets this offer, to pay by PayPal.
    Thank you for providing the technical web search, too.
    Here is another trick. I created a business email address and a personal one (well, I have several personal Gmail accounts). any business offer that arrive via any other than my business Gmail account is suspect: where did they get my address: Facebook? hijacking a friend’s account? LinkedIn?… Works for me!

    Like

  19. Pingback: Identity theft and stolen CV: How safe is your web presence? | Translating Aotearoa

  20. Hello there

    I read this blog that relates to translation , it is really amazing to read. Professional/Document Translation has been very necessary because every processional needs to translate their document in easy understandable Language.
    Very Useful info.
    Thanks for sharing with us.

    Like

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