Protecting yourself from fraud: another recent example 8

Thanks to Neil Payne at Kwintessential for bringing this next case out, in which both translators and agency are affected when the scammer poses as a legitimate, existing company.  I reproduce here a version of the post originally made on Kwintessential’s blog (scroll down for the link to the original posting):

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By very good fortune a translation scam using Kwintessential’s name and brand has been exposed by an eagle-eyed translator.

The email was sent to the translator, who shall be called Mr X, requesting information for a large project.

Dear Mr. X

As translation office on the west coast of the US, we are looking for freelance translators in languages: German, French and Spanish.
Our research for translators in the German language has brought up your name again and again. You have been highly recommended by some of our valued customers and colleagues.

We need to request information on your current rates, your fields of expertise (law, merchandising and advertisement needed), words per day translated also a time schedule of your availability for the months of March, April and May 2011.

The project we will be working on, enfolds a value of 80.000 words, was commissioned by a notable US American company.

We will need your documentation not later than March 01.2011.

Best regards,

[Contact information removed from this post]

Emails went back and forth between [the sender] and Mr X with the former potentially placing a large amount of work. It was by good fortune that Mr X was suspicious of the email due to 1) the email being a non-company address (xxxx@aim.com) and 2) the misspelling of Kwintessential. Out of prudency Mr X decided to reply and CC’d our USA office whose address was used in the signature. Our Manager in the USA immediately drew our attention to the matter.

It appears the scam works in the following manner: a translation agency wins a contract to carry out a translation job. In order to increase their profit margins they send emails to freelance translators requesting they take on the assignment. The poor translator naturally feels they are in good hands but will eventually come to realize they will never be paid. The scamming agency therefore makes a 100% mark-up. All the translator can do is come to the real Kwintessential who will obviously have no idea of what has happened.
It is extremely unfortunate that people feel they have to carry out their business without principles and ethics. It is these scammers that give us reputable agencies a bad name. On top of this they are taking advantage of the good will of translators who work extremely hard, are true professionals and do not deserve such treatment.

Thankfully Mr X was clever enough to work out the bad intentions of [the scammer]. We have written to [the scammer] but surprise surprise no reply.

Message of the story for translators is always check the credentials of the agency and ensure 100% they are the real deal.

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See the original post at Intercultural Communication and Translation News

8 comments

  1. Many scam attempts, failed or effective, take place through translation portals.
    When this happened to me and I wrote to one specific translation place, they said they didn’t verify identity of people posting job posts. Job posters just have to provide an email address, and even phone and address are not mandatory.

    Most translation portals offer paid services by subscriptions. This means that we TSP do pay in order to get a service, so requiring some “service” would not be an idle request.

    Many places consider their service is limited to getting job posts from (any) people and releasing them through a subscribers’ mail list, assuming no further task or responsibility about the whole procedure. This is their approach.

    I think that, if scam attempts become more generalized in translation portals, and if more people suffer losses in this context, these sites will have to consider broadening their services as to include the verification of credentials, identity or other information from those who want to post a job offer. There is much vulnerability on the translators’ side in this kind of posts.

    Other places like Elance have an escrow system, by which you know for sure that the funds are escrowed before you take the job. In this way, you have minimum risks of being scammed. But Elance is not just a translation portal, they act more like an agency, as they handle your money, and they also have a very complicated system. Besides, the job posters decide how much they are willing to spend in a translation project and they post their “budget”, which you have to accept or decline. This means that the clients establishes the ceiling for the rates, not the freelancer, which is a subversion of the freelance professional basic tenets. (But this is other matter altogether).

    I think translation portals could be more helpful by requiring stricter information from those who post jobs, being as rigorous with job posters as they are with TSPs. Or have different categories for those posters whose identity and corporative status has been verified, and other for those have not provided trustworthy information.

    What do you think about this?

    Otherwise,

    Like

    • Hi Paula, thanks for posting!

      Strict or consistent controls to help prevent scammers from using a job posting system or from contacting translators directly (which is probably much more common than the use of the job post) is one side of the equation, I agree. Like anything, though, it is difficult if not impossible to prevent every such contact of this kind. That’s where it is important that translators be up to date on, and able to recognize, the telltale signs of a scam. The signs that led the translator in the case mentioned above to suspect a scam are common, but sometimes we’re just in too much of a rush to step back and perform some good risk management before getting into a project.

      Regardless of where a job is posted or how a new potential client contacts you, taking the time to verify that they are legitimate and trustworthy is always a good policy.

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  3. All the translator can do is come to the real Kwintessential who will obviously have no idea of what has happened.

    That’s not all a translator can do, it’s a very passive attitude. It’s overlooking the basic fact that we are dealing with stolen goods, taken from the translator by a thief/fence, and transferred to the end client(s) as stolen property.

    You would never accept someone driving around in your stolen car just because someone bought it cheaply from a shady car dealer, it still belongs to you. If the current “owner” has any problems with the stolen goods he purchased, he needs to deal with his fence about it, or the law, or both. And if he has any problems returning them (as long as you know they’re yours of course) he needs to deal with you, the law or both.

    I’ve been translating English to Norwegian professionally since 2007, and I’m glad to say I’ve never failed to collect one cent of all my assignments so far. The secret is to put pressure patiently and politely, but persistently. And always check out the agency first. Anyone can set up a storefront on the internet, but where is the evidence of long term stability in payments (ie. blueboard record)? YMMW according to language combination of course, I’m generalising from my experiences, some combinations seem tougher.

    In fact, I had an assignment very similar to this one, around the same size, so it was a lot of money, and also done for a reputable American company. After a year of useless back and fourth with the agency I told the end client firmly and politely that they were using my stolen property, and while I had no wish for anything else than having them use my translation, it was also unacceptable for me to let someone use my work for free against my will. If they didn’t pay me, I would demand the confiscation of the material and sue them for the original amount, interest, legal fees, pay for time used and anything else I would see fit, basing the lawsuit on the fact that they were using my stolen property in my country with due legal precedents. Also I would make sure all the other translators for the other combinations got paid too. They immediately folded and proceeded to pay me the full amount owed plus a pretty good year’s rise in real estate, for a signed statement that I would not sue. They also paid another translator the full amount because I told them to. I’ve only once gotten angry (in writing!) from failed payments, and although he did pay up after that, it probably wasn’t necessary and I felt stupid about it and decided not to repeat it. Usually, when I get angry in writing, I edit and edit the angry parts until I’m calm, and the letter is sharp and well edited.

    I think the moral is, be patient, polite and persistent, but demand your right. If someone receives your stolen property they need to pay you first, and then get whatever money the can from the fence, and, put politely of course, it’s their problem, not yours. In fact, using stolen property once it’s become apparent is a crime in every single democratic country. And use your head, be creative. If they live in the States in particular, big companies know well how expensive legal proceedings are, so they will often fold if you present a convincing case for lawsuits and agree not to sue if they pay up.

    And a reputable company that refuses to pay for work well done is an oxymoron. Make sure that at the very least, if all diplomatic efforts fail, their insistence upon not paying for honest work will mean they will not be considered reputable in the future.

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    • Halvor

      Your reply relates to a case where you have carried out the translation for a client and are late being paid, or are not being paid.

      What is a translator supposed to do if the company they thought commissioned them with the work doesn’t exist? You don’t seem to have understood the point I was trying to make.

      Dealing with a translation company that doesn’t want to pay you for works carried out and dealing with a fraudster who doesn’t really exist are two very different situations…

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  4. What is a translator supposed to do if the company they thought commissioned them with the work doesn’t exist?

    If the huckster is making a 100% profit, he’s stealing the translation and getting paid delivering it to an end client intent on using it. Otherwise it makes no sense to me. And it’s not uncommon, because a lot of companies will sell their translations on the open market and just accept the lowest bid, but low bids are often just scams. I’d find whoever was using at the end client stage and make it another problem for them if they deliberately tried to plan a crime by posing as someone else in order to steal the translation. If it’s in the translator’s home country, that means he has an advantage. At least in my country, I think I would have found the translation even if they tried to change or hide it. Then I’d find the other translators for the other combinations and start pouring it on. We have our ways.

    Besides, the warning signs from the translator such as just using a and aim-address with no other references would have made me very suspicious very quickly about taking on a job of that size with no advance payment.

    You don’t seem to have understood the point I was trying to make.

    I’m sure the end client was a crook too, but it wasn’t made clear in the edited article presented here.

    By the way, I was addressing the fact that many people don’t seem to see the emphasis you need on your own commitment as a freelancer, not your article or company especially. If you demand nothing, you get nothing, that’s how freelancing works. But I think you illustrated it well.

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

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