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

What does the career path of a freelance translator look like? Reply

The ProZ.com Wiki is a collaborative effort of articles and material by language professionals, for language professionals, in wiki format.

One of the newer articles in the Wiki is titled A career path for translators, and is designed to cover the different components that go into the career path of a translator. What, in your experience, can be added to this article to make it as representative as possible of freelance translator’s possible career path?

  • What goes into a well-informed decision to take up the profession of translation?
  • For those just starting out nowadays, what can be done to get going on the right foot?
  • What are the essential steps, and the possible hurdles, on the road to becoming a successful freelance language professional?
  • How does the career path continue for a professional who has built up experience and a solid clientele?

Feel free to comment here, in the discussion area below the article, or by adding to the article itself!

Lucía

First ProZ.com event of 2011: Spanish-speaker virtual event 2

The first ProZ.com event for 2011 will be a virtual event for Spanish speakers, on January 27th.

The presentations for this event include a session on personal branding and a session on the use of voice recognition software as a means to boost productivity. There will also be focus groups and a virtual powwow, allowing attendees to network in real-time with Spanish-speaking professionals across the world.

The “Spanish virtual workshop” is free for ProZ.com members (non-members are also welcome to attend, with a 15 USD registration fee).

If you haven’t signed up for this event, check out the program and register at http://www.proz.com/virtual-conferences/227

  • Date: Thursday, January 27th
  • Time: 13:00 GMT – 17:15 GMT
  • Location: Anywhere with an Internet connection!

If you are already registered to attend, be sure suggest topics for the focus groups and vote for your favorites at http://www.proz.com/virtual-conferences/227/focus-groups

I’m looking forward to kicking off the series of events for 2011 with this workshop; look for more upcoming virtual and in-person events soon. Hope to see you there!

Leslie

Some results of recent surveys on the ProZ.com term help system 4

For those not familiar with it, the ProZ.com KudoZ term help system is a network through which translators can receive and provide term help mutually. You can see more about terminology resources here: http://www.proz.com/about/overview/terminology/

A couple of surveys on the term help system were run recently; a general survey on KudoZ, and a survey on the quality assessment of the system by participants. Here is a summary of results:

There were over 500 respondents to the general survey.

Over 50% of respondents stated that answering questions was their most frequent term help system activity. Term searches came in second, and asking questions was a distant third, at 8%.

Nearly 50% rated their experience with KudoZ as positive, only 10% rating it as either “somewhat negative” or negative.

Common aspects that respondents found negative about their experience were poor answers, and conflicts among answerers and peer commenters (this was also reflected in the responses to the survey on the assessment of KudoZ quality).

On the subject of the provision of context when asking questions:

  • 64% found the issue of context “very relevant” to the overall quality of the KudoZ system.
  • Nearly 80% agreed that term context is necessary to provide good answers to a term help question, 20% saying that it depended on the term/question.

Of the proposed solutions for ensuring that more or sufficient context is provided in term questions by askers,

  • “Improving the ‘explanation/context’ field to incite more and better context when a question is submitted” ranked first, at just under 35%
  • “Educating/orienting less experienced term help askers on the relation between good context and good answers” ranked second, at 26%
  • “Providing better ways for answerers to request more context when they find it insufficient” came in third, at 25%
  • “A voting system whereby answerers may hide incoming questions from public view until ‘enough context’ has been entered by the asker” ranked fourth, at 13%

Only 5% stated that they had not been aware that the principal purpose of the KudoZ term help system is to provide term help to askers, and that the resulting glossary entries are an additional benefit of the system.

A survey on the quality assessment of the term help system was also run simultaneously with the general survey. The same survey had been run in 2007, and, interestingly, the results of the two surveys do not vary in any significant way. It should be noted that respondents were asked to apply their own definitions of “quality” when responding to the surveys:

  • Overall participation: About 50% rated the overall “quality” of participation in the network as high; 40% rated it as average.
  • Questions: 32% rated the overall “quality” of KudoZ questions as high, with 52% rating it as average.
  • Answers: 44% rated the “quality” of answers as high, 45% rated it as average.
  • Peer comments: 37% rated peer comment “quality” high, 47% rated it average.
  • Glossary entries: 34% said the “quality” was high, 46% rated it average.

When asked to indicate the degree to which they agreed with the statement “Most KudoZ questions are legitimate questions, worthy of the time and effort needed to reply”, 76% agreed with the statement, 17% disagreed somewhat, and 5% disagreed strongly. These percentages remained the same for the statement “There are more high quality questions and answers in KudoZ than there are low quality questions and answers.”

Respondents were asked to select one “wish” with regards to KudoZ quality:

  • “More high-quality answers” ranked first.
  • “A better environment/tone among KudoZ users” and “Higher quality in the glossary/archive” tied for second place.
  • “Fewer low-quality questions” came in third.

Overall, some excellent feedback and comments were also provided in both surveys. Thanks to everyone who participated in the surveys, and to all the translators using the term help system and providing help to colleagues.

Jared

How does where you work affect how you work? Reply

Freelance translators spend a lot of their day working, many of them from home. Some have the space and ability to work in a separate room or office at home, others work from their living rooms, the bedroom, some even seem to “migrate” from room to room with their work.

A workspace that works for you is one of the keys to working more efficiently. What approaches and work setups have worked for translators? What doesn’t work? If you could define the perfect workspace for you, what would it be?

Last month, a new site area was released with the aim of allowing translators to collaborate on issues like these. The Share your workspace area includes a collection of previous discussions about workspaces and setups, a forum dedicated to discussing related issues, and a collection of photos of freelance translator workspaces and comments shared with the community (if you haven’t already, grab a camera, take some pics of your work area and send them in!).

Two ProZ.com Wiki articles tie into the concept of using your workspace to work more productively from home (or from wherever you happen to be): Productivity for translators: an overview and Using a home office. I invite you to have a look at these articles; there may be information there which you can apply. And if you can, please add to these articles to make them even better. The ProZ.com Wiki is a resource which allows language professionals to collaborate and share information on translation, business issues, and other matters related to the profession.

Workspace photo courtesy of Jan Willem van Dormolen, http://www.proz.com/profile/52104

What do you think? Are the key points of a freelancer’s workspace covered in those articles? How is a translator’s workspace different from others’ workspaces? What else goes towards making a comfortable, productive workspace, in your experience?

Jared

Welcome to ProZ.com’s new blog 2

Welcome all to ProZ.com’s new blog: “Translator T.O.”*

This is a blog written by the ProZ.com site team for ProZ.com members — translators and professionals working in translation companies — and others involved in the translation industry.

What can you expect to see on this blog? Different site team members will post on different topics, including ProZ.com site news and announcements, as well as translation industry issues, news and trends. Feedback on topics posted here is welcome, using the commenting feature below each post. You can also subscribe to be notified of new posts via email or RSS feed, using the controls on the right side of this page.

As we move into 2011, let me wish all ProZ.com members a successful, productive year. I hope you will find this blog interesting and useful.

Henry

* “T.O.” stands for “time out” and “tools and opportunities” — reference to ProZ.com mission of providing tools and opportunities for translation professionals.