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28 ene. 2011

Translator scams and how to protect yourself from them

by Enrique Cavalitto on January 21, 2011
 
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

Source: Translator T.O. A blog for translators, from the Proz.com site team

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