Tuesday, 26 March 2013

How to protect yourself from translation scams


I have written about this before. If you search the web or visit specialised translation forums, you will find hundreds and hundreds of threads talking about this. And yet, there are so many new translators that fall prey to fishy business proposals. Translators, if you dedicate one hour trying to figure out whether a recent business proposal is legitimate or not, your scammers will have fooled you many times over, because you will have wasted 60 minutes of your precious translating time trying to understand them! You should be able to spot them immediately! .  

But let me tell you a story first. The office where I used work, prior to becoming a full-time freelance translator, was run by a lady who owns a lot of apartments. One day, she received an email from a guy in the UK, via an international property listings site where she featured her flats. As per his email, he was looking at renting one of her apartments for 3 of his friends. It all sounded pretty legit, until the guy asked where he could send a check with the rent. They called each other on the phone, and he never so much as asked her one question about her property. His principal concern was how quickly he could mail his check to her. Finally, his master plan was revealed.

The guy was planning to send a check for a far larger amount than what had been agreed. That bulk amount was to be used, he said, for other services, once his friends arrived in Greece, like car rental, excursions, food, etc. The landlady just had to go to the bank, cash the check, collect the money, keep what was promised to her and wire him the rest. If she had done that however, one or all of the three following things would have happened: a) his check would have bounced, b) she would have got into trouble with the bank for providing a false check, and c) she would have definitely lost a substantial amount of money had she wired the remaining amount to the fraudster.

That's how translation scams work more or less! But most of the times you don't have to go that far with fraudsters, because nine times out of ten you can tell there's something wrong from the beginning. In the last few days, I received two offers for translation work from shady characters who never bothered to discuss the details of the project involved but were very eager instead, to mail me a check with upfront payment.

What I find quite worrying with these cases is how focused these attacks have become, thus ensuring more people will fall into the trap. The lady I mentioned above owns apartments so, they sent her an email through her property listings website. I am a translator, so they reached me through respectable translation communities, where I have some presence.

These fraudsters may think they are clever but the experienced eye will see into them immediately. Here's what you should do to protect yourself from translation scams.

Treat their email as a crime scene. Lots of interesting evidence will crop up.

1) Fraudsters email from a free domain, hotmail, yahoo, gmail, etc.
2) Most of the times, their English is not up to business standards.
3) They claim they work privately (eg. private investors) not on behalf of any company. Even if they mention the name of a fraud company (or a company they have no real affiliation with), they will still email you from a free domain and not from the company's domain.
4) Nine times out of ten, they will address you as Sir or Madam. That's because their scam email will not be directly targeted to you but to a whole bunch of other translators.
5) Many times, they may not even know what language you are translating into. That's because they have not just sent their email to just one list of translators, eg. German translators, but to as many translators as they can.
6) In most cases, they will have already attached you the file they "want" you to translate. Google part of the file and you may find it in its entirety on a random website, or as a free downloadable PDF.
7) Ten out of ten times, the offer will be too good to be true. The project will be large and interesting but the deadline will be negotiable and they will accept any rates you propose to them.
8) In almost all of these emails, the only information they will ever provide to you is their home address and land line. Their home address will most probably correspond to someone else's house (you can check that on google maps) and their land line will definitely not work. You can also check on the internet if their telephone area code corresponds to where they are saying they are from. Any phone communication is usually made via a mobile. They will also ask for your home address. See below why.
9) They will ALWAYS ask to mail you a check. In fact they will devote more time in their email explaining how their PayPal account got compromised and why they can only pay by check, rather than discussing the needs of the project. Now, I don't have a problem with companies paying by check and I am not trying to put everyone into the same basket. I have worked with various agencies and some of them prefer to pay that way, but a legitimate business should be able to provide an alternative method of payment if you ask them. What's wrong with PayPal or a bank transfer?

Do you want to know how the story ends?

Mr. Translator spends days and days to finish the work the fraudster has sent him and one day he receives a check five times the amount he has asked. The fraudster apologizes for this mistake and kindly asks for the difference to be wired to him. (And if you must know, the checks are almost never signed!) You know the rest...

How do you test someone if you are not sure?

If you are not sure about someone, if they email you from a free domain and you cannot find them anywhere on the web or through respectable translation communities, inform them you are unable to accept a check for whatever reason. Be creative. Nine times out of ten, you will never hear back from them. If you want to be on the safe side, ask them for an advance payment too.

Just don't accept that check

Natali Lekka is an EN & FR into EL freelance translator and the owner of Worlds of Words 

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