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How to identify translation scammers

A process to tell the difference between a thief and a client

· Tips,Translation industry,Business

If you are a translator or a translator agency, just like I am a freelance Hungarian translator, you receive scamming attempts on a daily basis. Most of the time these scammers try to trick you to work for free by giving you a job and never paying it.

Since my contact information is publicly available and I have high visibility, thanks to my public professional profiles on ProZ, LinkedIn and Translatorscafé and this website, these scammers find me quite often.

The typical scheme of scams targeting freelance translators:

  • The scammer, posing as a serious and professional translation agency, somehow manages to get a job from an end client or a translation agency.
  • The scammer blasts out numerous emails offering this job to multiple (often hundreds of) translators.
  • In this crowd of translators there will surely be one (or even more) translator who comes to an agreement with the scammer and translates the project.
  • The translator sends to translated documents to the scammer, who sends it to his client and the scammer gets paid.
  • Following what is agreed for the job, the translator makes out his invoice and waits for his money.
  • After the expiration of the payment deadline the translators keeps sending payment reminders to the scammer. He neither gets any reply nor any payment.

During the past decade working as a freelance Hungarian translator I learned how to identify these scamming attempts. If you follow the system detailed below, you can avoid wasting your time on them.

What I offer here is a scoring system where each suspicious trait has a certain value. Go through these items one by one and sum the score values. If the sum is more than 25 than your business lead is not a business lead bat rather a scam.

He is from a country like India, Pakistan, Russia or any country from North-Africa or the Middle-East
Scam score: 8

I am being neither racist nor xenophobic here. These are statistical facts, 90% of scamming attempts come from these countries. Always be vary and double check everything when you receive an email from this countries or the name in the signature suggests so. I understand that this is a serious problem for the professional and reliable agencies operating in these countries. Also be vary about war-torn and anarchic countries since to run a proper translation agency you need a country where no bombs are falling, human rights is not an untranslatable pun but the law, Vladimir Putin has no serious influence and rapists are likely to end up in jail.

Free email address (Gmail, Hotmail, etc.) and unwillingness to send emails from own domain
Scam score: 10

However posing as a translation agency, the scammer has no domain registered for his company, since that company does not exist at all. Scammers in our business are mostly loners with limited funds and resources, since luckily we are not big enough to be a prime target for scammers. A free email provider makes them more difficult to trace. However, one should provide (some kind of) address and contact information when registering a domain, and this is the reason why they avoid it. When you ask about his company website he will tell you fairy tales that it is down due to service, currently unavailable, a new site is being built right now etc. – or just drop you and move on to the next potential victim.

Low quality source documents
Scam score: 3

Most of the time the source documents you should translate for a scammer are low quality scans of printed, photocopied or telefaxed documents where you have difficulties even to read the source materials. Even when the raster images are stitched together to make a PDF file, which neither is editable anyway, these source documents are not text files but images. Here the general practice of our industry is to request a DTP surcharge. Since some clients do not know much about translation, they don’t understand why the source document should be in a digital and editable format in order to start translation. They think that they have the documents and the translator should just take it and translate it. That’s why serious agencies tend to politely refuse dealing such projects. Ultimately such translation projects end up at the dark, stinky bottom of our industry: scammers posing as agencies and offering the lowest prices. They can afford to offer such low prices since they have no expenses at all: they do not pay their subcontractors.

This sentence is part of the pop culture, hence has a reason to exist,

while poor English has no place in business communication.

Banned to post jobs on translation portals
Scam score: 3

Most scammers do their shady business for quite some time, which was enough to get them reported by someone and be banned on portals like ProZ and Translatorscafé. While I worked with some companies kicked from there but they paid me without any complications, being banned there is a whistleblower you should not ignore. On most of these portals you can post a job anonymously and dozens of translators will get a notification about this. This seems to be the easiest and most convenient way to reach hundreds of translators – until one of them reports the scammer.

However, some agencies totally ignore these portals. Just like serious freelance translators, they have outgrown these sites, even if they registered there some time ago. Now their profile could still be there, but they totally ignore it, maybe they did even not log in to their account for years. Big companies often work with dozens or hundreds of translator at the same time, so it is inevitable that sooner or later they have a conflict with one of them, who will take his pity revenge and troll the company by managing to get it banned on these sites.

I saw a company being banned on ProZ, where they wrote in their description that they asked themselves the portal’s staff to ban them, since they have their job posting system and they do not want to use the one offered by ProZ anyway. I am not sure if this is true or they just made a nice story to cover that they were banned for genuine reasons. But hey, this is the Internet, you can never be sure.

For all the reasons above the scam value of this trait is only 3.

Listed in scammer directories
Scam score: 1

There are a few translation scammer lists online, but none of them is really useful. One of them is a list sold by translationdirectory.com, the other one is the public list at translation-scammers.com.

Translation Directory: The access to scammer information at TD is offered for a price, which is just ridiculous and impossible to justify. Making this list public would be the general interest of our industry, so it is hard to understand why someone is selling a list of scammers. Additionally, the business of TD is built around selling a database of translation agencies and freelance translators for a silly fee of several hundred euros per each list. I don’t understand why someone is building such a list, since there are many portals where all these information is available for free. Oh, and there is Google as well. What is most questionable is the list of freelance translators. If you launch a website as a translation agency, your mailbox will be flooded with CVs of freelance translators seeking work opportunities. So there is hard to understand why someone pays for such a list. The only reason I could see here is that a scammer can get a list of potential freelance translator victims, instead of the hard work of collecting these manually. Looks like TD has no ethics and they are ready to compile and sell any list any player of the industry is willing to pay for.

translation-scammer.com: The problem with this one is that while it is seemingly made and maintained by a single person, he remains faceless in the shadow, hampering his creditability. While this is explainable as he does not want to be a target of scammers’ revenge, there is still one single, serious issue with this site: if you look at the fine print it says that they are not checking any information listed on the website and not taking any responsibility for any damage and loss caused by being listed there. Practically this means that when an unethical individual or a company has a dispute or even a conflict of interest with a competitor, they can easily slander and befoul their competitor by dropping an email to the TS staff that their competitor is a scammer. They will not verify this piece of information, just copy-paste this new record to their huge list of scammers. Next time anyone googles for that agency its name will pop up in the first page of search results, under the translations-scammer domain. While I have no reason to doubt that the creator of this site had good intentions, most of the time the website is hardly useful to identify scammers.

While these two portals could be the only and ultimate resource you need to positively identify a scammer, in fact being listed does not mean that the given individual is a scammer. It only means that he has been in the business for some time enough to make damage for someone else, but you never know if this damage was really a scam or this “damage” was winning a job and pissing off other ones applying for that project. Or, for that matter, being a proofreader and giving low (and real) quality scores for fellow translators. Do no forget that translation is a highly competitive market and some people use all they can against their competitors.

Self-contradiction
Scam score: 5

I think this does not need to explained. Scamming is basically putting more and more lies on top of other lies and unless one is very careful and consistent, those lies at some point will contradict themselves. Like when the scammer talks about 30 days payment, then couple of emails later he is talking about 45 days. Or the price is settled in euros then suddenly he mentions US dollars. We are humans and we do commit mistakes, but if you have concerns then just ask again the same questions (e.g. What country are you from? What is the name of your agency?). If you get a different answer and there is no acceptable explanation for this then you can confirm this trait and add a nice 5 points to the scam value.

The self-contradicting statements of scammers are as real as this staircase.

Bcc
Scam score: 5

Since translators are not stupid, most of them will realize the scamming attempt and will refuse to take the job, so in order to increase the probability of finding one who will take the job scammers offer the same job to multiple freelance translators at the same time. The cheapest and quickest method is sending the same email with the job offer to hundreds of undisclosed recipients, often marked as Bcc (Blind Carbon Copy) in the email headers. If you receive such email you can be sure that many other translators received the same email, but you have no idea who and how many they are.

Different names in signature, email header and email address
Scam score: 5

This can be a mistake, but this is very, very unlikely. I know my own name, I never missed it and I bet you do know yours. Scammers use multiple fake personalities and free email addresses and sometimes they are unable to keep track and mix these up. This is a typical case of self-contradiction. Ask them that why there are different names and what is their real name. You can be sure that you will hear some amusing explanation attempts.

Poor English
Scam score: 4

The language of communication in our business 95% of the time is English. The 5% is when there is an agency from a country where the source or target language of the project is spoken. When there is job enquiry for a German to English project from an agency seated in Munich you should not be surprised when they write you in German. But the knowledge of proper English is inevitable in our business. In order to avoid damaging their reputation serious agencies will hardly employ anyone as a Project Manager with less than perfect English. However, there can be the rare occasion when am agency gets a job for a language combination unusual for them, just like the other day I made an English to Hungarian job for a French agency specialized in and dealing almost exclusively with French to German translations. I had a difficult time communicating with their Project Manager in English – until we discovered that we both speak Spanish. Anyway, poor English is not raising a red but at least a yellow card, hence the +4 point scam value.

The only being entitled to speak such poor English. And even he is fictional.

The offered job does not match your working languages, services offered or specialization
Scam score: 4

Since I am a freelance translator, where my primary language combination is English to Hungarian and I am specialized in engineering and technical subject, receiving a job offer to proofread a legal text translated from French to Chinese is more than suspicious. Translation agencies carefully maintain their database of freelancer translators (actually, most of them does not do anything else but this), so it is very unlikely that they make such a mistake. But since scammers are usually loners with limited resources (and amount of grey matter) they are much more likely to make such a mistake.

“What is your best price Sir”
Scam score: 10

I have seen this single sentence so many times, written with exactly these words, that this one itself could be enough to serve as a proof of a scamming attempt. It makes no logic, since the price best for me (€100 per word) is not what the best price would be for my customer (€0.000001 per word). Additionally, an agency knows the final customer so they already have a budget for a given project. The typical scenario it is not translator dictating his price, but rather the agency telling the translator that “Look, this is the sum we can pay you for this project, take a look at the source files and let us know if you can take it or leave it.”.

exclusively with French to German translations. I had a difficult time communicating with their Project Manager in English – until we discovered that we both speak Spanish. Anyway, poor English is not raising a red but at least a yellow card, hence the +4 point scam value.

No formal Purchase Order made out
Scam score: 12

From a new customer a formal Purchase Order is a must, period. I always demand it even before touching the job. A formal PO should include the following:

  • Name and address of the company giving the job
  • Unique identification of the project, language combination and service requested (e.g. English to Hungarian proofreading)
  • The person responsible for communication for the project
  • File format of the source and target files
  • CAT to be used
  • Delivery deadline for the project
  • The rate (e.g. per word), the unit of measurement (e.g. word, characters or flat rate for the project) and the final price to be paid
  • Any requirements for the invoice you make out for the project
  • The address where you should send the invoice
  • Payment deadline and payment method

If you do not receive this kind of PO and this is the first time you are working for the company, it is very, very likely that someone is trying to scam you.

Missing, incomplete or false signature
Scam score: 2

Every business email ends with a formalized and standardized signature. If you are seriously in this business then you send dozens of emails a day, so it is very likely that you already have one default signature prepared in your email client. The signature at the end of an email coming from a real translation agency includes the following:

  • The name of the person writing the email
  • His/her role within the company
  • The name of the company
  • Links to their online accounts on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.
  • All contact information (email, website, phone, fax, etc.) for the company
  • It often includes a company logo and a photo of the person you are communicating with.

If some of all of these are missing this might indicate that the person is either negligent, it is a very small business (which BTW is typical of these scammers) or he is a scammer who does not want to share many information with you to make him harder to trace.

And the bottom line is...

How many traits match? What is the sum of the value of these? If it exceeds 25 then you can be sure that someone is trying to scam you.

The good news is that there is one simple way to fight back. Stay tuned.

Hey Zsolt, I am NOT a scammer and I would like to work with you.
I have something I need to have translated.

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