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Real Translation Job, or Scam? A Simple Checklist for Translators

As cyber criminals are getting more sophisticated every year, freelance translators need to remain just as cautious in order to stay safe from financial, and other, risks.

In this article, let's take a look at some basic steps you can take to stay safe and protect your business.

What is a Scam? How’s it Different from Spam?

Spam is a word that is used relatively broadly in today’s world, but the spam that is truly annoying is the automated junk that usually contains a potentially harmful link, and text that usually doesn’t make much sense. This sort of spam is usually completely automated and can be picked up pretty easily by email clients and other messaging services.

A scam, on the other hand, is a much more manual process for the sender. There are various scam types online, but the one translators will probably encounter most are called phishing scams – where the attacker pretends to be from a reputable company in order to attain personal or financial details. This type of message is much harder for email clients to filter out automatically, so it is up to the receiver to perform due diligence.

For example, a common phisher tactic is known as an overpayment scam. Those scams that are designed for translators do a convincing job once you've taken the initial bait. Those who show interest to the original job message can usually expect a document to translate, being promised payment once they sent their bank account details. Those who go on to translate that document (about 5000 words) will soon have the unfortunate discovery that they will not be paid for that work. In the final stages of this scam, you'll be warned of an accounting error which requires you to send back a partial refund. They even send a tracking number for a fake check they send through FedEx.

As you can see, the attackers take considerable strides to keep the con going once you've taken the initial steps. This is because they know each step a translator takes, it becomes harder to recognize the scam as they are now invested in the transaction. So how should translators spot early warning signs that can help prevent harmful or time-wasting outcomes?

A Simple Checklist to Identify a Scam

1. Are there any reviews on the ProZ.com Blue Board?

A good first step before taking any job is to consult the ProZ.com Blue Board. If a record exists, you'll be able to see feedback from other translators.

2. Is the sender really reputable?

If the sender claims to represent a real company, and claims to have a position like an HR Manager, that person should be sending from a company email. If they aren’t, and the rest of the message is void of the other items in this list, simply send a reply asking for them to send more details from a company email account. Usually, this is enough to break their flow, and you won’t hear from them again.

3. Do they write like a professional?

Is the message full of short sentences with bad English and other simple mistakes? Not a good sign, especially when combined with a yahoo or gmail account. Always trust your translator spidey senses when they start to tingle from easily avoidable linguistic mistakes.

4. Are they a ghost?

If they claim to be an employee at a company with a title, but yet not be present on the employee or team section of the website, that is a problem. So you might do a Google search to find out more, but that brings us to number four…

5. Are they using a famous or popular name?

If you search Google for “Name at Company LinkedIn” only to discover a best selling author or someone else who is famous, it’s doubtful they’re the sender of your message. In today’s world, most people who contact others as a representative of a company will be on LinkedIn with the name of their company and title. If they are not, this should raise an red flag.

If the simple tests above all come out negatively, most likely the message is not worth your time and you can simply delete it.

The above checklist should be enough to save you the wasted time of translating a bogus document and revealing sensitive information to someone who plans to use it maliciously.

Should you find yourself feeling uncertain after you already initiated a string of replies from someone, you might check the ProZ.com scam alert center, or post a message to the scam forum to see what others think. It’s always better to tread a little more closely on the side of playing it too safe.

How about your own experiences? Comment below about what types of scams you’ve received in the past, how you knew they were scams, or any thing else you think might be helpful to the overall translator community.

Nate Hill
TM-Town Developer

Comments (7)

SafeTex
France
Posted about 3 years ago.
The biggest problems I have with the Proz site is with "clients" who don't open an account but use the system. We can't give them a low mark/scam warning on the Blueboard and so they continue to use and abuse the site. I have asked Proz to make it compulsory for all job advertisers to have an account but they have refused for the moment.
Martin Riordan
Brazil
Posted about 3 years ago.
My only "scam" in 7 years, in the early days, was a request for a translation from Paris. I did the translation, the client went silent and, when I checked his address, it didn't exist. But I was lucky! The translation was genuine, a newsletter of a shipping company in Marseille. Through the company, I discovered that their official translator had given out translations for students to do in a class that he gave in the local college. One of them decided to be smart and get a free translation from me! In contact with the official translator, he agreed to pay 90% of the amount. I never heard what happened to the student.
Amlaku B. Eshetie
Ethiopia
Posted about 3 years ago.
Thank you for your insightful article. I am good at fending them off. I google for their names, companies or email address and judge their reputability. Most of the times, their email address has meaningless clusters of alphabets and/or numbers. Good to be always watchful!
Anthony Marsden
France
Posted about 3 years ago.
This article leaves out some important details, and is not entirely accurate. To start with, the classic "overpayment" scam is NOT a 'phishing scam' as such — it is not seeking to obtain your bank details. It's also worth noting that there is another excellent resource that provides a listing of known scams / scammers; I can't remember the name offhand, but it is widely cited and a lot more comprehensive than the ProZ.com list already mentione, which it complements. To me, any form of 'free' e-mail server like gmail etc. is a big warning sign, and makes me immediately suspicious. Very often, scammers don't mention a company name or say they are a private iindividual; these ones are easy to reject, and it's usually not hard to see through the fact names or inconsistent details. Too much superfluous detail is also a warning sign "My mother has cancer..." etc. is not something that should EVER be seen in the first approach e-mail about a professional engagement of any kind! On the few occasions where I have thought a request MIGHT be genuine, when I have opened the attached file, I have immediately discovered the scam; for a start, I always Google a chunk of text, and it always truns out to be a document available online, and not by the author stated. Even if it were a real job, any translation of a published author would require their written consent before proceeding. Also, almost all the files I have received have been oddly truncated, just stopping at some random point in the text. Finally, I would warn against replying to scammers AT ALL — if you even suspect it might be a scam, report it as a potential scam to whatever services you can, and then BIN IT! If you DO reply and it WAS a scam, what you have done is in effect validate your e-mail address on the scammers' address list (which is a saleable commodity out their in scam-land!) and thus not only encouraged the whole network of scammers, but also opened yourself to a flood of other scams and/or spams. If in any doubt at all, just IGNORE! By the way, do be aware that some scammers even go so far as to pay for paid membership of forums like ProZ.com — so the fact they are a paid member is no proof of legitimacy. And to answer the first commenter on this list: you CAN already make a entry BlueBoard for someone who is NOT listed on ProZ.com — it's just the same as for any other one; you just have to create a BlueBoard 'profile' for the company so that you can then enter a comment. This is a very useful feature that is already in place!
Anthony Marsden
France
Posted about 3 years ago.
Phishing Let it also be said that ANY person asking for your bank details before job completion needs to be regarded with the utmost suspicion. However, one of the early pre-requisites I always ask for from people offering work is their full invoicing details — it's amazing how many perfectly genuine people don't think to introduce themselves or their company in their first e-mail, and if I ask for (verifiable) address details, I know any scammers won't bother to reply.
Wolfram Weinberg
United States
Posted 12 months ago.
it appears that Proz does not recognize and protect from what is described as typical for a scam, e.g. ENGLISH-GERMAN RELIGIOUS TRANSLATOR!!!! URGENTLY! - VERY URGENTLY REQUIRED THE TRANSLATOR OF BOOKS TO A RELIGIOUS BOOK! FROM ENGLISH TO GERMAN!RECEIVING APPLICATIONS TO MONDAY! - https://www.proz.com/translation-jobs/1582378
geelakill
United Kingdom
Posted 8 months ago.
I think my actual words were, “You're so dumb.” ... The company will solicit work based on your resume, try to get paid while doing ... The fake translator will put a fake email address on your CV and then ... Put your basic contact information in a PowerPoint presentation slide ... https://rufimarketing.com So don't give that list to them.

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