Translation scammers: The dark side of the translation industry
Every industry possesses a dark side. In the translation industry, it is scammers that cast the darkest of shadows.
Scammers negatively impact language service providers, their clients and genuine, professional translators. Everyone associated with the translation industry could fall victim to the fraudulent activities of unscrupulous people looking to make a fast buck.
Who are the translation scammers?
Translation scammers can be based anywhere in the world and could be acting alone or operating as part of an organised group. The most infamous groups that have been identified are based in Palestine and Italy.
Unfortunately, anyone with an internet connection, a rudimentary knowledge of Photoshop and a criminal mind can enter the game. Translation scammers can operate from almost anywhere including their own bedrooms and can be difficult to identify.
What are the translation scams?
The aim of all translations scammers is to make money and this aim can be achieved in a variety of ways.
How do Scammers target language service providers (LSPs)?
Scammers will approach translation agencies for work, often using the CV of a genuine translator and a similar email address to that of the person whose CV they have stolen. They may use the name of the real translator or invent a new and similar name.
An unwitting LSP will examine the credentials of the applicant and see that they possess suitable skills and experience. The scammers will be hired, given projects to complete and then complete them using machine translation. If the inadequate work is spotted before being forwarded to the LSP’s client, then their time will have been wasted and the delivery of work delayed. Such delays will damage the reputation of the business and also its relationship with its client. But if payment is issued before the poor work is identified, the translation business will suffer an immediate financial loss.
To make matters worse, CV theft could impact the genuine freelance translator as their name and credentials could later be associated with scamming.
How to spot a fake translator
- Check email recipients – if the email you have received from a translator has been copied to many agencies, it is likely to have been sent by a scammer, as scammers tend to adopt a grapeshot approach.
- Check the name of the applicant – scammers often choose inappropriate names for the region they claim to be from. It isn’t impossible that a genuine German translator would be called Claire Brown, but it is unlikely.
- Carefully examine the content of the email – a genuine email would have a personalised salutation such as “Dear Mr Smith” rather than just “Dear” and would mention by name the LSP being contacted. It is also vital to ensure that the use of fonts and formats in the body of the email is consistent. Scammers will copy and paste content such as lists of skills from different sources and may not bother to unify the fonts.
- Question certain claims – genuine translators tend to work in one direction only, translating from their second language into their native language. Be wary of those who claim they can translate in both directions. Applicants who claim the ability to work in numerous languages should also be treated with suspicion and strange language pairings could be indicative of a scammer. Professional translators may be proficient in two similar languages such as Spanish and Italian, but it would be odd if a translator were to claim both Russian and Arabic as second languages. Those who suggest they can produce huge volumes of work should also be treated with suspicion.
- Explore the quality of the writing – poor spelling, bad grammar and poorly constructed emails are all indicative of scammers. But you wouldn’t want to engage the services of someone who can’t write a decent email anyway.
- Think about the proposed charges – if something seems too good to be true, then guess what? Always be suspicious of those who are prepared to work for very low rates.
- Check the phone number given – it is worth checking the phone number provided by an applicant against their CV to see if the details are contradictory. Is the phone number provided in the email the same as that included in the CV and is the phone number provided from the same country that the applicant claims to be based in?
- Interview applicants – always conduct an online interview with an applicant before engaging their services. You can then ensure that they are a native speaker of the language concerned and that their appearance matches the picture on both their CV and ID.
- Verify references – if references have been provided, don’t just read them, make contact with the referees and check that they are genuine and that they did provide the references. If references have not been provided, always request them.
- Check any applicant on the Translation Scammers Intelligence Group website – almost 8,000 scammers are listed.
- Look for the applicant online – a quick search online can be very revealing. Conduct a background check and if an applicant has their own website, take a close look at it. Be suspicious of websites that are of poor quality or that have been created very recently.
- Conduct a test – test the applicant’s ability by asking them to complete a translation test.
How do scammers target freelance translators?
Sadly, freelance translators are also targeted by scammers and are often less well-equipped than LSPs to spot any issues. The desire to gain work can lead to freelancers taking risks. The most common problem is CV theft as mentioned above. This is a form of identity theft which can be incredibly damaging to genuine professionals. In addition, emails sent to LSPs from genuine translators can get lost in the mountain of communications from scammers, making it harder for professionals to find work.
Scammers will also approach translators with offers of work, masquerading as representatives of language service providers. Their aim will be either to use that work but not to pay for it or to steal money from an unsuspecting translator.
How to spot a fake offer of work
- Check the email – does the IP address of the sender match their claimed location? If it doesn’t this is a red flag. Has the email been sent from a free email address such as @gmail. Com? This could be indicative of a scam. Fraudsters also create fake domains that are very similar to those of genuine businesses. For instance, [email protected] instead of [email protected]. It is also worth considering the quality of the writing in the body of the communication. Poor quality writing could be indicative of a scam.
- Check the company’s website – enter the exact domain provided into your search bar. If you are taken to the page of a legitimate company, compare the contact details on the site to those that feature in the email. Be wary if you find contradictory information.
- Search for the company online – If you can’t find the business at all or all search results are very recent, be wary. Poor websites, recently created websites and currently disabled websites are also red flags as are the absence of professional reviews of the business on certain platforms including ProZ.com and GlassDoor.
- Ask questions – include industry-specific or technical questions in replies to emails. Be suspicious if those questions are not addressed and check answers carefully by pasting them to your search bar as they may have been copied and pasted by a scammer.
- Be suspicious of source text attached to initial email – genuine LSPs would not usually send the source text before you have accepted their offer of work.
- Be wary of certain source text – search for the source text online. If it readily available, it has probably been sent by a scammer. Literary source text should also be treated with suspicion if not accompanied by any mention of copyright and royalties.
- Don’t be rushed – scammers will often exert pressure to act quickly.
- Expect a PO and service agreement – legitimate outsourcers would require freelancers to sign a contract or service agreement and would provide a purchase order for the work.
- Think about proposed payment methods – be suspicious if payment is offered in the form of a check or money order.
- Be wary of requests for payment – scammers may request payments for expenses or for the tools required to complete the work. It is vital to be suspicious of any requests for payments. Certain payment scams are commonly used:
- An amount larger than that agreed for the proposed work is paid and then followed by an urgent request for the return of the overpayment. The freelancer returns the amount overpaid and then finds that the original payment they received has failed.
- A scammer will impress a freelancer with an attractive offer of work and conduct what appears to be a lengthy recruitment process. Once they have the freelancer firmly on the hook, they request payment for a software tool, professional certification or a background check.
Defeating the scammers
Scamming is now so rife in the translation industry that most LSPs are well aware of the issue and take great care to identify fraudulent applications. Both LSPs and freelance translators should remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to the Translation Scammers Intelligence Group. The group advocates fighting back by flooding scammers with emails, accepting work from them and not delivering it or accepting work completed by them and not paying for it. In other words, playing them at their own game!
This article is a warm-up for our presentation at the ATC conference in September, where we will be discussing key issues that companies face when working with translators and exploring ways to ensure that translations are managed in a way that is both accurate and ethical.