The sad truth is that scammers are always out there, lurking, waiting for their next victim. Without exception, the translation industry falls prey to these tactics everyday. Due to the industry’s usual way of working with external resources—mainly via email, instant messaging and phone communication—this detached method of collaboration easily allows fake companies to step in and assign work which will never get paid. By the time you catch wind of it, these fraudsters will have long ago left town.
Prevention Is Better Than Cure
Obviously, we’re talking here about brand new clients appearing out of the blue. You know, that unexpected email from an unknown company stating their need for your translation/reviewing services. How can you be sure they’re real, good-paying entities? Depending on their level of sophistication in the scam business, they could appear as a solid, professional-looking company or a very shoddy one (or, for that matter, anything in between).
This subject intrigued me a lot, so I researched it a bit, looking for common vectors on how these scammers operated. And, as I’d initially expected, my research yielded some pretty clear patterns that could instantly rat out these people. With the patterns now defined, the task of verifying them is quite straightforward. Below, I present each red flag along with its preventive, verification process.
Red Flag #1: Email Address
The majority of scammers use generic, free email domains, such as googlemail.com, gmail.com, yahoo.com, hotmail.com, outlook.com and so on. The reason is quite simple: to acquire your own, unique domain and use it for your website and email services requires you to register with your real credentials and pay with a traceable method (i.e., PayPal, Credit Card etc.). I’m not saying that there aren’t scammers with unique domains out in the wild; there are, but your chances of being contacted by one of them are slim. Either way, the remaining red flags I describe next should help identify them, as well.
- Ask them to send the same email from their company’s official domain.
- See if their generic email address exists in the Translator Scammers Directory. Although this directory mainly consists of scammer translators, most of the times these same persons outsource work to other translators and rip them off.
Red Flag #2: Company Name
If they’ve passed the email check above, then the next step is to verify that they don’t belong in any blacklists, or that they’re not bad payers.
Specifically for the translation industry, the two top resources for checking such cases are:
To make full use of the above you should register (for free) with these websites.
As for checking their paying credibility, have a look at this tip of mine that uses Google Search.
Red Flag #3: Company Address & Phone Number or Lack Thereof
Not being in any blacklists doesn’t mean they’re good to work with. Keep in mind that they might be the new scammers on the block, too new to have fooled anyone and get reported. That’s why you should check their company address and phone number for any fishy signs. These should be available in their email signature and company website.
- If they don’t have any evident company address or phone number then you should simply ignore them.
- If they have a valid looking address (i.e., street location with number, city, zip code/PO box, region, country etc.) then copy and paste that information in Google Maps. Once Google manages to locate the address, drop into Street View by clicking the image appearing on the left-side panel (it should be displaying the street and building in which the company’s address belongs to). Search for any signs of the company’s name on the building.
Statistics show that scammers tend to operate more frequently from specific regions and countries. Such locations are:
- African countries
- Middle East regions and countries
- Canada (?!?)
Again, this is just a statistic metric, so don’t lash out on me!
If they have a company phone number then make sure to give them a call. If they pick up, check that they mention the company’s name and ask for the person that sent you the email. Beware of any pre-recorded messages that don’t let you reach any real person; these messages usually state that all employees are currently busy and that they will get back to you if you leave a message and your number. If you can’t reach the person that emailed you, or every time you call you get the pre-recorded message, then avoid them like the plague.
If they are based in the EU, then better check their VAT number validity via the VAT Information Exchange System. You should be able to find their VAT number on their website; if not, ask them to provide it.
Red Flag #4: Company Handles Too Many Languages
What I mean by “too many” is that they report (in their email/brochure or on their website) the ability to handle over 20 or more languages. I’m not talking here about the big guys like Lionbridge, SDL, thebigword etc., just to be clear; these companies clearly can support more than 20 languages, as they actually do, too.
- If the company states the ability to handle many, many languages then better put the mouse down and step back slowly from your computer.
Red Flag #5: They Accept Any Rate You Propose
Since they won’t likely be paying anyway, they won’t be concerned at all with your proposed rate. So be cautious when they quickly confirm their acceptance of your price.
- If they accept your initial rate without a hitch, try increasing it using some cheap excuse like you’ll need to work overtime to finish it, or work during the weekend etc. If they still are OK with this then, most probably, you should cancel the project.
Working In Perilous Times
Your work, financial status and personal sanity, all depend on the business decisions you make. Given today’s competitive working state, scammers have managed to flourish taking advantage of the hectic conditions prevailing in the translation industry. I hope this article will help you cope with these dangers by allowing you to identify them before it’s too late. And when you do find that genuine, good-paying client, be sure to read my Translation Client Relationship Tips for a smooth collaboration.