If you’re a freelance translator whose email address is listed somewhere on the Internet, chances are you’re all too familiar with scammers trying to exploit your business. You may not always know right away that an offer isn’t legitimate, but it usually doesn’t take long until you can smell a rat.

Here is an exchange I had over the past week with someone who quite obviously tried pull one over on me. I went along with it for a little while just to have fun, then I thought I’d post it here and use this example to point out some of the tell-tale signs of a scam.

Here is the initial email I received:

I am Miss XY (I deleted the name here, just to make sure I’m not incriminating someone who happens to have the same name), I got your email from the website (www.atanet.org) that you are a translator. i need you to help me translate from (English–German) if u don’t mind. I would like to know your terms and how much it would cost for the article. i will be waiting for your reply.

Note the bad grammar and lack of details of the project. This already doesn’t sound like a promising new client. Then add the fact that the email was sent from a free email account using the format first name.lastname7774@yahoo.com and signed only with the person’s name. Could this be a legitimate offer? Sure. But the red flag is raised.

In my reply, I asked for details about the text to be translated and what it would be used for before I would be able to give a quote. Here is what I got back:

Thank you very much for the reply, i have attached the article to the e mail, please do download it and let me know the cost. The deadline is Aug 10. I hope you can get it done before then.
I will be waiting for your reply.

This part is the kicker. The text you receive is often the best indication that something is wrong. In this case, I received 12 pages of seemingly random snippets about terrorism, including definitions and book excerpts. The file was titled “translator.docx.” I copied some of the lines from the text to be translated into Google, and voilĂ : I found several matches for various segments of the text, including the Wikipedia entry for Terrorism!

At this point, I was reasonably sure I was dealing with a scammer, so I wanted to see how far this would go. I replied back asking for more information about the purpose of this translation, whether I was dealing with a company or a private person, and how payment would be handled. I also included what must have been the highest quote I ever put together. Any legitimate client would have at least tried to negotiate me down. Instead, here is what came back:

Thank you very much for the reply, I am Miss XY,I am located in Vermont, but i will be going to France for the group discussion. Here is my address (some address in Vermont) and my mobile (some phone number) please you can always send me text message. i work for myself, and the translation is meant for a group of sociologist, we are trying to study the deviant act of the society , that is why the translation is needed because we are planing to use it in different countries. I will be making the payment by Monday orders.Let me have the information were i can send your payment to.

This is where the scammer obviously gets into less charted territory, because the emails are getting increasingly absurd (and the English is getting worse). Then the scammer willingly offers to make payment arrangements right away. How forthcoming! In fact, if you fall for this trap, you’ll likely be sent a (fake) check in the mail within a few days, made out for an amount that is significantly higher than your quote, followed by an email asking you to return any “extra” money you received. You really wonder who actually falls for this scheme. And don’t let the fact that there’s an address and phone number given fool you – it just proves the scammer can read a phone book. I thought about calling the number just to see what fake answer I would get, but at this point, I didn’t want to waste any more time. I replied saying that since we hadn’t worked together before, I would require advance payment via PayPal. After a day or silence, I finally received the following email:

Thank You for the reply, i don’t have a paypal account and it is going to take my time because i am behind schedule.

I am assuming that this is the last I will hear from this person.

So here we go, a brief rundown of the tell-tale signs of this scam:

– Bad spelling and grammar, broken English
– Generic email address
– No company is mentioned, we only get a person’s name
– Large portions of the text can be found online
– Scammer agrees to price and deadlines without negotiating
– Purpose of the translation isn’t made clear
– Payment is offered in advance on the “client’s” terms

This is only one of many methods scammers use to try to cheat honest freelance translators out of their hard-earned money. It is one I have encountered on several occasions. They aren’t always as obvious as this one. Once, I even had a scammer sign my terms of service. In my early days as translator, when I still had faith in the goodness of people, I once didn’t realize I was dealing with a scam until I received the fake check in the mail.

Have you encountered other scams targeting translators? Please post your experiences in the comments, and let’s spread the word about these criminals that threaten our industry and waste our precious time.

About the author - Marion Rhodes

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