10 precautions to protect against translation scams and other bogus freelance work: Internet Scambusters #466
As more people turn to self-employment as a result of the
economic downturn, crooks step up their attempts to con them —
with translation scams for example.
They may use these tricks as a front for advance payment check
scams or simply to get genuine work done for nothing.
But there are plenty of precautions freelancers can take to
limit the risk of being conned, as we explain in this week’s
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Let’s get started…
Freelancing Risks and Translation Scams
In Spanish it’s called “chanchullo,” in Romanian “inselare”
and in French it’s “escroquerie” but in any language a scam is
a scam and the bad news is that translation scams are on the
Not only that, but the risk of being conned, which the
country’s 50,000-plus translators face every day, could be the
tip of an iceberg.
With increasing numbers of people setting themselves up as
freelancers, doing everything from article writing to
operating as virtual assistants, scammers have tagged the
whole army of them as a lucrative target.
Translation scams come in four forms, varieties of which could
equally apply to many other types of freelance work.
1. Advance Fee Type Translation Scams
This is the old familiar trick of offering work, sending a
check and then asking for part of the payment to be wired back
for some reason.
The check turns out to be stolen or a fake and the victim is
left out of pocket for the sum wired back.
Scammers will try to convince the translator they’re genuine
by seeming to communicate from a recognized translation agency
or a well-known online community.
For instance, the popular translators’ forum ProZ.com lists
numerous instances where the site itself has been used as a
platform by scammers claiming to be ProZ members and using the
site’s email service to supposedly commission work.
They may also send work they supposedly want translated —
like an official manual in another language from a legitimate
and well-respected company.
But the crooks often give themselves away. Poor English, of
course, is suspect but perhaps not so much with someone
supposedly seeking translation services.
More common is a seeming indifference on the part of the
solicitor about the actual cost or even the professional
skills of the translator, and an enthusiasm for paying you
upfront — which, in truth, is highly unusual in the freelance
Sometimes, too, the scammers throw in a sob story — like
claiming to be working on behalf of someone who is disabled or
2. All Work and No Pay Translation Scams
Again, this type of translation scam applies to many other
paid freelance assignments — the victim does the work, which
is usually genuine, but never gets paid.
Often, the scammer here is a third party or middleman, having
solicited genuine work from a legitimate company, without
necessarily having the skills to do it themselves.
They use untraceable email addresses or, as in the previous
instance, may masquerade as a legitimate company using a
website address very similar to that of the genuine firm.
Either way, you do the work for them and they collect the pay
— and you may never know who the original commissioner of the
work was, so you can’t take up the issue with them.
3. Pay to Work Translation Scams
Scammers approach translators and other freelancers with the
lure of supposedly lucrative work — but they want you to pay
for the leads.
Or sometimes, they act like they’re a potential employer but
they ask you to use a particular piece of software or other
tool, which, of course, they will sell to you.
Either way, they’re after your money, not your skills.
4. Lost in Translation Scams
Sometimes, translation scams originate with the translator!
That is, the translator really isn’t up to the job and sooner
or later gets lost for words.
Many people speak two or more languages and, especially with
Spanish, some of them do so quite fluently.
But that doesn’t make them professional translators. However,
with those financial pressures we mentioned earlier, it’s
tempting to set themselves up in the translation business.
That’s not necessarily a scam, though it can certainly
backfire if the work they do turns out to be inaccurate.
But it is a scam if the perpetrator claims to have experience
or professional qualifications he or she doesn’t have.
How to Avoid Translation Scams and Other Freelancer Tricks
If you’re a freelancer, even just on an occasional or part
time basis, you’re at risk of one of these scams, but a few
sensible precautions will limit that risk:
* Be on the alert if someone you don’t know contacts you about
a commission (rather than you contacting them to bid for
work). They may claim to have been referred by an unnamed
If it’s via a recognized agency or website where you’re
listed, see if the client has an established track record and
invite them to use the site’s escrow service if they have one.
If they offer you work without seeking credentials or offer to
pay you in full upfront, it’s almost certainly a scam.
* Check their email address. If it’s one of the free services
like Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail be wary. If it seems to be from a
recognized source, check the spelling carefully.
* If it’s a company or name you don’t recognize, ask for and
verify contact details.
* Check them out online. Try keying in their name or an
extract from the message text — crooks often use the same
wording and names for multiple translation scam attempts.
* Ask for a purchase order and verify the contact information
* If possible, accept only a small commission for your first
project with a new client.
* If it’s a big job, seek staged payments, working on each
phase only when you’ve been paid for the prior one.
* If at any stage the “client” suggests they’ve overpaid and
asks you to wire back part of the payment, don’t! It’s a scam.
* You shouldn’t normally pay to get work.
It’s usually okay to pay a commission to someone who finds
work for you — after you complete it and get paid — or to
pay for training that you solicit yourself and from someone
with properly accredited qualifications.
*Finally, if you’re commissioning a translator, you should
also check out their credentials, including references and
samples of their work.
For more information on freelance job tricks, check out some
of our earlier reports on work from home scams.
Freelancing is a competitive game and it’s easy, in your
anxiety, to accept work commissions without thinking through
carefully how the job came about and checking out the client.
But taking the time to do so will help you avoid falling for a
translation scam or any other bogus offer of freelance work.
Time to conclude for today — have a great week!