Scams are a big part of the risks for freelance translators. There are all kinds of scammers lurking on the internet, plotting to steal your identity, your hard work, your money, or even inflict on your reputation in the industry. It is of vital importance to be able to recognize and prevent them. Especially if you are a new comer to the freelance translation industry, and you are over-excited or desperate about your first few gigs – You may have fallen an easy prey for those with malicious intentions! Be wary !
A rule of thumb is to trust your intuition. It might sound a little awkward. But if you feel like something is wrong – it probably is.
Here are some typical scam types targeting translators that I’ve come across during my career.
- Elusive Client
The scammer will contact you offering seemingly legitimate work; they will even go into lengths to convince you by issuing you a PO. But they have no intention whatsoever to pay you. Once you have delivered the work, they will stop responding and disappear. Your effort, time and money will go to waste.
- Buy Software/membership to Work
The scammer will throw a very tempting offer at you, but in order to take on the job, you need to buy their designated software or be certified by some kind of organization. It could be a CAT tool you’ve never heard of, or some sort of online translation platform, or project management software. Once you pay for the software/membership, the scammer will disappear.
- Suspicious Download
This kind of scam involves downloading files from a specific link. To catch translators off-guard, the scammer will sometimes make an imitation page of dropbox or google drive (often times poorly done). If a translator unfortunately falls for it, he or she will risk leaking sensitive information such as account login & password. For a recent case, see the report on May 5th 2018 by ProZ.com .
- Phishing for Personal Information
The scammer is allegedly an established agency and offers to hire you as a freelance translator. You will exchange several correspondences about the (potential) job, rate, and payment terms, etc., after which the scammer will ask you to fill out a very, very detailed application. This includes your full name, birth dates, bank information, signature, tax information, certificates (your diplomas, awards, etc) and even copy of your passport or ID. Once you provide them with the information they will never contact you or assign you jobs. Instead you will receive weird notifications about your bank accounts, registered services etc.
- Free Translation Test / Work Samples
The scammer will post a highly paid job offering, pretending to be some kind of super serious agency who will not settle for anything but the highest translation quality. Of course, to fully demonstrate your competence, you will have to complete a long unpaid translation test or submit a huge amount of work samples. The test is actually the source material sliced into several parts and the scammers are trying to get the unwary translators to work for free.
A Real Case Study …
This is a job offering taken from ProZ.
We are a Hong Kong based company, and we are looking for experienced freelance translators/reviewers (from English to Chinese, French to Chinese and Spanish to Chinese) in assisting us to work in a long term translation project.
When submitting the application, applicant needs to provide the following information:
- 5 pieces of past translated works (each work should be with minimum of 1500 words）
- Education qualification (certificates)
- Relevant documents (reference letter from previous or current companies)
Notice anything fishy?
The first thing that should catch your eyes is item 2. The client is asking for 5 pieces of work samples, each for 1500 words, that’s a total of 7500 words! Why would they need so much? A legitimate company will never ask you for so much work samples. Even if you are required to do a translation test, the word count would only be around 200 (source words), maximum 300 words. Anything above that reeks the stink of scams.
Now what other information are they requesting?
Education certificates. Seems reasonable at the first glance. But what information is on your diplomas? Your full name, birth date, signature, certificate serial number, your picture … With the five work examples submitted, it would be very easy for scammers to impersonate you.
What information are they NOT giving ?
Their company’s name, location, website, service provided, budget, a legitimate email ( The contact is of gmail domain ).
No scams report relating to this job offer has been reported. But with the tell-tale signs, one can be sure that this is indeed a scam attempting to steal your personal information and work.
How to prevent scams?
Risk management for freelance translators is a big topic and cannot be covered within merely a few pages. But it is a mandatory homework every freelancer is obliged to do. My risk management is not perfect, but during my seven years as an in-house/freelance translator, I have never suffered from information leakage or financial loss caused by scams. Here is a few things I do to prevent scams :
- Be Very, Very Skeptical
Do not let it go over your head when you receive a seemingly lucrative offer. Most of them are just too good to be true, especially when you are just starting off as a translator. Always take a second look and think thrice before you send through your products, CV, bank details, work samples or other documents. Protect your personal information like a mama-bear protects her cubs.
- Run a Credit Check
Don’t spare the cost – buy yourself a decent credit check service. Before rushing into collaboration with any direct client or agencies, always run a background check on them to see if they are legitimate and their reputation. I am personally using Experian, which might have saved me from hundreds of dollars of loss. You can also use Payment Practices. ProZ BlueBoard and Translator Scammers are also good sources of information.
- Keep an Eye Out for Strange Domain Names
Almost all the legitimate translation agencies or companies have their own email domains. If you receive an email from free services, like gmail, hotmail, 163.com, qq.com, etc., chances are that they are scams. Some scammers will impersonate agency workers and email domains. For example, the true domain for translation agency “@johndoetrans.com”, but you receive something from @johndoetrans.ru, @johndoe-trans.com, @johndEOtrans.com. Be very careful and scrutinize every detail !
- Don’t be Afraid to Inquire
If you are not sure about the legitimacy of any information – phone their office or write an email. Do not be shy. You are not only helping yourself, but also the real agency and other translators! I once received a job offer from a Chinese company, all high and mighty, very demanding in a scary way. Upon checking their site, they claimed that they are language service providers for Sony, Samsung, Microsoft and a bunch of other mega titles. So I phoned Microsoft and wrote to Sony about this alleged provider. Turned out that the agency was fake and using their logos illegally on the website. I reported the issue and do not know what has become of the agency.