Until recently I hadn’t thought twice about these types of scams targeting professionals. However, after receiving a rather questionable email myself and then researching more into this type of fraud, I realised just how easy it is for a scammer to target freelancers, and how professional such scammers are becoming.
But how can you handle this type of deceit when you work as a freelancer? When a huge part of your income is dependent on gaining new contacts? When your office is built from internet code rather than bricks and mortar?
Scams reported among translators
Here a new outsourcer asks for a job to be done and offers to pay you in advance, as they are a new client and they want to, ironically, win your trust. What then happens is that the translator is indeed paid in advance, but is paid an amount which is more than the agreed sum. There could be many genuine reasons to explain this error, for example that the colleague dealing with the payment confused two different transactions. The client then requests that you cash the amount and simply wire back the difference, which many translators, wanting to retain the trust of their new client, would do. This scam relies on the time it takes for the bank to realise that there is a problem with the cheque, i.e. that it’s a forgery or has been drawn from a closed or non-existent account. In the meantime, the difference has cleared from the unsuspecting translator’s account, who then never hears back from the new client.
Fake and fraudulent agencies
In this instance, freelancers are assigned large jobs by agencies: the jobs are completed, the agency is invoiced. However, the agency being invoiced then claims that they neither know anything about the completed assignment, nor do they have a record of communicating with the translator. Later it becomes clear that the person assigning, receiving, and earning money off the back of the completed translation actually has no connection to the company they were apparently representing. The only thing that identifies them as being a fake is their use of a free email provider, i.e. Hotmail or Gmail, rather than using a company email address - everything else appears genuine, from the name of the outsourcer to the name of the project manager working for the outsourcer.
Specific software requirement
This scam generally involves a large job being offered with the promise of future jobs in the translator’s language combination and specialist field to come. All that’s needed for the translator to secure the job is a specific piece of software which the client just so happens to have available at a much more attractive price than if the translator were to buy it elsewhere. With the promise of a steady workflow, the translator agrees to invest their future working relationship with the client and “buys” the software, to then neither receive the software, nor hear anything from the so-called client again.
What to look out for:
Fake email address
As a freelancer, it is perfectly normal and acceptable for you to use a free email provider as your professional email address. However, if you are contacted by a new outsourcer using this type of address, you should be sceptical. Googling the email address together with the company and/or contact person will help identify whether or not a job offer has come from a reliable source. If you have been contacted from a company email address, it is still worth checking the address against that provided on the company website, as it has been known for scammers to create domains which are extremely similar to the web and email addresses of existing, established, translation agencies. The only difference may be that a dash has been replaced with a dot, or there is a small typo.
Integrity of addresses, names, company names, etc.
Whenever you receive an email from a new company or agency offering you work, firstly check the information provided in the email signature to ascertain that the contact person really is linked to the email address and the company. If the job offer is part of a known scam, chances are that an online search will lead you to a translators’ forum carrying a huge warning. If you’re still uncertain, you could ring up the agency to ask for more details on the project, or to ask something specific, i.e. a terminological question, whether to use British or US English, etc, just to see how the query is responded to. Doing this will verify that the number genuinely exists and the person on the other end of the line knows who you are.
Lack of addressee
If you wanted to hire an electrician, how would you go about finding one? Most people would either go off recommendations, or they would find a couple of local agencies and contact them. Either way, they would address either a contact person or the company as a whole: “Dear Sir or Madam” is about as personal and well-researched as “Dear Homeowner” and should most definitely be treated with caution.
Payment in advance
As outlined in one of the previous scenarios, be extremely dubious of new clients or outsourcers pushing advanced payment either by cheque or by money order. If you do agree to payment in advance, wait for the payment to clear before commencing with the translation. If you receive a cheque for more than the agreed amount, ask for a new, correct cheque and return the one received, rather than attempting to cash it and transferring back the difference.
Internet Protocol (IP) address
The IP address is a series of numbers which pinpoints the location of a computer. Whenever you receive an email, you are also provided with the sender’s IP address, which allows you to locate the computer which the email was sent from. If you are suspicious of an email, you can check the IP address to see where the email was really sent from and where the sender is therefore located, i.e. to check that your London project manager really is sat in their London office. For more information on how to find the IP address of an email and how to decode it, click here for the Proz wiki surrounding this topic.
What is it you do again?
Any new outsourcer who actively seeks out your services should have done this in line with certain criteria, be it your language combination or a particular specialism. If you receive an email from someone who offers you work, but also requests that you provide these details, alarm bells should start ringing.
What to do if you’re caught up in a similar scam:
Contact your local police and any agencies specifically set up to combat email scams, i.e. the National Fraud Authority in the UK.
Contact the real outsourcer. If a scam is being conducted which involves someone posing as a genuine outsourcer, the real outsourcer should be made aware of this in order to raise awareness among their colleagues and translation communities.
Contact the sender’s email provider and inform them that their service is being used for fraudulent purposes – they are then able to cancel the email account
Post on translation forums to inform other translators of ongoing scams. Translators Café and Proz, for example, have a dedicated forums where members can raise concerns about fraudulent outsourcers.
Rather lengthy as this post has become (!), the overall message is that you be on your guard. A lot of what is outlined here is common sense, however common sense sometimes takes a back seat when you’re excited about taking on new jobs and getting a name for yourself in the translation industry. Just by having read this blog you will be much more aware of email scams than you were ten minutes ago, and therefore more prepared to dealing with such situations should they ever arise.