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How to recognize a scam June 24, 2010

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.

One of the most common questions I get from beginning translators is how to tell if a job request is a scam. I developed a PowerPoint presentation for the KSU grad students several years ago and thought I would share some of the tips with you so you don’t fall for a scam.

The most common warning signs:

  • Offer advanced payment (which the “client” would overpay and/or then claim a change in plans and ask you to “return” the overpayment.)
  • Spelling and grammar errors
  • Capitalized information suggest form letter
  • No contact information (freemail account like Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.)
  • Not much concrete information offered about the job
  • Wife, daughter, etc. does not speak English and is coming to the U.S. for a shopping trip, conference, etc.
  • Require the purchase of software (my one agency client that also sells a TEnT supplies me with the software and license for free, so you should not be expected to buy software as a prerequisite to work with a client. We are freelancers and as such should be “free” to choose which tools we use)

I find most legitimate job requests give lots of detailed information about the job, offer concrete contact information, do not suggest payment up front, and usually do not use a freemail account. Gmail is an exception to that rule.

Some agencies aren’t as forthcoming with information as they should be and do have project managers who may not be the best spellers, so a job request from an agency may in fact be legitimate. Any agency that is upstanding will have its own domain or will pay for their Internet access. You can quickly check their payment record on a site like Payment Practices or Translator Client Review (PP costs $19.99 a year for non-ATA members and $14.99 for ATA members and TCR costs $12.99 – money very well spent!). I published a post on payment practice lists a while back, but it is still fairly current. If you aren’t following one or two of them you really should!

If you do get a job request from an individual that perhaps doesn’t fit all the criteria, but your gut tells you it is most likely legitimate, there is nothing wrong with requesting payment in advance.

If you have any other tips for new (and even experienced) translators to help recognize a scam please share them in the comments.



1. Craig Morris - June 24, 2010

“Gmail is an exception to that rule.”

Please explain.

Jill (@bonnjill) - June 24, 2010

Gmail has become a commonly accepted e-mail address due to its abundance of features and huge storage capacity. I find most people – at least here in the U.S. – have a Gmail account that they use – even if it is only a backup e-mail account. It tends to be looked upon as a more professional e-mail address.

Craig Morris - June 27, 2010

Thanks – I use Gmail almost exclusively these days simply as the e-mail client for my business accounts, but depending on how other people’s e-mail clients are set up, they do not see the identity behind my Gmail account, but simply the Gmail account.

2. Dominique - June 25, 2010

Spelling and grammatical errors can be made by very honest foreigners. When you see how many mistakes English mother tongue people make, you should understand how difficult it is to write in a foreign language. Is your German always 100% perfect ? Probably not, nor is my English. I even sometimes have doubts in my mother tongue, even though writing correct French has been my paid job for more than 30 years. Some languages are “far” from English, and therefore their speakers find English rather difficult to learn. Try learning Chinese, or Hungarian and you’ll have more empathy for the mistakes that can be made in English.
Hmmm, rereading this post, I find it a bit harsh, but it is supposed to be said in a very firendly manner. Please understand 🙂

Jill (@bonnjill) - June 25, 2010

Dominique, that is just one warning flag in a list of warning flags. Several warning flags together might make me take pause and either dig a little deeper into the sender or delete the e-mail to avoid the headache. That said, I generally find I can tell the difference between honest spelling and grammatical errors and error-laden e-mails from spammers. I will try to copy and paste an example in the original post to illustrate my point. I get e-mails from project managers and others all the time that have spelling and grammar errors, but spammers seem to misspell obvious words that project managers who have studied English won’t (like capitalizing “English,” for example).

3. Judy Jenner - June 25, 2010

Good list, Jill. It’s truly troubling how much the number of fraudulent inquiries have increased — seems like crooks are increasinly targeting unsuspecting linguists. We also get them once in a while, and I was just about to post one on our blog. This is important information that should most certainly be passed on — we will include a link to your post. Thanks for sharing!

4. inkamaria - June 30, 2010

Well, what do you make of this? Yesterday I got an email (with an open header, mind you) by (presumably) a translations agency looking for a poor soul to take on 20000 words, due NOW, not stating any rates whatsoever and giving the contact information of the respective client (the end-receiver of the translation). After I complained about this IMO unethical business behaviour, they told me in rather harsh words, they have deleted my contact details cause they only work with professionals! Note to self: Pls define *professional*…

Jill (@bonnjill) - June 30, 2010

Ha! They are foolish and will get a crap translation. Those agencies (or the project manager) won’t be in business for very long… No need to complain to them. There are idiots in our profession, and sometimes it isn’t worth getting upset at them. Be happy they deleted your contact details and concentrate on the good ones out there.

5. Walter - December 12, 2010

It is really a shame that some people can not br responsible and accountable as we have seen all too often on the internet — most of all since this can be a very great tool to help or assist so many people and businesses.

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