By Olga Shostachuk
This article is reprinted with permission from the latest issue of the SLD newsletter, SlavFile. You can find the current issue and an archive back to 1999 at http://www.ata-divisions.org/SLD/slavfile/.
You would think that after decades of attempting to scrupulously identify and combat the Internet’s oldest hustle, namely email scams, there`d be a fix for them by now. Alas, there is not. Internet access, social media, and the convenience and anonymity of email, along with the capability these provide for easily contacting thousands of people at once, enables scammers to work in volume. Although translators are generally aware of scams these days, even experienced, savvy translators get duped on occasion. The fraudsters continually refine their techniques and expand their targets, so it is crucial to stay alert.
This article describes some of the many email-based scams targeting translators (and often other types of freelancers as well). We hope this information will help you to better recognize potential traps and avoid them. The Federal Trade Commission (https://www.ftc.gov) is a great resource for further information on new and “recycled” scams and how to avoid cybercriminals.
Common types of scams
Many scams fall into a few broad categories, described below.
419 Advance fee fraud
This type of scam is also known as the Nigerian Prince scam, the Spanish Prisoner scam, the black money scam, Fifo’s Fraud, and the Detroit-Buffalo scam. These schemes are quite elaborate and, despite their somewhat preposterous appearance, they manage to hook a surprising number of victims. The classic 419 advance fee scam attempts to entice the victim into a bogus plot to acquire and split a large sum of cash. The translator variant of this scheme is usually one in which a translator is asked to perform a translation, paid in advance for the work, and then asked to refund an accidental overpayment.
Here is how it works. Once you’ve taken the initial bait, i.e., responded to the original job message, you will likely receive a sizable document to translate (usually 3,000-5,000 words) and an offer of payment. If you go on to accept the job, you will soon discover that the client has sent payment in advance (even if advance payment was not among the agreed-upon terms) and has “mistakenly” sent a check for a much larger amount than the agreed-upon fee. The scammer will ask you to return the excess funds, usually by bank wire. Alas, because of the length of time it takes to process a check, particularly one from overseas, by the time your bank informs you that the check is fake and no funds have been credited to your account, you will have long since sent the bank wire and had the money pulled from your account and transferred to the scammer. Thus, you are out whatever effort you put into the translation as well as the funds you wired to cover the “overpayment.”
Phishing emails have been crafted to look as if they were sent from a legitimate organization, when in fact they aim to fool you into visiting a bogus website where you inadvertently download malware (viruses and other software intended to compromise your computer) or reveal sensitive personal or account information. Phishing emails usually contain a link that appears to take you to a legitimate company`s website to fill in your information, but the website is a clever fake and the information you provide goes straight to the crooks behind the scam.
Subscription scammers approach translators (and other freelancers) with the promise of well-paying work, but they want you to pay for the leads or subscribe to their services for a fee. All they want is your money, not your skills. You might as well throw your money away.
Resume (identity) theft
In this scenario, fraudsters pluck a translator’s resume from a website such as www.proz.com, set up an e-mail account in the translator’s name, and send (often poorly crafted) e-mails posing as the professional translator and soliciting work. It is unclear how exactly this profits them, although they might get paid; but certainly it damages your reputation.
SlavFile editor Jen Guernsey warns of another scam in which the scammer impersonates a legitimate company. If a new company contacts you be sure to look closely at the website and domain name.
Recognizing and avoiding email scams
The screen shot below contains numerous red flags indicating that this email is likely a scam:
1 and 2. The email is not addressed to the recipient by name. Here, the addressee is “you” and “Dear customer.” Either the fraudsters don`t know your name, or they are using a template and not bothering to customize it.
3. The email doesn’t make sense. In this instance, it might reference an account that you never created. Or it states that you have exceeded the number of login attempts allowed, when you haven’t even been trying to sign in to that account.
4. The email contains a surprising number of grammatical or spelling errors, even though it ostensibly comes from a professional entity such as a bank or a translation company.
5. The email encourages you to confirm that the email is legitimate by clicking on a link provided in the email itself.
6. The email contains a link to a site or an email address that does not match the text of the link. To see the link destination, simply hover your cursor over the website link (without clicking), or click on the email address link, and you will see that the website or email address does not match the email originator or the purported destination. In this example, you can see the true link address displayed along the bottom of the screen.
Here is another typical example of a fraudulent solicitation. In November 2017, an email from George Boucher, email@example.com, landed in my mailbox. It read: My dear! I’m in need of your service to translate the attached English content document. However, I have some questions such as:
1.How much would you charge per page, word or for the entire
2. Specialized language/s.
3. Preferred mode of payment, though I would like to propose cashier’s check or bank certified check and do not hesitate to confirm if this is okay by you.
Project deadline is 1 month starting from 12/20/2017.
What are the warning signs here?
1. First of all, no client, especially a new one, is likely to call you “My dear.”
2. Grammar, style, and register are all off.
3. If a “client” found your info somewhere online, he or she would already know your language combination(s). No legitimate client reaches out to a translator without specifying the required language pair.
Tips to help you avoid being taken
The following recommendations can minimize your chances of falling victim of an email scam.
1. Utilize good general cybersecurity practices:
- Filter spam
- Don`t trust unsolicited email
- Treat email attachments with caution
- Don`t click links in suspicious or unsolicited email messages
- Install antivirus software and keep it up to date
- Install a personal firewall and keep it up to date
- Install and activate a web tool that identifies malicious sites (every standard browser now has a tool you can turn on to alert you if a website you are trying to access appears malicious)
- Configure your email client for security.
2. Never share your banking information with somebody you don’t know. If your overseas clients insist on paying you via wire transfer, or this is your preferred method of payment for overseas clients, you may set up a separate secondary account in your or any bank which you would use only for wire transfers for your overseas clients and transfer the money to your regular bank account right after the transaction. This is a great way to safeguard your regular account in case your bank info is hacked. 3. Ask as many questions as you can. If a “client” tells you that she has a 30-page article to translate, ask for the subject, style, details, background, and the like. A legitimate client will be able to give you all of this information in a blink, whereas a scammer will avoid the answers or will give you answers that seem off or simply don’t make sense.
4. Be suspicious if an email says that they found you on https://www.atanet.org/, for example. People generally make reference to institutions, not domains.
5. If you receive a link to a site or a downloadable file from a known colleague but your colleague has not communicated with you in advance and/or you don’t know why you’re receiving the link, do not click on it. Instead, contact your colleague and ask him or her about the matter. Do NOT respond directly to the email. Create a new email, or better yet, call.
6. Use your own link. If you receive a message supposedly from a legitimate company, go to its site directly from the web using any search engine but not through the email you received . This is the ONLY way to guarantee that you land on the legitimate site of a known company.
7. Hover before you click. Whenever you receive an unsolicited email asking you to “click here,” beware – even if it sounds like a legitimate company. The same goes for social networking links that take you to what appear to be login pages. These may in fact be sites designed to steal your information.
8. Google the named company or individual. Try keying in their name as well as an excerpt from the message text. Crooks often use the same wording and names for multiple translation scam attempts.
9. Ask for an advance fee. If the job is large, ask to be paid in installments and ask for a retainer. 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. Do not begin working until the payment fully clears. Be prepared to pay a bank fee if the check is fake.
10. Set up a PayPal or Square account, or any alternative thereof, (https://www.merchantmaverick.com/top-7-square-alternatives/) to be able to take a full or partial payment in advance from a new or unknown client that you find suspicious.
11. Pay no commissions or subscription fees. Translation is a large, fast-growing field, so you shouldn`t have to pay to get work. Try to be creative in finding your own clients.
Olga Shostachuk is a PhD Candidate in Translation Studies at Kent State University, Kent, OH, where she previously completed her M.A. in Translation degree. She also holds an M.A. in Education and Linguistics from Lviv National University in Ukraine and a paralegal degree from the Academy of Court Reporting in Cleveland, Ohio. Ms. Shostachuk served as the Vice Chapter Chair for Ohio IMIA and currently is a Ukrainian editor for SlavFile, the newsletter of Slavic Languages Division of the ATA. She is also a Ukrainian into English grader for the ATA certification exam. Her research focuses on legal and medical translation, computer-assisted translation, psycholinguistics, localization, pedagogy, and assessment. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.