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Translator scam alert center

As part of your standard risk management procedures, when you receive an unrequested proposal from a new client, you should check for signs of a possible scam. This page is a quick guide to help you identify the most common scams affecting online freelance translators.

Scam alerts are generated by site staff to distribute new scam information received. ProZ.com members can subscribe to the scam alerts here. Past scam alert reports are available in a dedicated page here.

The common scams can be organized in three general, broad categories: 

 

1. Scammers inside the language industry, aiming to steal your work

2. Scammers targeting freelancers in general, aiming to steal your money

2.1. The overpayment scam

2.2. The pay-to-work scam

3. Common online scams

3.1. Secret Shopper / Western Union scam 

3.2. Wallet lost abroad scam

3.3. Phishing "data verification" scam

3.4. Dating scam

3.5. Nigerian prince scam

 

Is this a scam?

The freelance translator’s goal is to be able to focus on work, while the offers come to you. However, when a potential client approaches you with an offer, you should check for the usual warning signs before taking any further steps. As a rule, be skeptical of new contacts who:

  • Try to rush you into a decision.
  • Offer you something for nothing. If it looks too good to be true, it’s probably a scam.
  • Ask you to pay some expenses or to buy some tool in order to get access to a very convenient opportunity.

Most legitimate job offers will be easy to identify as such. You will only need to check the email, see that the domain corresponds to a company, and type that exact domain into your search bar. If the domain takes you to the legitimate company page, and you see that the official company email addresses look like the one that you were contacted from, you can assume that you are speaking to a real client.

There are some warning signs that can help you identify a scammer. This does not mean that any contact that exibits one or two of these "red flags" is trying to con you, but a number of them will indicate that you are most likely dealing with a scam.

Here are some things to look out for:

  • You are requested to make a money transfer or payment of any kind.
  • Payment is offered in the form of a cashier’s check or money order.
  • The IP address of the sender does not match their reported location. Read more about email assessment, here.
  • The writing is very poor, appearing to be a copy-pasted template or written by an inexperienced speaker.
  • You ask questions or propose specific terms and the person does not address what you wrote, instead appearing to send you copy-pasted responses.
  • You are not sent a PO, and are not asked to sign any kind of service agreement or contract.
  • The person claims to represent a company, but they are not using the company domain.
    • They are using a free email account like @yahoo.com or @live.com.
    • They are using a slightly different, fake domain. For example, a scammer impersonating Wockhardt used the domain @wockardt.com
  • A web search for the company or the person turns up no results, or all results appear to be very recent.
    • The company website is inexistent, currently disabled, or recently created and poorly formatted.
    • For companies, an absence of professional reviews in platforms like ProZ.com, GlassDoor, etc. suggests that they have not actually worked with any people.
    • In countries with public corporation registries, a failure to find the company in these is a big red flag. 
  • Source files for translation are sent alongside the first email, before you have accepted any offer. 
    • A web search for the source text will show that they are easily accessible on the Internet, possibly government or academic texts.
    • The source text is a literary work, but no discussions of copyright and royalties are mentioned during your negotiations.

Don’t forget to check the ProZ.com Scams forum, the Translator-Scammers website, and the scam alerts archive.

 

1. Scammers aiming to steal your work    (back to top)

This kind of scam involves a "client" who will offer you a real translation assignment but is not planning to pay for it. This kind of scam is easy to miss, because the scammer is usually well-acquainted with the translation industry and can emulate the "look and feel" of a legitimate outsourcer, sometimes down to the exact same email signature.

Keep in mind that this type of scam is different from a real client not paying you on time —you can actually get your money from a bad payer, you will not get it from a scammer. You can learn more about what measures to take when your payment is late, here.

There are two basic categories of translation-stealers: scammers who claim to represent a false client, and scammers who falsely claim to represent a real and trustworthy outsourcer. 

The first type of scammer will create a false client, including a name and email address, and in some cases a company name and even a web page for that false company. This false client will usually have next to no online footprint: cheap and unprofessional websites, no record or profile on any professional platforms, and newly created social media.

Those in the second group are more dangerous because superficial risk control could validate that the outsourcer is trustworthy, but miss the fact that the person contacting you does not represent them. The giveaway is usually somebody claiming to represent a huge company, but writing from a free email address like @gmail.com or @hotmail.com

You can read more about how to identify this type of scammers, here.

 

2. Scammers aiming to steal your money

2.1. The overpayment scam    (back to top)

Maybe the most active scam affecting online freelancers, this scheme is very simple. The scammer will contact you with what appears to be a legitimate job offer, for a decent-sized project. They will offer to pay half, or all of it in advance, through a check, money order or bank transfer. Then, you will receive the payment for a considerable larger sum. 

The scammer will assure you that this was a mistake and beg for you to reimburse the difference, usually making up some kind of personal emergency to put pressure on you. By the time the check or money order bounces, or the bank transfer is annulled, your transaction will have already gone through and, because you authorized the payment, it will be near impossible to undo it. 

These scammers usually utilize the exact same email templates and source text documents, so a bit of online searching may turn up dozens of other translators who received the same messages and files. 

You can read more about this scam and find a repository of templates and file names, here.

 

2.2. The pay-to-work scam    (back to top)

The pay-to-work scam involves a fake client/employer —either an entirely fake one or somebody pretending to represent a real company— offering excellent working conditions, usually with a very long recruiting process involved. After stringing you along for a while, the client/employer will spring one last requirement before everything is set —a deposit, transaction or payment of some kind.

The most common variants include: 

a. Buying a software tool in order to work, as explained here

b. Getting a professional association certification, as explained here.

c. Paying for a solvency test, background check, or other bit of “red tape” required to take a position abroad, as explained here.

 

3. Common online scams

3.1. Secret Shopper / Western Union testing scam    (back to top)

Scammer contacts you impersonating a service evaluation company such as Secret Shopper, allegedly to employ you as a tester of quality of the services of a money transfer company, usually Western Union. You will receive a check, cash it, keep an amount per transaction as your fee and use the remaining money to make wire transfers to another contact in order to evaluate the service of the money transfer company and to report on them.

The checks or money orders used to pay you are forgeries, or stolen and they bounce even if originally accepted by your bank  and you lose the amount you sent in the "test transfers" (and may also have legal problems because of the bad checks you deposited in your bank). 

You can read more about this scam, here.

 

3.2. Wallet lost abroad scam    (back to top)

Scammer contacts you impersonating some legitimate colleague or client that, while abroad, lost their wallet and needs help to pay hotel and other critical bills. Time is pressing because plane home leaves soon and you are asked to lend money (usually via Western Union), to be sent back as soon as this contact manages to get safely back home. The scammer is either impersonating your acquaintance from a similar email address or account, or has hacked into their real account.

You can read more about this scam, here.

 

3.3. Phishing "data verification" scam    (back to top)

You get an email allegedly from a bank or other service provider claiming that due to some exceptional circumstance you need to reply supplying critical data to allow the supplier "to solve some critical problem that compromise the delivery of their service". The alleged reason may be congestion of service, changes of the operational environment, detection of unlawful activities, etc. 

The email may have convincing graphics that emulate the look-and-feel of the alleged institution, and will take you to a page that looks a lot like the real website. This page is a fake created to steal your private information, that will be used afterwards for stealing from you or for impersonating you in order to steal from others. Some of the links can also direct you to dangerous places where you may get a virus or spyware. 

The most obvious sign is that the email will not refer to you by your name or username, but rather as "customer", "user" or "sir or madam". The email address will not have the official domain, and the website you are taken to will also be hosted at a different web address.

You can read more about this scam, here.

 

3.4. Dating scam    (back to top)

These scammers create a fake personality complete with pictures, personality and history and then contacts you expressing interest in exploring a possible romantic relationship. If you respond they will try to correspond regularly, discussing family, job, shared passions and other issues designed to earn your trust and affection. Once the illusion of a genuine and meaningful relationship has been established, you will be asked for money, for instance to cover the cost of the airfare to meet you or a family medical emergency. If you comply you will receive further requests until the scam is uncovered.

You can read more about this scam, here.

 

3.5. Nigerian prince scam    (back to top)

Scammers will send a message apparently personalized (but in fact sent to many) promising an enormous amount in exchange for helping the scammer send a fortune (usually in the range of several million dollars) out of their country. The recipient of the message is offered a large share of this fortune in exchange for their help. 

You can read more about this scam, here.

 

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