Translators facing scam agencies, fake profiles, and other “con artists”: how to prevent their attacks?

Who isn’t tired of scam translation agencies? Have you ever been scammed? In my case, I have been scammed many times, but these experiences have taught me to be more astute in this case. Maybe you’ve run into colleagues complaining that their CV/résumé has been stolen or their pictures have been used, something we will discuss further in this post. Yes, you are tired of this topic,  so many scams, so many times, but the aim of this post is to present some helpful pieces of advice for you or for any translator-to-be.

Fishy profile pictures

Have you ever seen a picture that gives you sort of an ”eerie feeling”? There’s a trick that can help you find out if someone’s photo is real or fake, which I discovered thanks to my youngest brother, Manuel. I learned about this trick because there’s an MTV reality-based “docudrama” (documentary drama) called CATFISH (hosted by Nev Schulman), which busts fake profiles and lies, mainly for those who fall in love on the Internet. A “catfish” is a person who creates fake profiles or uses pictures and information to impersonate someone else. This term was adopted from an American documentary film with the same name, directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (by the way, both Schulmans are brothers). Now, here we have some of the Schulmans’ research tricks to uncover the truth:

1. Open a new browser tab and go to google.com and click on IMAGES and now you’re on Google Images.

2. Now click on the tab where the picture of  ”X” person is located, drag (don’t download it!) his/her picture to the tab where you have Google Images and drop it on the Search Bar, which says “Drop Image Here” — this will then display any other websites using the same image.

Sometimes there’re many profiles with the same name, which indicates its authenticity; but sometimes you see so many pages using the same pic but with a different name, which really confirms your doubts. This method is very accurate when looking for profiles and websites utilizing the exact picture you’re searching for, but sometimes it won’t return very many results, and it specifically won’t find other different pictures that just have the same facial features.

Another way to detect their fake intentions. 

One very common and clear clue to detect scam is the poor quality of the language used in the initial e-mail. Native speakers instantly pick up on this and “quickly smell a rat”, as a colleague said. Some non-native speakers may have certain grade of difficulty to detect them, but there are certain mistakes that are quite obvious and detected in a snap.

Do you suspect that someone has been trying to steal your identity?

Going back to the previous point, you should also Google your own picture (making sure you use the one(s) you have in your profiles). Also, copy-and-paste some pieces of your own CV/résumé into a search and you will see if there are absurd coincidences – the CV thieves would be using different emails, naturally. It is hard to stop all these impersonators because they come from nowhere like ants and worms, but you can help decrease their chances of giving you the headache of your life. It is highly recommended to have your CV in .pdf format (but in the form of an image) instead of .doc etc. because, besides looking more professional, all your information is slightly better “protected”, since it is obviously easier for these perpetrators if they only have to copy-and-paste information from other translators. If they have to go to the trouble of re-typing the information, that might just be enough to discourage them and send them elsewhere.

You can also choose to not include your CV/résumé on your professional networking profiles, adding a brief line such as “Available upon request”. However, this would be a ”turn-off” if your potential customer is quite impatient; busy agencies/project managers usually expect an immediate answer instead of having to wait for it.

Make sure you read the terms and conditions of agencies that contact you before signing them, because they may work to your disadvantage. Here’s an example of how you could unconsciously grant scammers the sole permission and authority to use your CV:

Authorization and Agreement

Our company would like to ask for your permission giving us the  authority to send your CV and cover letter to our clients. 

-Our policy does not allow direct contact between the freelancer and  our clients.

– Your contact details will be replaced by a free email where projects  will be sent to.

– Our company will have full authority dealing with your CV by  marketing it and receiving projects on your behalf.

– Any other information or certificates of you might be sent by email to  our clients if needed.

– The projects we receive on your behalf will be directly sent to you.

– If not available, our team will send the project to another freelancer. If you agree to these terms, we will instantly start working on your CV giving you the chance to have your projects delivered to you without making any effort.

This agreement makes you one of our team and consequently an active one.

This would also make you a priority in any development plan in the near future.

This agreement will facilitate your work in a crowded translation market with a high level of competition. Signing this agreement means you agree on all the above-mentioned terms.

Your name

Your signature

By signing this agreement, these scammers can use your information to introduce your translation services to agencies or companies on your behalf (but nothing will really come from you), and nobody has the right to represent you in this case. Who knows? you could end up getting into a very serious trouble of debts and fraud without even being aware of the fact.

You are of course free to choose any course of action and accept or reject advice offered, but this is very important for you to know: if an agency asks you to change the format of your CV (i.e. from .pdf to .doc etc.) with the excuse of “not being able to see your information with such a format”, RUN!

If you realize that your CV has been stolen, please report this issue to trustworthy forums  like ProZ and TranslatorsCafe, as well as to their Site Staff. Notify them about the IP addresses of the scammers/spammers you receive messages from, otherwise it’d be hard to stop them from further emailing/scamming. Take legal action and report this crime to your local police station, so that they proceed to investigations. However, it is highly recommended that you file a report on the following sites: Interpol , DC3,  IC, Europol, and ICE.

Agencies, companies, and fellow translators: please, perform an authenticity check before hiring a suspected impersonator!

Again, as mentioned in my last point, all too often there are translators who impersonate other colleagues and they give you appalling quality, at the level of machine translation. Sometimes these impersonators do not really translate the text, they just use automatic translation, deliver the result, and submit their invoice. So, besides recommending you to hire a proofreader, please do some research. References are necessary upon request and should be verified.  It’s not only a question of avoiding you a great deal of stress when you trust a linguist’s level of accuracy, but you can also save the reputation of a fellow translator unaware that his/her information has been stolen. You can also check Joao Roque Dias’ website for more information:  http://www.jrdias.com/jrd-translator-scammers.htm , who maintains a database of scammers and translator identity thieves. Another highly recommended anti-scammer website to consult about any potential client and to report specific scammers’ names and contact information: http://www.paymentpractices.net/. This site has a great blacklist that helps our colleagues to identify a scammer.

An agency, individual, or company has offered you a project but you are not aware of its webutation…

What do I mean by “webutation”? Joining the words “web” and “reputation”, it is defined as the reputation that a company has in the online world. You can start tracing back their email addresses or google them plus the word “scam”, we never know what you can find. I personally recommend you to get a featured membership in TranslatorsCafe, which has a special forum called “Hall of Fame & Shame”. You will be surprised and thankful for this feature. Another similar feature for paying members can be found in ProZ, known as the “BlueBoard”. However, if you have received a ”shady” email from a suspected Nigerian scammer, you can also google some of its words or go to http://wiki.proz.com/wiki/index.php/Main_Page and Search if there are similar texts but with different names. Some websites automatically show the poster’s IP address. For example, if the individual or company claims to be based in France but his/her/its IP address shows them to be writing from Nigeria, you definitely know the answer.

And more  ‘con artists’ endangering our reputation!

Another sort of fraud that many interpreters and translators deal with involves counterfeit check scams. If you get a check from someone who claims that “his/her secretary” made a mistake by sending ”too much” money to “an interpreter” and wants you to cash it and transfer the money onto two bank accounts or Western Unions (the one “for the interpreter” and the one for this “mysterious individual”, plus he sometimes allows you to keep a part in return for the ”favor you did for him”)… it’s just plain fraud (basically a sort of money laundering and you’re their mule!). As a colleague mentioned to me earlier today, most of us are not in a position to know that a check is “suspicious” or “forged” until someone attempts to cash it and this person is told by his/her bank. So, any attempt by a stranger to pay by check ought to be treated as suspicious until details have been confirmed. We are prepared to accept checks from local banks, but never accept a check from another foreign country! If you ever get a “suspiciously forged check” or a check from an unknown individual, just ignore it and call the police!

Most common fraud zones

No country or zone is exempt given that fraudulent transactions tend to happen anywhere and scammers are universal.  However, here is a list of the most notorious scam sources:

  • Nigeria
  • Ghana
  • Ivory Coast
  • Sierra Leone
  • Benin
  • Russia/Ukraine
  • India
  • Egypt
  • Romania
  • Philippines
  • China
  • Gaza

NOTE: This is purely statistical and professional, based on experiences from other colleagues. It’s a list of regions from where there has been a massive and/or recent flood of scams. I am aware and understand that not all  businesses from these zones are fraudulent. There’s hard-working people out there in these places, working with due diligence for their daily needs. Any personal comment or issue will be welcome and taken with respect, without any form of discrimination. If there’s any other missing country, please feel free to let me know.

More advices from other colleagues

Just a thought: if you want to check if your CV appears anywhere else on the ‘Net that you might not be aware of, then I’d suggest putting a word somewhere in it that is in some way made up or impossible, a kind of ‘password’ — there’s nothing to stop you changing the ‘ink’ color to white for example, so potential customers won’t ever actually see it; but by searching for that word on (say) Google, you stand a good chance of seeing if your CV has been copied anywhere it shouldn’t. The same applies to your e-mail address book; I always put an invalid ‘dummy’ address in my list of contacts, that way, if someone hacks my address book and uses it to send out spam, I will receive an error message to the effect that “this address does not exist”, thus alerting me to the fact.  Tony M.

If you are interested in working with a particular company, I would recommend giving them a ring and asking for the name of the person you should address your application to. Spam emails aren’t usually addressed to a particular person so they will know that your application is genuine. (Non-disclosed name).

The translation industry plays a vital role as a bridge connecting two worlds, and virtual scammers are any ever present reality, taking advantage of the need of others. This sort of scamming has been going on for years, long before the Internet even existed, and is far too widespread to ever be able to stamp it out given to its obvious high profitability. What our translation community needs  to do is to reduce susceptibility. Unfortunately, “too-good-to-be-true” offers are often accepted because translators/interpreters are desperate for work, an emotional response that leaves us exposed to exploitation by scammers. As some colleagues so wisely once adviced, it is very important to treat any business inquiry with a cool head and not let our emotions get in the way.

Before closing my post, I’d like to thank my brother Manuel for his ”catfish” tip and my colleague Tony for his professional advices and support.

My fellow colleagues: It may seem almost an impossible task to stop each and every single one of them, but these advices are helpful tips to prevent or reduce the risks of becoming their next victim.

Looking forward to read your feedback and great contributions/ideas!

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7 thoughts on “Translators facing scam agencies, fake profiles, and other “con artists”: how to prevent their attacks?

  1. Great post! Nowadays is quite easy get caught by a scammer, and your post is very helpful. I liked the part of the catfish, I didn’t thought about it. 🙂

  2. Pingback: A Few Reflections about Scamming | In Touch Translations Blog

  3. Pingback: Basic Do’s and Don’ts for a translator and interpreter | Tradubeledi

  4. Pingback: A Few Reflections about Scam | In Touch Translation

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