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I was almost scammed, but the BlueBoard saved me!
Thread poster: LegalTransform

LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:19
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Sep 3, 2011

The tale of the scam that almost was and the BlueBoard entry that saved me

Last week I was contacted by a language school in Europe that claims to get frequent requests for translation. They said they saw my profile on ProZ and asked for a quote on a large project (a contract between two large international firms). They responded favorably to my quote, but wanted the job done within 5-6 days and said they would be sending me a lot of work in the future (this should have been my first clue of what was about to happen). I searched for the school on the BlueBoard, but found nothing. They have a very sophisticated website complete with pictures of teachers and administrators, on-line language evaluation tests, etc. and the “school director” was writing from that website’s address.

I asked them for a purchase order and a deposit and was told I would receive them by the end of the day and how “excited” they were to receive my “quality” translation. The director even claimed that he used to live in Florida, how he missed it, etc. Because it was a rush project, I had to start right away. Over the next few days (always after 7:00 p.m. my time which would be the middle of the night in Europe), I kept receiving various lame excuses about why a purchase order and deposit were not sent, along with the same praise for me accepting the project and other overly friendly statements that made me suspicious (reminiscent of those scam e-mails where they try to ingratiate themselves in order to throw you off track).

What I did not know, and perhaps many of you do not know either, is that in addition to using the company name, you can also search BlueBoard entries by the contact person’s name and/or address. When I did this, I found another language school with another website (same contact name, same address, same phone number, but different website) and surprise, there was a negative entry from someone who had completed a project for this person, their work had been accepted, the company had sent the translator confirmation of a bank transfer, but no payment was received. This person has a pending lawsuit against the school for several thousand Euros.

When I was told for a third time that they could not send a P.O./deposit (this time because he was away on a trip), I informed them that due to their failure to send the required documentation and due to a negative entry on ProZ, I was suspending my work on project (I had worked two days and even stayed up working all night one day and had completed over 11,000 words at that point – I know, stupid me, but if had waited, there would not be time to complete the job).

They wrote back and asked me to please, please, please complete the job, that the administrator was out of the office that day and that I would most assuredly get the P.O. and deposit first thing tomorrow morning and that they could not access the BB entry because they were not members, but I should not take this person’s word over theirs and how could I place them in this predicament. They claimed that the parties to the contract (big name companies) were travelling to their offices to meet with them next week to pick up and sign the contract and were expecting the work to be complete and how I was putting them in a bad situation, that they would do anything I wanted at this point to get the job done, that it was too late for them to find someone else and they offered to pay me in full in advance.

By this time I had already contacted the other person who left the negative feedback and obtained more details about his experience with this school and we compared notes. If I had had this information beforehand, I would never have accepted this project, but since I had already completed most of the work (and since I doubted they would agree), I contacted the school and said I would finish the project if (as they suggested) I was sent payment in full via PayPal and not via bank transfer (remember they allegedly sent bogus bank transfer notifications to the previous translator).

At this point, they wrote back (very quickly this time and apparently now having read the BB entry) and rudely told me that I was imagining things, that I was being illogical, that this other translator was crazy, called him several bad names (that I cannot publish publicly – how professional), said that the translator never received confirmation to start the job (hello, that is what I was trying to get) even though I know this is not true because at that point I had documentation to the contrary. They told me that I was missing out on all this money because of this person, that they were going to send all of this information to their attorney and sue him for slander because they had now been damaged, that they had already found another translator (in less than an hour?) and that I should have a nice life. I do not know what their ultimate plan was (delay sending me anything and hope that I would just go ahead and send them the completed work anyway without a P.O. or deposit since it was finished).

In addition to the BlueBoard, I also used a nice site called tineye.com where you can right-click on a picture on a website, select copy link information and then enter that into the site and it will show you all of the other websites where that picture appears. Some of the captioned pictures of the directors/teachers on their second website appear dozens of times on the Internet and are stock photos from Getty Images (hmm, I wonder if they paid the corresponding royalties). I am still unsure if this means anything relevant.

Bottom line:
1) Always get most if not all of your payment upfront before starting any work with a new client (without any positive payment history), regardless of how rushed they seem to be, how nice and friendly they are, and always make sure that the check/bank transfer/money order is real and not fake (make sure it clears the bank). If this cannot be done before the due date, then you should just move on.

2) If no BlueBoard entry is found, search for the project manager’s/contact person’s name and/or the company’s address in the BlueBoard in case they have launched a new company/website.

3) Trust your instincts: if the language of the e-mails seems fishy, overly complimentary (trying to throw you off track), if they avoid your direct questions/requests and seem more interested in you than in the translation and offering you more work before you have completed the first job, etc., do some double checking.

4) If you are currently working on a lease agreement between two large international companies that you received from a language school, please contact me first. 


[Edited at 2011-09-03 22:52 GMT]


 

Luximar Arenas Petty  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:19
English to Spanish
+ ...
Good for you! Sep 3, 2011

And thank you for the valuable advice that you have given us in your post.

Regards,

Luximar


 

Bilbo Baggins
Catalan to English
+ ...
Many thanks Sep 3, 2011

For going to the trouble to alert us:-)

 

Peter Shortall  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:19
Member
French to English
+ ...
Red flags Sep 3, 2011

I'm very glad you were able to see through them, and that was some very good detective work on your part - I would never have thought of searching for names of contact people rather than companies on the BB, so many thanks for pointing that out.

A few of my personal "red flags" that I look out for when sizing up potential clients (and people in general!), and which feature in your experience, are below. I would stress that I only become very suspicious when I see a combination of at least two or three of them; one on its own doesn't necessarily concern me.

(1) Guilt-tripping. From a scammer's point of view, guilt and sympathy are two of the biggest "levers" that can be used to manipulate someone. They accused you of putting them in a predicament, but that's exactly what they were doing to you; and as it turned out, it was no predicament at all, since they were able to find a replacement so quickly (or so they claim!)

(2) Rudeness, when you told them about the BB entry you had found. I would never expect a bona-fide company to react rudely when asked a perfectly valid (and prudent) question.

(3) Excessive charm ("overly complimentary", as you mentioned): there is a certain level of friendliness that I welcome from clients, but then there is oily charm. I wouldn't normally expect anyone to be "excited" about working with me before I even turn anything in, it just seems rather OTT.

(4) Urgency. The more time a scammer gives an intended victim, the more chance there is that the translator will figure out what's happening before it's too late. In addition, the more work a translator completes before becoming suspicious, the more unwilling (s)he will be to pull out of the job, because there is more "capital" invested in it (time already spent + money to be made/lost). So it makes a lot of sense, from a scammer's point of view, to set a very tight deadline.

I have a number of others, but those are four of the biggest ones for me - and as I say, I look out for them in people in general, not just potential clients. There seem to be a number of unwritten "rules" that con artists follow, almost like a manual. If you can learn what they are (bearing in mind that a combination of factors is what you're looking for, as scammers tend to exhibit at least two or three "symptoms"), you can protect yourself and others.


 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:19
Hebrew to English
Had no idea scamming was so prevalent... Sep 4, 2011

...in the translation world.

I am relatively new to this site and I am astounded at how frequent these scams are. I would have expected the odd chancer trying to get a free translation, but nothing on the scale I have witnessed by the sheer number of forum posts about scamming.

It's enough to turn even the most naive optimist into a cynic!


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 11:19
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
On using stock images Sep 4, 2011

Jeff Whittaker wrote:
Some of the captioned pictures of the directors/teachers on their second website appear dozens of times on the Internet and are stock photos from Getty Images...


It is absolutely normal these days to use stock images for one's web site, and one should never assume that the people you see on the web site actually work for the company. However, what you mention is a good trick, namely if a photo on the web site is specifically indicated as being a photo of a real person working there, then one could check that photo on the reverse image search engines such as Tin Eye.


 

José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 06:19
English to Portuguese
+ ...
The silver lining Sep 4, 2011

Jeff, you did some brilliant detective work there, and fortunately escaped scot-free.

I would like to add one case I had, which was exactly the opposite, so all Prozians won't become paranoid from reading this. It ties in with Peter's "red flags", none which were present there.

The proposing (direct) client had just one LWA = 1 on their record, nothing else, so I questioned them about it. They told me it was a sad case...

They had hired 'X' to do a job into two languages, 'A' & 'B'. Yet 'X' only worked into 'A', so s/he outsourced to 'Y' to translate into 'B'. 'X' realized 'Y' had done a really awful job, delivered only part of it, and late, so 'X' had to hire 'Z' to redo it from scratch, and didn't pay 'Y'. 'Y' chose to put his/her LWA = 1 on the end client's BB record, not on 'X's, though neither would be justifiable.

They were open enough to give me the names of both 'X' and 'Y', they didn't know who 'Z' was; 'X' delivered it directly. Incidentally (and the client didn't know it), I happen to know 'X', his/her good reputation, and could have contacted him/her directly for confirmation.
So we agreed that I'd take a relatively small job, got paid, then another one, until I did a whole series of mid-sized to large jobs for them. Their payments were faster and more reliable than most of the translation agencies I work for (they are a direct client, as I said).

Bottom line is that the red flags work!


 

matt robinson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:19
Member (2010)
Spanish to English
A result, but... Sep 4, 2011

It's a strange industry with a lot of independent operators, and any idea of best practice must be taken for what is.
I remember a client (agency, still operating) asking me to translate a 100,000 word doc. They had found me through ProZ, etc.
First project, no history, the alarm bells were ringing from day one. They didn't have a website. The email contact address was a hotmail address. Oranges and lemons...
I asked for references and I negotiated 25% completion, 25% payment.
They supplied a long list of telephone refs. After the first three I was convinced they were legit. I took the bait, but after 25% of the job sent I waited with trepidation for the money to appear. It was there 24 hours later. The same until completion.
No problem, totally honest people, just not working in the 21st Century info culture.

Don't get scammed. Do some research; be clear about your terms in order to protect yourself, limit your risks by all means but not every work offer looks the same.


 

kalap (X)
Red flags Sep 4, 2011

In this case, there were two other red flags you ignored.

This one:
Jeff Whittaker wrote:
Last week I was contacted by a language school in Europe that claims to get frequent requests for translation.


I know several language schools, from an organizational point of view (a family member works inhouse). A language school has teachers, they know their teachers and will never subcontract something, and certainly not to someone they don't know. They will have their translations done by teachers, less expensive and manipulable as salaried workers. Even if teachers are not professional translators. How does it come that they gave such a big translation to an unknown person, and moreover, in the States?
- Always ask yourself "why me?" and "why don't they have contacts locally?"

They responded favorably to my quote,


For me this is a big red flag. The only time I have been scammed no problems appeared. None of the four red flags Peter mentions (by the way, thanks!). The only strange thing was that they accepted my quote, and I am not cheap. Later on it appeared that this agency was run very professionally (project management was fine) but build on the principle that they wouldn't pay. They didn't attack the quality of the translation neither, they just sent promises, and no payment, or only a very small amount without any relationship to the invoices.
- How does it come that a company accepts a quote (so much money!!) without discussing it and without a formal contract.



[Edited at 2011-09-04 14:15 GMT]


 

Daniela Zambrini  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 11:19
Member (2005)
English to Italian
+ ...
same here :-( Sep 4, 2011

Ciao Jeff,

thanks for posting your message: actually, I was also contacted by someone yesterday (very polite, very professional sounding) with an identical case (language school, contract between 2 large international companies, rush job, no rate issues, etc), but as I had limited access to my wi-fi at that moment I just replied that I was interested and available, sent my quote and payment terms and agreed to be back in touch in the late afternoon for PO and to define project details.

No later than half an hour after sending this message, I was notified that this person had found someone else for the job.

I replied "That's fine, dont' worry..these things happen..keep in touch...bla bla"

I thought nothing more about it until I saw your post today and worked backwards through the address on the Blue Board and everything clicked into place.

I guess we are talking about the same person so thanks again for warning everyoneicon_smile.gif

greetings from Rome

D.icon_smile.gif


 

LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:19
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Communication Sep 4, 2011

Thanks Daniela,

This is a perfect example of another way that we can protect ourselves against scams - by communicating with each other.


 

Noni Gilbert  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:19
Spanish to English
+ ...
Thank you Jeff Sep 4, 2011

I really appreciate the time you have taken over this post, and the clarity with which you express it all. Likewise the further comments from other colleagues.

And now I want more! How about turning your comments re red flags into a fully fledged article? Perhaps it should be compulsory reading for all would-be translators, and even many of us who have already been out in the world for quite some time. (I got scammed for the first time ever this year, albeit for the grand sum of 13 pounds sterling, and all my own fault for not double checking - oh so embarrassing at this stage in my career).

Greetings from Avila

Noni


 

LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:19
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Language schools / trust Sep 4, 2011

You have made some interesting points. However, one of my best customers is a language school here in the U.S. (and there are several others that also function as translation agencies) and that is why I did not find this odd.

While it is good to always ask "why me?" (in this case, the person claimed that I was selected because they were looking for someone in the U.S., that they used to live less than 100 miles from where I am, etc.) if we are overly suspicious of everyone, we would never get any work. I also cannot be suspicious just because someone accepts my rates without bargaining or complaining. If I believe my rates are fair and commensurate with my qualifications and experience as well as the time investment I will need to make in order to complete the project, why should I be surprised? As others have stated, it is usually only through a combination of factors that we can determine whether or not there is an issue of concern. Like José wrote, one negative entry is not necessarily cause to turn potential work away.

kalap wrote:

I know several language schools, from an organizational point of view (a family member works inhouse). A language school has teachers, they know their teachers and will never subcontract something, and certainly not to someone they don't know. They will have their translations done by teachers, less expensive and manipulable as salaried workers. Even if teachers are not professional translators. How does it come that they gave such a big translation to an unknown person, and moreover, in the States?
- Always ask yourself "why me?" and "why don't they have contacts locally?"



 

José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 06:19
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Scamming in translation Sep 4, 2011

Ty Kendall wrote:
Had no idea scamming was so prevalent in the translation world.

I am relatively new to this site and I am astounded at how frequent these scams are. I would have expected the odd chancer trying to get a free translation, but nothing on the scale I have witnessed by the sheer number of forum posts about scamming.

It's enough to turn even the most naive optimist into a cynic!


It comes with the territory.

First, translation is a mostly deregulated profession. Even in countries that have laws on transltion for official/legal purposes (e.g. Brazil, Spain), all other translation work is completely deregulated, since there are no social consequences, such as people dying from improper health treatment or unsafe buildings, or suffering undue losses due to incompetent legal advice. If a publisher hires an incompetent translator, their book won't sell, and the loss will result from their own lack of judgment, just as if their printer missed many pages in each copy. If an instructions manual misleads users into doing something wrong, the product manufacturer will be liable, and so on.

Second, the Internet has made translation work ubiquitous. So if I moved to Nepal, and had decent Internet access, I could go on translating EN-PT, e.g. for a translation agency in South Africa, the end-client being in Canada.

Yet third but foremost, translators are men of letters, therefore not being expected to have the most enviable business acumen around, since one can't have it all.

This led to several peculiarities in the translation industry. It's the one place where all too often (not always, before people start stoning me):
  • buyers impose their price on sellers;
  • buyers impose their payment term on sellers;
  • late payers - often very late - suffer no pecuniary penalty whatsoever;
  • defaulting on payment causes no further consequences;
  • intensive/long hours' work is paid the same as normal;
  • unilateral and unevidenced claims on bad quality are meekly accepted as reason for cuts in pay;
  • volume discounts are demanded, while the production process in no way justifies them;
  • specific-brand tools (viz. Trados) are imposed upon vendors as an essential reuirement, even if for no explainable reason;
  • leonine NDAs curb vendor's ability to serve some possible clients;
  • NDAs forbid vendors from disclosing the very business relationship they cover, yet details (references) are demanded on similar other relationships the prospective vendor may have;
  • in-betweens (agencies) demand liability insurance from their vendors, so they can save money by not carrying their own;
  • you name it.

This lawless global environment has motivated many cunning entrepreneurs from the shady side of the street to enter this market, even if they didn't - and still don't - know squat about translation. A clever web designer and some free clip art can make a translation scam, while being operated from a notebook via the the WiFi of a coffee shop, look like a solid translation company established in posh offices. There is no point in the 'good guys' asserting their status, since the 'bad guys' do exactly the same. That's when the Blue Board & alikes serve their purpose.


 

Eleftherios Kritikakis  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:19
Member (2003)
Greek to English
+ ...
Notify everyone Sep 4, 2011

Here's what you can do Jeff.

You can create a list of colleagues in your email software. Let's say 50 of them. When you come accross such "clients", send the "client's" information, in a brief, short, sweet email, to this list. Tell them what you went through, briefly, without revealing the actual communication between you and the "client". Just tell them that "After repeated requests they didn't send me a PO or a downpayment, and they had a different excuse each time for not doing so. I found in the BlueBoard that they tried to do that with another translator as well, who was not paid - they used a different name but the address is the same - please be aware, but also double-check your records to avoid misunderstandings."

Since the content of the BlueBoard is freely available to registered users, you can accompany this short email with a screenshot of the BlueBoard entry. Perfectly legal and perfectly professional.

This way you' re not risking anything (you may lose clients who don't pay), and you'll make some good friends who will be happy to send to you (some of them, at least) future projects for colaboration, since they will know that you are an actual participant in the market, and not just another passive little geek who works for peanuts on the weekends without insurance.

Said "client" of yours would never try such a thing with a lawyer, for example. Or with a financial professional, or with a plumber, or with a painter, or with an electrician, or with anyone else, because they know that these are tough professionals. But they also know that translators are nothing. They' re just "sweet and shy little geeks who work for nothing and are desparate for work, and even when they don't get paid, all they do is sending silly emails".

Isn't that so...


 
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