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What should I think of this inquiry?
Thread poster: Oliver Walter

Oliver Walter  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:17
Member (2005)
German to English
+ ...
May 19, 2015

I received an inquiry today, 19 May (not through my Proz profile) and I wonder whether you think I should take it seriously or simply reply something like "Sorry, not available".

It is from somebody with an obviously Russian name, from a gmail address, asking whether I can do a technical translation of about 3500 words by next Wednesday. The email addressed me by name and asked me for a price quote and included 4 documents as attachments (technical texts of the type that I can perhaps translate although it concerns equipment for applying disinfectant materials in food production - a little outside my usual area). That's OK so far, but:

the sender gave no contact information apart from the email address (no company name, no geographical address or phone number), no mention of currency, method or time of payment.
Via a Web search I have found a PhD student in journalism with the same name - perhaps just an interesting coincidence.

I wonder: do you have relevant experience of a similar type of inquiry, or any useful suggestions? (I've not in fact decided whether I actually want to do this job.)
Oliver


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JL01  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:17
English to French
+ ...
SCAM May 19, 2015

Run.

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Peter Shortall  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:17
Member
French to English
+ ...
Life can surprise you May 19, 2015

While the missing pieces of information you mention would bother me a bit as well, personally I wouldn't assume a scam just yet. A couple of very sketchy-looking emails I received in the past turned out to have come from bona fide clients who paid - and one of them was a PhD student, oddly enough. If I remember rightly, she didn't give me any contact details (other than a name and a Hotmail email address) up front either. I ended up taking the job on as it was smallish and easy, I was at a loose end and there wasn't much to lose - and to my surprise, she paid. Another email that I very nearly binned due to lack of details/identification turned out to be from an academic who wanted me to translate some chapters of a book he was writing. It was a really interesting job and led to further work.

Of course, your prospective client might turn out to be a scammer for all I know - all I'm saying is, life can sometimes throw up the occasional surprise! Why not dig a little deeper and find out? You can always ask for payment in advance.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:17
Member (2008)
Italian to English
No mailing address, no work May 19, 2015

For new clients I always check the following:

- that I have contact numbers and a business address
- their Blue Board record (to be taken with a pinch of salt of course)

If I'm not happy I don't accept the job.

Don't be tempted. And since it's the Russian Federation and under sanctions, you may well run into trouble when you try to get paid.

[Edited at 2015-05-19 22:09 GMT]


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Robert Rietvelt  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:17
Member (2006)
Spanish to Dutch
+ ...
Quiet simple May 19, 2015

They might be bonafide, so just send them a mail with the question 'Who are you?', and go on from there.

That is what I do with 'uncertain' messages.


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Oliver Walter  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:17
Member (2005)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Hmm, perhaps May 19, 2015

Thanks for all the replies so far, especally the speed of response!
Tom in London wrote:
And since it's the Russian Federation and under sanctions, you may well run into trouble when you try to get paid.
I hadn't thought of that. But, a person with a Russian name isn't necessarily in Russia. If I might be interested, I should probably reply asking for her address (and perhaps what the translation is for).
Even the email header can't tell me where the inquirer is located - as far as it knows (first IP address 209.85.192.44), the email started on the USA west coast (Mountain View, in the PDT time zone), where Google is located.
Oliver


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Oliver Walter  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:17
Member (2005)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Good idea May 19, 2015

Robert Rietvelt wrote:
They might be bonafide, so just send them a mail with the question 'Who are you?', and go on from there.

That is what I do with 'uncertain' messages.
Yes, thanks for the suggestion; that seems to be a good idea. I had come close to deciding to do that before I saw your reply.
(But although translators often work until after midnight, I don't think I'll do that today. I'll probably decide in the morning what to do.)
Oliver


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Vladimir Pochinov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 01:17
Member (2002)
English to Russian
Life can surprise you: +1 May 19, 2015

Hi Oliver,

There are too many bona fide agencies with sloppy practices (or sloppy individual PMs). It's much too often that I receive requests for a quote along the lines of "Are you available for an EN-RU translation job? If so, please provide your quote." - no indication of the scope, subject matter, deadline, file formats, etc. If I am at all interested, this means exchanging several emails to gain understanding of what the potential project is about. Sometimes, this may turn into a long-term working relationship with an otherwise good client

I suggest that you further investigate this potential client by asking the relevant questions. As for the IP address... with my ExpressVPN I can show up one minute as residing in Switzerland, and the next minute you will see that I am contacting you from Japan or Singapore

[Edited at 2015-05-19 23:17 GMT]


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Oliver Walter  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:17
Member (2005)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
You're probably right May 19, 2015

Thank you for your reply - I think that's what I should do.
Vladimir Pochinov wrote:
I suggest that you further investigate this potential client by asking the relevant questions. As for the IP address... with my ExpressVPN I can show up one minute as residing in Switzerland, and the next minute you will see that I am contacting you from Japan or Singapore
So in your case, VPN isn't the usual Virtual Private Network, but Variable Private Network! (or perhaps you have extremely-high-speed travel available!)
Oliver


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Bernhard Sulzer  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:17
English to German
+ ...
More than iffy May 19, 2015

Oliver Walter wrote:

...

I wonder: do you have relevant experience of a similar type of inquiry, or any useful suggestions? (I've not in fact decided whether I actually want to do this job.)
Oliver


This could be an agency wanting you to give them a quote, using a gmail account, hiding their agency identity. And then use your info to make up their own quote after checking what a professional translator would charge for it. I had a similar experience and I don't provide any more quotes without knowing exactly who it is. individual or company/agency. When I asked what happened to my quote when I didn't hear back, they said they found a translator quoting a far lower rate and that was it. I asked them to delete my quote, told them how unprofessional a far lower quote is and never heard from them again.

It's not a professional contact. Trouble ahead. But I would ask them who they are and where they're located.


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The Misha
Local time: 18:17
Russian to English
+ ...
A lot of good it will do you, knowing who they are or where they hang their hats May 20, 2015

If you are in England, they are elsewhere outside the UK or EU and have no Blue Board record (however little that matters), and the amount in question is a few hundred dollars, guess how much recourse you have in the event of non-payment? None!!! There's no reasonable legal action you could take under such a scenario since it would cost more than any potential recovery. Collection agency? In a different country (even if it is on the right side of the old Iron Curtain)? For a few hundred dollars? Forget it.

This is precisely the reason why I am extremely cautious and reluctant when dealing with new clients and never accept any orders outside the geographical areas where I have reasonable recourse or could at least raise a lot of stink. For all the practical purposes, this limits me to the US and, in some special instances, the UK. That's all right, somehow I am not starving.

Unless you can get them to pay you up front (very unlikely) or are prepared to write the entire amount off, I'd say move on. There's plenty of fish in the sea.

Not too long ago, there was a discussion thread about how to collect money from Bangladesh or "fill out the Paypal form" in Bangladesh, or something to that effect. From Bangladesh?!!! Has the world gone mad?


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Vladimir Pochinov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 01:17
Member (2002)
English to Russian
Start small and be prepared to write off the amount involved May 20, 2015

The Misha wrote:

Unless you can get them to pay you up front (very unlikely) or are prepared to write the entire amount off, I'd say move on. There's plenty of fish in the sea.


+1

Please watch this scene from "A Bronx Story" (1993) which fully explains my position about new clients and potential non-payment risks.

Luckily, throughout the 15 years of dealing with overseas clients here on ProZ I had only a couple of non-payment occurrences (knock the wood!), each time the amounts involved were about $10.00 and we agreed initially to wait until further job that failed to materialize:).

P.S. The "start small" principle applies to dealing with new translators as well.

[Edited at 2015-05-20 07:00 GMT]


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Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 07:17
Member
Chinese to English
+ ...
Never hurts to ask - "I will need some information about you" May 20, 2015

I've had a couple of projects come through from small outsourcers or other freelancers that use a free email address. I still use hotmail at work myself, although I might use my university email address if I were looking for services. I might add that students these days have less common sense than we might expect and I would not be shocked if they simply didn't know that they should introduce themselves.

Whatever information you feel are missing, write back and ask for it. A scammer is unlikely to follow through very far.


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 07:17
Chinese to English
Agree with ^^ just ask May 20, 2015

Sloppiness is common, so it could be a good job.
And scammers are usually easy to spot. There's even research now to explain why:

The researcher, Cormac Herley, looked into so-called “Nigerian scams,”...found that the obvious spam clichés are a deliberate attempt to weed out potential victims who are too savvy to fall for the scheme...
“Since gullibility is unobservable, the best strategy is to get those who possess this quality to self-identify,” Herley writes, and the scheme ingeniously lines up the most gullible recipients in one swoop...(They) represent a tiny subset of the overall population” but nevertheless a lucrative one for the spammers.

http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2012/06/spam-and-the-separating-equilibrium.html


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Georgie Scott  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 00:17
Member (2009)
French to English
+ ...
Definitely just ask May 20, 2015

Ask for the information you are interested in.

You can always say you'd prefer payment up front as it's the first time you've worked together - if they don't agree to that, they might at least propose another way of reassuring you.

If you can't get the information, leave it be. If you get the information and still feel nervous, leave it be. If you get the information, feel good about it, but aren't prepared to take the risk they won't pay, leave it be.

It depends how you work, but if I could get the information I wanted and the rate I wanted (that takes into account any potential fees for receiving payment from outside the EU), I'd certainly consider taking the risk, because I can translate 3,500 words over a week without disrupting the work I know I will get paid for. I'd be unlikely to accept it in a shorter time period unless I was seriously bored of working on admin and marketing.

Edit to add that I don't accept work from anyone I don't have a reliable physical address for. I like the idea that someone who doesn't pay might also discover they have are selling something on Craigslist that requires a lot of their time and attention to deal with. Or, depending on their location, that someone might physically appear and ask for the money in person.

[Edited at 2015-05-20 08:47 GMT]


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