ATA Business Practices: Red Flags For Avoiding Scams

Translators, like other business owners, are susceptible to scams.  Although the internet makes it easier for scammers to find a target, it also helps potential victims to identify scams before it’s too late.  See the article below for 4 red flags that should raise the suspicions of translators looking for new clients.

Red Flags to Look Out For

Before accepting work from a new client, small business owners should always assess the background and payment history of a prospective new account carefully. Although the vast majority of contacts will be legitimate, it is helpful to keep in mind a few “red flags” that may be a warning sign of deceitful intent.

Dear Business Smarts:

Early this year, I received an e-mail from a new contact who asked me to complete an urgent translation for a subsidiary of a well-known international corporation. I did not have any other work at the time and was pleased to accept the order, especially since the client had no problem with my proposed rate. To make a long story short, I delivered the translation and never got paid. I now know that the same outfit scammed a number of other colleagues and that I most likely will have to write this money off. Please tell other colleagues not to work for this “company.”

—Scammed in Boston 

Dear Scammed,

We are sorry to hear your story. Unfortunately, our industry, like any other, has its black sheep who have learned to hide their true identities in cyberspace and have no intention of running a legitimate business. They are a particular threat to less experienced freelancers who are just starting their own business.

No matter how attractive an offer from a new client may sound, business owners are well advised to observe a few basic precautions before entering into a new business relationship. The steps outlined below are generally referred to as “due diligence” and serve to protect your interests as a self-employed contractor. Instead of typing an instant response to an inquiry from a new customer, take a few minutes to do the following:

  1. Check the identity of the person who contacted you. At a minimum, an email message should contain his or her full name, title, and business contact information. A legitimate business should have a proper domain name and would not use a free mail service such as Gmail or Yahoo! for sending out e-mail. Take a quick look at the website of the company and assess how professional it looks. Typos or a “homemade” appearance are red flags, as is the absence of identifying information about the site owner.
  1. Research the business in one or several of the available translator forums that discuss the payment practices of translation outsourcers, such as Payment Practices, the ProZ BlueBoard, or a language-specific forum. Since data on these sites have accumulated for many years, it is possible but somewhat suspicious for a legitimate translation agency not to be listed on at least one of them. Keep in mind that direct clients may not be listed.
  1. Decide how to respond. If your due-diligence research leaves any doubt as to the legitimacy of the offer you received, proceed with great caution and do not accept the work right away. It is perfectly acceptable to politely request further details or even references about the company before finalizing an agreement about a project.
  1. Gauge the response you receive. A legitimate business has nothing to hide and will readily answer questions about its history, location, and other suppliers. Do not let anyone fool you into believing that a translation project is so urgent that there is no time to ask questions or deal with the necessary formalities.

Reprinted from The ATA Chronicle: September 2009, p 36

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3 thoughts on “ATA Business Practices: Red Flags For Avoiding Scams

  1. This is very valuable advice for any translator, experienced or newcomer. I have found new clients will understand a request of partial advance payment for large documents to be translated, “until we get to know each other better”.

  2. Pingback: Scams – how not to get taken in | Oregon Society of Translators and Interpreters

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