Look Out(!) for these Red Flags in Client Communications

Over the years I’ve received a lot of spam emails from would-be “clients” requesting my services. Here are just a few of the red flags I look for to determine whether an email is from a legitimate client or a scammer.

Ambiguous requests

“Hello, I’m contacting you in regard to an English content document worth 11,633 words (44 Pages). I need this document translated into [your language here]. I would like to know if you are interested and available to get this done for me. Please get back to me as soon as you can. Thank you.”

Some of the details I noticed here:

  • No deadline
  • Nothing about the topic
  • No mention about why you would be the right linguist for the job
  • It comes from a Gmail account or some other free domain

Trying to get personal / Grammatical errors

“I hope that you are enjoying the best of health and this message meet you well.

I would like to know if you are interested and available, I got your contact from an online Directory of Translators and Interpreters.”

Note the writing errors:

  • Sentences are separated by periods instead of commas
  • Poor subject-verb agreement; “this sentence meets you well” would have been correct

Inaccurate claims about your profile

“Your portfolio published on [your association here]…”

We don’t put portfolios on our association websites! We have profile listings that describe our skills and specialties. That’s an immediate red flag.

Math about the experience of their staff

Sometimes a client will try to convince you they are great by saying they are “managed by highly erudite professionals with over [xx] years of combined experience.” We don’t know how many professionals are on the management team, so if their combined experience adds up to 50 years but there are only 20 people, this doesn’t mean much.

Unusual contracting procedures

Some clients will claim to offer a certain amount of pay per month, and will report with a 1099-k structure. That means that they are not the ones sending you the 1099; whoever processes the electronic payments is. That would be PayPal, QuickBooks, or whoever they work with. You have to receive either 200 payments or $20,000 through that system to get a report through them. In other words, they do not do their own 1099 reports.

Phone number and address

When in doubt, I call the phone number listed in the potential client’s email. If I get a Google phone message, this raises a red flag. A Google message is unusual for a language company, especially if it does not identify the company the email supposedly came from.

You can also look up their listed address on Google Maps. Occasionally it is at a Dollar Tree, a barber, or a storage unit site—I have seen all three of these! As soon as I ask why they operate from that type of address, the emails stop coming.

Better Business Bureau rating

If a company reaching out to me has a poor rating on the Better Business Bureau website, that’s a red flag too. The company isn’t worth working with if they are known to be delinquent in payment to their contractors. If a company has one star out of five, beware!

Unsolicited prepayments

Some clients will try to send me a check before I have started the job, without me asking them to do so or agreeing on a price. Once, I got the translation… and a check in the mail for an amount I had not negotiated. We had not negotiated any price at all! Then I got persistent emails asking whether I cashed the check instead of asking whether I had any questions about the translation. This is a red flag, too!

I went to the bank and discovered it was a fake account from a fake bank. The bank destroyed the check. I never cash a check before finishing my assignment; first I have to negotiate the deal, then complete the assignment, then receive payment.

When something looks off, it probably is. If you think something is questionable, it probably is. Standard business practices exist because they prevent problems. It is always helpful to find colleagues to check with when you have questions, though. Local chapters and national professional associations such as ATA are excellent resources.

Image source: Pixabay

About heleneby

Helen Eby grew up in Argentina, the land of the gauchos. She is certified as an English Spanish translator by ATA and as a Spanish interpreter by the Oregon Judicial Department and by the Oregon Health Authority. She co-founded The Savvy Newcomer and the ¡Al rescate del español! blogs, both of which are team efforts to provide resources for other language professionals. She is also a founding board member of the Spanish Editors Association.

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