The old adage still holds: if it sounds too good to be true, it most certainly is.
With more and more people working from home, many online scammers have upped their game. This article is the third in a series of contributions to The ATA Chronicle.1 I encourage you to refer to these older articles as well because the current scams are not new. Some scammers are finding new target audiences because a lot of people are working from home who have not worked from home before. For example, interpreters who used to be onsite are now working remotely, and thus have become a new target audience for online scams. Some scammers are adding new twists to old scams. For example, identity theft, previously facilitated via old-fashioned CV theft2, is now accomplished via “job interviews” through video chat services. Whatever the case, the old adage still holds: if it sounds too good to be true, it most certainly is.
How Can You Tell if an Inquiry Is a Scam?
If somebody you don’t know wants to pay three times your usual rate without haggling, and it’s not a super-urgent, very specialized project they need immediately (rush or premium rate!), it’s too good to be true. You should know what your time and expertise is worth and charge accordingly. If somebody offers you well above the going market price for an average project, something smells fishy.
Here are some more questions to consider.
Are you being recruited for a “job offer” by an unknown person who offers full-time or part-time employment on a W-2 basis?
Unless it’s for a very specialized job that’s urgently needed, such as specialized medical interpreters during a pandemic, it’s a scam. It’s possible that a client cold emails you to request a quote for a project after they perused a listing site such as ATA’s directory. However, being cold recruited for part-time or full-time employment by an unknown entity is unheard of. This just doesn’t happen.
Are you being invited to a “job interview” on Google Hangouts, Skype, or another free video platform?
As mentioned above, such “job interviews” are most likely scams. The scammers try to extract personally identifying information via these interviews for the purposes of identity theft. While some reputable businesses use video interviews for hiring and contracting purposes, they almost always use a more secure (paid) platform. Do not, under any circumstances, give out your Social Security number. See my earlier article in The ATA Chronicle, “Translation Scams Reloaded,” listed at the end of this article for information on using an Employee Identification Number instead of a Social Security number.
If you receive an email, does the “from” address match the “reply-to” address in terms of the domain (URL), and is the URL a reputable known URL?
If the “reply-to” address is a free Gmail, Hotmail, or other free email address, it’s a scam. It’s very easy to spoof an arbitrary “from” email address.3 If the “reply-to” address contains the same domain (the portion after the @ sign including the .com, .de, .us, etc.) but a different local part (the portion in front of the @ sign), it may just be directly routed to a person working from home. For example, if the email says it’s from email@example.com, but the “reply-to” reads John.Doe@corp.com, it’s probably legit, unless the corp.com server has been hacked. If the “reply-to” address is completely unrelated to the alleged sending address, it’s very likely that you’re dealing with a scam.
Scammers also sometimes set up new URL domains for scamming purposes. Sometimes they impersonate existing reputable companies with a slightly altered or misspelled domain name (.net instead of .com). If you receive one of these emails, search for the company you’re allegedly dealing with in your favorite search engine and compare the URL details that appear with the address of the email you received. If it’s a smaller company, you may even find the sender’s name in the company directory. Compare the contact details in the email with the contact details on the website. When in doubt, reply through the contact details listed on the website.
Sometimes some very industrious scammers set up new shell corporations that don’t actually exist. These shell companies tend to be relatively new and disappear as fast as they appear. To check a URL, how long it has been registered, and where, go to https://lookup.icann.org and type in the URL. Thanks to data privacy laws, you won’t see the actual registrar information anymore, but the results will tell you how long the URL has been registered. If the URL is relatively new, while that’s not an indicator of a scam in and of itself, it’s cause for caution. Look for contact details, phone numbers, and addresses on the website. Search for the address and the phone number in your favorite search engine. If the satellite picture of the address shows acres of farmland filled with cows, goats, and ostriches, but no buildings where the alleged company’s headquarters should be, then it’s a scam. (Again, see my article “Translation Scams Reloaded” for information on how to decode more information in email headers.)
Did you receive a phone call? Does the phone number match the phone number given on the company website?
Ask the caller if you can call them back at the number given on their website. If they say no without giving a good reason, it’s a scam. As mentioned above, it’s very easy to spoof/imitate/impersonate an arbitrary “from” email address. It’s equally easy to spoof a phone number. I once received a call from my own phone number. (I know I didn’t call myself, and the dog has yet to get past my phone’s fingerprint authorization.) Always hang up, verify the phone number on the company website, and call back. Or email back. Some companies may not have a proper forwarding between business and personal phones in place, but nearly everybody has access to their business email at home.
Does the person refer to their social media profile as verification?
Check whether that profile and the given contact information matches the contact information on the company website you already verified (see above). If it doesn’t match, it’s a scam.
It’s very easy to set up fake profiles on social media and claim to be an employee of another company. Social media providers eventually remove these fake profiles. Unfortunately, due to the sheer number of fake accounts being set up by bots and people for a multitude of nefarious reasons, the removal takes a while. In the meantime, scammers enjoy plenty of time to wreak havoc.
I expect this won’t be the last word on scams, which are always evolving. However, you can prevent falling victim to these scams by being vigilant, doing research on potential clients, and never divulging personally identifiable information to strangers. While the packaging of these scams may change, the underlying strategies to cheat you out of your money and/or time remain the same. For further information on the aforementioned strategies, I again refer you to my two earlier contributions to The ATA Chronicle. I also encourage you to join ATA’s Business Practices discussion forum4, where the search function reveals detailed information on a variety of specific existing scams. Stay safe!
More Resources for Information on Scams
Albarino, Seyma. “Here’s What Translator Scammers Were Up to in 2019,” Slator (January 10, 2020), https://bit.ly/Slator-scammers.
“How to Recognize and Avoid Phishing Scams,” Federal Trade Commission, https://bit.ly/FTC-phishing.
“Look Out(!) for these Red Flags in Client Communications (May 7, 2019), The Savvy Newcomer, https://bit.ly/Savvy-red-flags.
Miranda, Cristina. “Scammers Are Using COVID-19 Messages to Scam People,” Federal Trade Commission (April 10, 2020), https://bit.ly/FTC-scams-COVID-19.
“Scams and Safety,” Federal Bureau of Investigation, https://bit.ly/FBI-scams.
Small, Bridget. “Scam Emails Demand Bitcoin, Threaten Blackmail,” Federal Trade Commission (April 29, 2020), https://bit.ly/FTC-scam-emails.
Smith, Andrew. “Fighting Coronavirus Scams: Taking Stock,” Federal Trade Commission (May 8, 2020), https://bit.ly/FTC-fighting-scams.
- Berger, Carola. “Translation Scams: Avoiding Them and Protecting Your Identity,” The ATA Chronicle (October 2014), 10, https://bit.ly/Berger-avoiding-scams. Also see: Berger, Carola. “Translation Scams Reloaded,” The ATA Chronicle (July/August 2018), 13, https://bit.ly/Berger-scams.
- Translator Scammers Directory, https://bit.ly/scammer-directory.
- Wikipedia definition of email spoofing, https://bit.ly/Wiki-email-spoof.
- To join ATA’s Business Practices listserv, visit https://groups.io/g/ATA-Business-Practices.
Carola F. Berger, CT is an ATA-certified (English>German) translator with a PhD in physics and a master’s degree in engineering physics. She specializes in the translation of technical patents between English and German in the fields of robotics, electronics, artificial intelligence, engineering, and related subjects. She currently serves as the administrator of ATA’s Science and Technology Division and as webmaster on the board of directors of the Northern California Translators Association, an ATA chapter. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.