The Scammers’ New Clothes
I may be wrong, but scam activities seem to be inversely proportional to the economic cycle. Whenever there is the threat of an economic downturn, there seems to be an uptick in scam activities. At least that’s what I have noticed in my own business and in my capacity as webmaster of the Northern California Translators Association (NCTA). Therefore, I want to remind you about various scams targeting language professionals.
The scams are not new; in fact, most of them seem to be a variation of the fake check scam. I have written extensively about these types of scams and have given an ATA webinar on the topic. For this reason, I will not repeat the content here, but if you haven’t done so already, please educate yourself. If you are the audiovisual type, the webinar is available on demand, for free, and is titled Don’t Fall For It! Scams Targeting Language Professionals. If you prefer the written word, see my articles in the ATA Chronicle:
- New Twists on Old Scams: Language Professionals Beware!
- Translation Scams Reloaded
- Translation Scams: Tips for Avoiding Them and Protecting Your Identity
What is new, however, is the way the scammers go about finding their victims, at least in the language sector (other industries have suffered from these types of scams for a while). In the past, they simply sent out emails to cast their net, written in more or less terrible English. Now, with the help of artificial intelligence (AI) tools, they are becoming more and more sophisticated. The scammers’ English is now fluent, thanks to Large Language Models. Badly written messages purportedly coming from native English speakers are no more. Instead, the dangers are lurking in places you’d least expect.
We all received them during the COVID pandemic, the fake job interview invitations, allegedly by large, well-known corporations, that begin as follows:
Your listing (contact information) that was published on [insert directory or association listing here] has been reviewed by our HR Department at [insert name of random huge corporation here] and we are pleased to invite you to an online interview/briefing exercise. You have been assigned to Dr. [insert actual person’s name at huge corporation here] (HR Coordinator) of [huge corporation]. She would be conducting an online interview/Job briefing with you.
These messages are entirely fake. If you want to know how these “online interviews” play out and how hopeful interviewees are scammed out of their money, watch my ATA webinar from 2020.
But there’s a new kid on the block: fake recruiters on well-known business social media platforms. These recruiters set up realistic-looking profiles with entirely fake career timelines, purporting to work as head-hunters for large corporations. Then they entice their victims to apply for “jobs,” and the rest of the pattern follows the well-known scheme. What makes these fake recruiters so dangerous is that it’s not immediately obvious that the recruiters are fake, unlike emails such as the one above. It is fairly simple to check an email’s authenticity, as I explain in my article for Translorial, NCTA’s online journal. At first glance, this is not entirely obvious on social media platforms, but there are ways to spot fakes (see for example this article by Brian Daniel (career coach) on Linkedin):
- The “recruiter” has few or no social media connections – Real recruiters have tons of connections. After all, that’s how they earn their keep, by being connected and connecting the right people.
- The “recruiter” asks you to send lots of personal information to a free email address or asks for an “interview” in a free video conferencing app. Real recruiters have business email addresses and paid high-end video conferencing accounts.
- The “recruiter” asks for payment in advance for their services or asks you to purchase equipment allegedly needed for the job/project. This is simply not how the recruitment process works.
Fake Company Websites
More and more people are catching on to scams sent out via email, which is why the scammers are using new venues to find unsuspecting victims. One such venue is a fake company website, impersonating a well-known international corporation. In some cases, the scammers manage to reproduce a corporate website in minute detail complete with logos and artwork, making it look entirely authentic. There’s just one minor detail: the URL doesn’t match. The URL is the domain name or web address in the address bar of your browser. It consists of the main domain name and the domain extension. Common extensions are .com, .org, .net, .us and other country codes, and lately .io and .ai, as well as others.
With domain registrations costing only a few dollars, some inventive scammers set up domain names that are very close to the original. Some change the domain extension, i.e., swap .com with .net and hope that the victim doesn’t notice. This is actually what happened the first (and hopefully last) time I was scammed, many many years ago at the beginning of my translation career. The scammers impersonated a large translation agency, except they emailed from a .net address (instead of .com).
A more sophisticated version of this type of impersonation is a so-called homograph attack. Homoglyphs are characters with very similar or even identical shapes with very different meaning. A simple example in the Latin alphabet is the lowercase “l” (lowercase “L”) and the capital letter “I” (uppercase “i”) – in some fonts, they are indistinguishable. There are many more examples if you include different alphabets, such as Greek or Cyrillic.
Some very sophisticated scammers are registering homograph versions of well-known corporate website names and are launching phishing and scamming attacks via these websites, impersonating these corporations. With the naked eye, the fake sites are virtually indistinguishable from the real sites, and the same is now true for the URLs.
So, how can you safeguard against scams that are this sophisticated? For one, if somebody wants to hire you, you shouldn’t have to pay anyone for that. For another, the old adage still holds true, no matter how sophisticated the scam:
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
And finally, another platitude very much applies: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Most of these scams are relatively easy to spot if you know what to look for, no matter how sophisticated their execution. Please educate yourself, watch the ATA webinar and/or read the articles on the ATA website, authored by myself and others. Your wallet will thank you.
- Webinar: Don’t Fall For It! Scams Targeting Language Professionals
- The ATA Chronicle:
- The Next Level blog: Scams and Default to Truth by Marion Lemari
About the Author
Carola F. Berger, PhD, CT is an ATA-certified (German into English and English into German) translator with a PhD in physics and a master’s degree in engineering physics. She specializes in the translation of technical patents in the fields of robotics, electronics, artificial intelligence, engineering, and related subjects. She currently serves as webmaster on the board of directors of the Northern California Translators Association, an ATA Chapter, and as webmaster of ATA’s Science & Technology Division. It is in these capacities as webmaster that she has gained a greater insight into matters of cybersecurity. Contact: www.cfbtranslations.com or www.websitesforwords.com.
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