Translation Scams – Buyers and Translators Beware!

Translation Scams – Buyers and Translators Beware!

It seems that the amount of scams in operation is increasing every day. In a series of posts I will discuss the various common schemes targeting both buyers/end clients and translators/language service providers. I will explain how the schemes work and how to avoid becoming a victim. While the examples will discuss the scams as they apply to the translation industry, the underlying principles apply to other sectors and endeavors as well with only minor modifications.

There are several basic categories of scams:

Why would anybody impersonate a client?

This is the age-old check-scamming trick, a variant of the Nigerian lottery scam. It works as follows, in the case of translations:

  1. The client orders a translation, most of the time without haggling over price or without signing a contract, sending a purchase order or any other written documentation. The entire transaction is done via email, more often than not via a free email account such as google, yahoo, or the like.
  2. The translator faithfully delivers the translation and sends an invoice.
  3. The client pays immediately by check. The check happens to accidentally show a much larger amount than invoiced.
  4. The client tells the translator/service provider that the “accounting department” made a mistake, and that the translator should just go ahead and cash the check and then wire back the amount that was paid too much or send a check for this amount, because it would be too complicated for the “accounting department” to remedy the error by any other means.
  5. The translator goes ahead and cashes the check and sends back the amount that was overpaid.
  6. A few weeks later, when the banking system finally finishes turning its wheels, it turns out that the client’s check was fake and the check bounces. The translator is charged with a bounce fee by the bank, and furthermore, has already sent the amount that was “overpaid” on the fake check. Of course, in the meantime, every trace of the client’s existence is erased, and the translator has lost money for providing a service.

These and a few other variations of that scheme are actually quite common in the US and all other places where the antiquated form of payment called a check is still prevalent. In this post I discuss how you can prevent being victimized by such a scam. This article on the ATA website also discusses this topic.

On the other hand, why would anybody impersonate a translator?

Quite simple, people without the necessary skills impersonate reputable translators to obtain projects from unsuspecting clients.

  1. The scammers impersonate reputable translators with stolen CVs, where they just edit a few contact details.
  2. Unsuspecting clients order translations from the fake translators under the assumption they get a quality product, after checking out the impersonated translators’ profiles online.
  3. The projects are then translated by the scammers via open-source machine translation such as Google translate (a simple copy-and-paste operation) and sent back to the client without post-editing, who more often than not does not speak the target language and is therefore unable to judge the quality (or lack thereof) of the delivered product. As an aside, machine translation by itself is not bad, if it is properly implemented and post-edited, but these scammers skip this time-consuming step to make a quick buck.
  4. The client pays the scammers the invoiced amount, and by the time the client notices that the translation is bogus, the scammers have long disappeared.
  5. The client complains to the real translator who allegedly provided the fake translation. Both end client and real translator are the victims in this case. The end client has lost money, and the real translator, whose CV was stolen, has lost their reputation.

This scheme is discussed on this website in even more detail. The site also contains a list of the scammers’ names along with their victims’ names. Please pay attention to the column headings in the table so as not to confuse the scammers with the victims.

In this post I discuss how you, as a translation buyer, can verify that a person is really who they say they are. And in this post I discuss how you, as a translator, can prevent your CV from being stolen easily.

How can somebody order a translation and get away with never paying for the service?

This is surprisingly easy if the buyer and the provider do not live in the same jurisdiction and there is no established dunning procedure between these jurisdictions. More often than not, collecting the outstanding amount would cost more than the amount owed.

The ATA website has a few articles on how to prevent this. The ATA website also contains tips on how to collect outstanding invoices, assuming that you are dealing with a client who simply doesn’t pay for some reason and not with an impostor as described above.

Of course, the best way to prevent such a situation is to vet your client thoroughly before you take on the assignment. I describe various ways to do this here.

Carola F Berger


Carola F. Berger is a German-English patent translator with a PhD in physics and a master’s degree in engineering physics. She is ATA certified for translation from German into English and from English into German and owns and operates CFB Scientific Translations LLC. Carola serves as webmaster on the NCTA Board of Directors and is also the Administrator of ATA’s Science and Technology Division.

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