The nightmare of all translators … scammers and non-payers!

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Hi you, folks!

First of all, let me introduce myself to you: my name’s Lidia and I’m a fresh newcomer in the world of freelance translation. Gosh, actually not so ‘fresh’, I’m quite aged and I’m dealing with languages and translations since a couple of decades, but … I’m losing the thread, so let’s stay on track!

As any good newbie, I need to gain a lot of experience, especially as regards marketing strategies and business risks, if I want to survive in this jungle  and I’m still quite naive on certain issues, in spite of my elderly age.  Scams, deceivers and non-payers are my personal nightmare since ages:  I almost gave up my profession due to an unexpected non-payer.  Since I started working as freelancer I’ve been trying to implement any possible measure to prevent any fraud against me and my work – of course, as far as my scarce experience allows. And in spite of all my efforts, I’ve been caught in a trap.

My first post is about this experience.  The first and surely not the last.

I’m a paying member of Proz.com and I sometimes respond to calls for bids on this portal, most of the times without result. In march I receive an alert regarding a post for a short translation job with technical contents required by a peer. This translator, a certain Marta Guidi from the surroundings of Florence, also mentions the possibility of establishing a collaboration for future assignments of technical texts. Response in a few hours, deadline within a couple of days. I respond. The outsourcer answers to my quote  requiring my written willingness to take on the assignment. I cannot believe it, a job through Proz! First step to take: check the LWA record in the BlueBoard – for the few individuals who still ignore it, the BlueBoard is a big database of outsourcers with their relevant rating.  I pay for it, let’s have a look! Holy mackerel, no record on this person!  OK, next step: check the IP of the mail: well, lastly a good news, the location corresponds to the address of the outsourcer. The bad news is that it is a yahoo account, but I have an anonymous account myself, like any other individual unfurnished with a personal website and relevant  @domainname address. Lastly, I check the phone number and it is registered in the name of Franca Guidi (mother?), the address corresponding to that in my hands. I ruminate a bit on the matter, can I accept, do I have to refuse? After all, the text is quite short, the post sounds quite reliable, the person quite friendly, so I make up my mind and accept the job.

Obviously I make all my best to impress my new client, so I finish far before the deadline. I make up the expense record (I’m still an occasional translator, so I’ve got no VAT ID) , attach it to the translated file and send it to the customer asking her to provide all necessary information to prepare the payment receipt. Silence. No return receipt. I send her an e-mail asking her to acknowledge receipt of the file and if the translation is fine. A short message informs me that she has received the whole thing and that it’s OK. After that … nothing, zero, blank silence!

Lost any track of her. I send reminders, threatening mails, nothing. Eventually, I call her. The first time, an anonymous answering machine, a female voice. I leave my message requiring a prompt contact. I wait a couple of days before attempting a second time. Again the answerphone: I embitter the tone of my voice and say that I’m urging a contact with Marta Guidi to clarify her position regarding the translation she has commissioned and not paid. Someone switches the machine off and replies, a man. “You are dialing a wrong number, there’s no Marta Guidi here – he sais rudely. “Dear Sir, the number is correct, let me explain what’s happening, your number is probably being used by a scammer for illegal purposes …” I reply. “No, no, I don’t want to know, I haven’t signed anything, to me this question is closed!” his reply. And he hangs up.

It’s clear, he’s the scammer. His touchy and rude behaviour says it all. And he is damn right. He did not sign anything, I’ve nothing but a bunch of e-mails from an anonymous account. I’m helpless against him …

I’m a complete idiot, nay, I’m the idiot of the global village (paraphrasing the title of an Italian satirical TV program)!

All I can do is reporting the scam. So here I am, on Proz, Translator’s Café, Facebook, LinkedIn, my blog, and wherever possible. I won’t give up.

 The lesson I’ve learned – and my 2 cents on the issue: when approaching new clients, always keep your eyes wide open and don’t be afraid to ask for a formal purchase order, letter of assignment or whatsoever document clearly stating name and identity of the purchaser, its contact details, tax information, clear details of the supply and the relevant price, deadline and terms of supply. This approach might sound rude, lacking touch, but it will prove valuable and will help to establish a relationship of mutual trust with your customer. A reliable, trustworthy client will appreciate your frankness, a bad one not.

Beware of tricky outsourcers: never accept work from individuals/companies that refuse to provide full details or written orders. They will likely steal your work or fail to pay it at due time. Always get in touch with them on the phone or Skype, you will surely get an impression of which kind of customers they are going to be.

I know, it’s outdated stuff, mostly commonplace, but ‘repetita iuvant’ as Latins used to say. My personal advice: please, take a look at the BlueBoard, if you can, and take good notice of his/her data: he/she would probably not use the same e-mail account any longer, but probably will use his/her phone number and address for his/her scams, since they are his own. Forewarned is forearmed.

And … please, don’t laugh at me, I’m still learning, the path is long and I’m at the very beginning. Thank you!

See you soon …

Your everybody’s fool

P.S.: My message to the scammer: Burn, baby, burn … in hell!

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10 responses to “The nightmare of all translators … scammers and non-payers!

  1. Lidia, the fact that you have the guts to share this story is part of the learning process – you are helping others out there who might be scammed in future. Working as a freelancer involves a certain amount of risk – this is part of the job and the lifestyle we have chosen. You can minimise the risk, but even the best translators in the world have been scammed once or twice. Having a lawyer on call is a good idea, but expensive. You’ve learnt the hard way, but take it in your stride and move forward – next time you will be better able to spot a scammer! Again, thanks for being brave and sharing your experience. It takes guts.

    • Thanks Sarai for your support! As told, I know it’s the first and it won’t be the last, but to me it’s important that we all translators share experiences on this issue so that we can be ready to face this problem the right way. It involves all of us and collaboration is a possible way to hold back this phenomenon. And I’m not afraid to look silly, if it helps others to avoid my errors. After all, I’m only human and I can do mistakes, I don’t regret any of them, as you correctly say, it’s part of the process. Ciao!

  2. Thanks for fore-warning us. Does such a word exist? We will add her name to the list, but maybe she will change her name. I am wandering whether to submit a quote for a job that is posted from country X and wants people from country Y when target language is not language Y

    • Thanks Josephine, just for the records, the target language was actually mine, but I must admit that some Italian outsourcers tend to assign IT to EN translations to Italian translators; that’s quite weird, but probably it’s just because they think they can deal with the supplier in their native language and get better rates this way. It can work sometimes, for example in case of user’s manuals or some slightly technical texts, but normally the result is not professional, even if translated by language professionals. At least, not truly localized. All the best!

  3. Hi Lidia,
    I can imagine how angry and abused you must feel!
    I’ve been had too and was so taken aback by the attitude of one unscrupulous language school that I eventually paid a lawyer a percentage to recover my dues.
    On the other hand, I recently had quite an unpleasant experience when searching for someone to do a translation from Italian to Spanish. A Spanish translator living in Italy recommended to me by a colleague quite aggressively demanded payment in advance, saying that ALL her clients pay her in advance, which I know to be patently not true, having lived for the best part of 10 years in Italy myself. While I can understand her reticence, I offered references from several Spanish and other colleagues in Italy and gave her detailed contact information for me and I her attitude unecessary. I too was taking a gamble in that I knew nothing about her ability or reliability and had her translation been poor or late it would have ruined my credibility with a longstanding client so I would have had much more to lose than one job.
    Thinking about it afterwards, I decided that it’s always a gamble with new contacts, whichever foot the shoe it on, but I usually ask for skype, phone and street contact details and I try to talk to the client or translator in person before accepting a job. My method is not infallible, but I think it does help to gauge whether the person is kosher or not and in your case it would have revealed the person’s gender!
    Anyway, that’s my two cents. Hope it’s of some use. Don’t give up. We’re not all sharks!

    • Hi Allyson,
      thanks a lot for your precious contribution! You are completely right, translation is a mutual gamble for both translator and customer, that’s why I dont’t find it so strange (and I’m therefore willing) to take some translation test before starting a collaboration. I must admit that I also tend to ask for an advance payment, this normally helps me keep deceivers out, but if the amount is low (this was the case) it’s ridiculous. I took the risk and lost. That’s the way business goes and I have to learn to deal it better. Thanks anyway for all your comments: in my opinion, sharing experiences is a valuable and irreplaceable help for both clever and novice translators.

    • Thanks Marta, checking IPs is a practice that proves useful in some cases, for example when you have to deal with customers who have an anonymous e-mail address but unfortunately it was unsufficient in my case. But I’m learning from my mistakes …

  4. Thanks for your warning Lidia, networking is useful also for this purpose… I had a very similar issue with a Spanish agency (in that case it was a Translators café offer) a few years ago. I solved the problem finally e-mailing the end client. I got paid in one week or so… Good luck with eveything and thanks again for your help!
    Marilena

  5. Thanks Marilena,
    I’m really glad you could get though it in the end! Unfortunately, my ‘customer’ did not disclose her (his?) end client, the only thing I know is that the text was an abstract from a Mitutoyo product catalogue, but surely Mitutoyo wasn’t the end client! Well, I don’t mind, after all the sum was small and so small it was the material damage as well, but I’ll never give up broadcasting her name throughout the world, trumpeting from the rooftops: Hey folks, beware of Marta Guidi, Franca Guidi or whoever bearing the name Guidi and impersonating an Italian translator based in Via Corliano 9, Cerreto Guidi, Florence! She/he will steal your work along with your self-confidence and dignity: don’t let her/him do this to you, never ever!
    Ciao and good luck!

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