By Olivia Walters
Ripped off and pissed off, that’s how freelance translators feel when they get scammed. It happened to me and the six lessons I learned can help you from falling into the same trap.
Writers, graphic designers, and editors are all vulnerable to a good scam. We learn the hard way after a client takes us for a run and wastes precious time.
All of us in the freelance community know that time is money.
And money is the freedom to live carefree, debt-free, and struggle free.
If an offer slips into your email that looks legit but turns out to be a dead-end, keep reading to learn how to be a vigilant freelancer.
Or if you want to know how to stay ahead of fraud, you’ve come to the right place too. You have to keep your momentum up even when obstacles like false job leads fall into your lap. Freelancing is a game of rejection but the better you are at facing it, the better your chances are of finding paid work.
Those of us who pour their heart into freelancing know that it can be an emotional rollercoaster. You get fired up with excitement when a break, a lead, or a response promises paying work. Then when it fades away you’re left to pick up the pieces.
The disappointment bruises your confidence. You’re frustrated about being duped.
I’m here to offer reassurance and tell you what happened after a “client” accepted my rate, signed and returned my contract, and then sent me a false check for $4,500 more than the agreed-upon payment. They told me to deposit the amount and that we could “work out the difference” through a wire transfer.
Before I share my story, I’ve got a couple of perks to offer that will make you a stronger translator, writer, and entrepreneur.
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On today’s agenda, we’ll discuss:
- Who are freelance scammers?
- How to recognize them
- Why you need to stay alert
- How to move forward
1. Why me?
It’s always so personal when you’re the brunt of a joke. Getting scammed makes you ask the existential questions: Why me? What did I do to deserve this?
You didn’t do anything wrong. Take a breath. Hopefully it never happens to you but if it does, don’t blame yourself for not seeing the telltale signs.
Scammers are professionals in the business of screwing people over. They’ve acquired expert technical and communication skills to mask their true intentions.
Just like you put your all into freelancing, scammers work hard to deceive so they can drain you of your time, passion, and skills.
It’s an insult to hard-working freelancers trying to make a living wage.
Marketing statistics report that 53 million Americans are freelancers who are working to turn sporadic gigs into long-term careers. 44% of those aspiring full-time freelancers are Millennials.
Those numbers really stood out to me because I am the statistic—24-years-old and supporting myself off of freelance writing and translating.
After a couple of slow weeks with few job prospects, I headed over to my ProZ.com account to revisit my profile and make some updates. For those of you who aren’t familiar, ProZ is a source for translators to find clients all over the world.
I tweaked a couple of things and added some spice to my resume.
About a day later, I had two client inquiries in my email, both with the same header “Are you available for translation?”
Funny enough, I had already seen one of the projects before, so it seemed weird that the email sender would ask me to complete it again. But the one I didn’t know about looked like the real deal.
The client had a French name that fit the profile of the project she needed to be translated. “Amélie” asked me what I’d charge for a 42-page document about agriculture in Europe (*insert cute Amélie reference from one of the most iconic French films EVER*).
She said the time frame for the completed job would be a month AND mentioned that the second half of the project would be available soon (hint: let me scam you twice, you young dove).
We agreed on $475. For translation prices, that’s pretty low, but since I was wading into new waters I went ahead with it.
RED FLAG #1. As we discussed payment options, here’s what “Amélie” proposed:
Of course I told her she could send me a check because I’m not naive enough to hand over my bank info to a stranger.
2. But I’m working so hard to make a living. What am I doing wrong?
I’ve been freelancing for five months. I know what professionalism means and how marketing looks for a successful freelancer.
That said, I put together a contract to send to “Amélie” with all of my terms and clauses for client edits, overdue payments, and anything else that could happen with a sketchy client.
Everything was going according to plan. “Amélie” returned my contact with her signature and address.
I thrust my fist into the air. Yes! I can pay my rent this month!
As I waited for the first check to come in, I arranged my calendar for the next month to allow me plenty of time to finish the translation project ahead of the deadline.
An organized freelancer knows how important outlines and to-do lists are for their business.
And then another email came in from “Amélie” that really started raising eyebrows.
3. Recognize common scammer tactics
RED FLAG #2. “Your check has been mailed but I’m afraid there seems to be a slight mix-up.”
I smelled trouble. I thought maybe she sent it to the wrong address. Mistakes happen, you know.
This brings me to the first common scammer tactic that freelancers should watch out for. “Amélie” emailed me two days later to tell me she’d accidentally forwarded me a check for her moving company.
She asked if I could please go ahead and deposit the $4,500 check into my account and wire her the difference for my translation fee.
I responded that I’d return the check because I was afraid that the overpayment amount was too high for me to accept responsibility.
By the way, I did get a check in the mail, but not from “Amélie.” Not only was the check made out to someone else’s name but it looked FAKE as hell. Seriously, it felt like one-ply toilet paper.
Here’s another scammer tactic: impersonate a translator client and send a huge check amount to request a refund.
All of the games and all of the lies made my skin boil. I’d been emailing back and forth with this so-called “Amélie” for days. I don’t know if the check would have bounced if I had deposited it or if “Amélie” would have stolen my information from a wire transfer.
At least I caught the scam before it could do real damage. But I couldn’t let “Amélie” have the last word.
4. How to stay proactive (and keep the karma alive)
There are a lot of lessons I’ve learned from this experience (welcome to the 4th). Once I sent “Amélie” this final email, I never heard from her again:
That’s why I want to offer some encouragement to those of you who have been through the wringer. If you’ve been scammed, I’m so sorry that happened to you.
It wasn’t your fault. Remember this because you probably did right by professional freelance standards, like me.
But getting a client to sign a contract may not be enough. Scammers are blood-thirsty sharks out for your time and money.
You can get good karma by reporting scammers. That’s what I did because I’m superstitious. I’ll smoke a room out with sage if I think bad karma is coming to me.
The support staff at ProZ.com got right back to me when I reported the incident. I was shocked when they sent me an entire forum with testimonials from other translators who had been scammed by their own “Amélie.”
This is what it means to be a proactive freelancer. Reporting scams is a good deed. Don’t you want to know that you’re not alone?
Even though you may feel like you’re working on your own as a freelancer, there are thousands of support systems and communities to reach out to. It’s reassuring to have a network of people standing behind you when stuff happens that’s out of your control.
5. Don’t let a scam spook you
You have to keep chugging along. Circle back to my introduction when I mentioned how rejection comes with the freelance job requirement.
Don’t get spooked and don’t give up! Days when you feel lost and unsure will happen. Trust me, I have my fair share of blah-what’s-next Mondays.
You have to wake up and do it all over again to see results. But now you’re smarter. You have a plan. Scammers beware because you’re ready for battle.
6. Steps to keep up the freelance motivation
When motivation takes a blow the best defense is to take a short break. Do anything that’s isn’t work for you.
Jump around the house, light a candle, eat a muffin, call a friend, or hold something soft against your face (I’m not lying it works). After that, come back to your computer and start again.
This time, you can cold pitch or search for translation jobs with intent. I think you’ll see a difference in your grit now that you’re wiser and more selective about the jobs you accept.
Tell me how you’re doing. I’d love to know what’s going on with your career.