Volume 16, No. 2 
April 2012

  Aleksandra Narozna


Front Page

  Translation Journal

The Profession

ID Fraud in the Translation Industry:

A guide on how to protect freelance translators and translation agencies against identity fraud

by Aleksandra Narożna, MA


D fraud is a crime which is becoming more and more common. It is spreading and evolving rapidly. It is difficult to keep up with the most recent developments as we constantly hear of new types of scam schemes. According to A report by the European Parliament (EUR-Lex, 2007), cyber-crime is growing but it is difficult to assess the scope of this issue due to a lack of reliable information. According to the US Federal Trade Commission report (Synovate, 2006), 8.3 million of US adults discovered that they were victims of some form of ID theft in 2005. New types of ID fraud crimes are dangerous; however, not many translators realize as yet that they are particularly dangerous in the translation industry. As a project manager in a translation agency, I came across two serious instances of ID fraud. I hope that, thanks to this article, more translators will become aware of the risks that freelance translators are facing on an everyday basis, and more project managers will take measures against ID theft.

Not many translators realize as yet that [ID theft crimes] are particularly dangerous in the translation industry.
The gravity of the problem can probably be best illustrated by the fact that two popular portals for translators ( www.proz.com and www.translatorscafe.com) have sections of their websites devoted to the problem of scam, fraudulent job offers, and dishonest translation buyers. Only a fraction of these is devoted to ID fraud and CV theft (www.proz.com, 2012). The majority of posts are connected with fraudulent translation agencies and their job offers. Nevertheless, this is a problem that has only started to emerge now and I believe ID fraud in the translation industry will become more widespread.

On 22 February 2012, one of the portals mentioned above, namely www.proz.com, started a dedicated service devoted to different scams. The idea behind the concept is to enable fast and accurate communication between translators and translation agencies on the topic of scams, ID frauds, dishonest translation buyers and sellers. To achieve all that, the portal opened the Translator Scam Alert Center (www.proz.com, 2012). It is difficult to assess how successful the scheme will be but it is definitely a step in the right direction.

The ID fraud cases I came across were invented by the same person. She has been working as a freelance translator for some time. It is hard to comprehend why she chose to steal other translators' identity, having worked as a freelance translator herself. Both schemes, which I am about to describe, are similar. With hindsight, both situations could have been avoided if the project mangers were more alert to some signs of fraud. Having said that, ID fraud awareness is not as well-spread as it should be, although two project managers spotted and reported the scheme. The aim of this article is to put forward some suggestions on how to avoid falling victim to ID fraud crime in the translation industry, how to verify translators' identity and qualifications when recruiting new translators, and how to avoid mistakes when buying translation services in a rush.

ID fraud scheme no. 1

This situation took place in Creative Translation in London, where I work as a project manager. A big client ordered a translation of about 80,000 words to be done in a short period of time and with little notice. Translators, who were originally selected to do the job, could not take the assignment due to very limited time. The client was informed about this, but they requested the agency to use new translators who were available to translate the text. The job was posted on a popular website for translators and many applications were received.

An individual with a perfect CV, translation degree and relevant experience was selected for the assignment. The translator was claiming that she was a part of a translation team. She sent me CVs of three other individuals who, she was claiming, worked with her on big projects. All CVs looked brilliant and had all the required boxes ticked. All four translators were sent copies of an e-mail which summed up all terms and conditions of the Purchase Order and the scope of work that had to be done. All e-mail addresses were genuine and none of the e-mails bounced back. Moreover, all of them were asked to send signed Non Disclosure Agreements. That was done and all NDAs were received through my contact, on behalf of the team, which was what we agreed on.

Work on the project commenced and soon translations were received in batches and proofreading started. The feedback on the translations was so negative that three separate proofreaders were asked for their opinion. It is worth pointing out that all proofreaders cooperated with the translation agency on a regular basis and had no interest in criticizing the translations. It was concluded that the translation was sub-standard, contained numerous typos and mistranslations, some parts of it were machine translated, and some paragraphs were missing.

The leader of the team was confronted about it and she said the translation was brilliant and she advised the agency to disregard all the remarks made by the proofreaders. At that point alarm bells started ringing and we decided to confront the team of freelance translators directly through a popular translators' portal.

One out of three translators did not reply then and replied only after about one year. He had not been working for some time due to personal circumstances. The other translators, however, replied right away, denied all knowledge about the project, and were very upset about the situation. They both said the first e-mail, which was sent to confirm all terms and conditions of the Purchase Order, never reached them, or perhaps it went straight into the junk mail box. We soon worked out that their CVs were stolen from two popular websites for translators and the person we decided to hire to do the translation "translated" the entire text by herself. Needless to say, the translation had to be done from scratch. We could not meet the client's deadline and the translation agency risked not being paid at all. The translator, who still maintained the translation was brilliant, was confronted with the news, but never admitted what happened. She was also confronted by the translators, whose CVs and identities were stolen, but failed to reply to their accusations. The translators' portal where the job was originally posted, was contacted and full details to the scam were given. However, the fraudulent user was not removed from their directory and was left free to continue her activity. One year passed and we heard about her again.

ID fraud scheme no. 2

This fraud scheme was reported to me by a project manager from another translation agency. Its details were also published online ( www.proz.com, 2012). I was notified of it as this project manager read posts I put on some translators portals to warn translators and translation agencies about what was happening. She was a victim of the same freelance translator, as she found out in the end.

Suspicions came to light after a translator handed in some abysmal work, 48 hours late, that had been outsourced to another translator after a NDA agreement had been signed. The work had to be re-translated, and a third-party reviewer was brought in. A call for new translators to undertake the re-translation was put out. One of the translators who contacted the agency undertook a small portion of the work (later referred to as a reviewer). It needs to be pointed out that, due to the stress and urgency, "her" CV was not fully analysed, but briefly skimmed over to get an idea of her skills and qualifications.

In the meantime, the agency refused to pay the original translator. The client was furious, refusing to pay. To add to the loss, the translators who were hired all charged higher rates than the original translator due to the rush and the third-party reviewer had to be paid as well.

Invoice date came for the reviewer. She sent a PayPal invoice from the original translator's PayPal address. Her invoice was ignored, since no one realized it was the reviewer's invoice; it was assumed that the original translator was asking for payment for her sub-standard work. The reviewer sent an e-mail to ask why her invoice was ignored. At this point it was clear that the original translator and the reviewer were the same people. At that point, the CV of the original translator was compared against the reviewer's CV. The phone numbers were nearly identical, apart form one digit difference. After trying to call the reviewer, it turned out that her phone number did not exist. Another thing was noticed on the reviewer's CV: a name and surname of another person in the top left corner. All documents in the "document section" contained the same name and surname. The person with this name and surname was found on a portal for translators. Needless to say, her CV was identical to that of the reviewer. Her CV was simply stolen. She was devastated to find out about it and reported the case to the police and her lawyer.

ID fraud in the translation industry—how to prevent it

Scamming schemes involving ID fraud are damaging for both translators and translation agencies. Translation agencies need to improve the way they assess freelancers. All agencies have their regular suppliers, but the problems start when they are not available and jobs need to still be completed very quickly. Then applications from new suppliers are not assessed carefully enough, and mistakes are made.

In the case of ID fraud scheme no.1, NDAs sent back by the leader of the “freelance team” should have been analyzed more carefully. This was done only after the problem came to light and it was noticed that all NDAs were signed by the same person. It was not obvious at first glance but only after careful inspection. In the case of ID fraud scheme no. 2, CVs of all translators and reviewers should have been analyzed properly and striking similarities should have been noticed. However, due to the rush and unexpected quality problems, this was not done and led to further problems.

Both fraud schemes were meticulously prepared and executed. It is possible that the fraudulent translator had some experience in the area and knew exactly how to behave, what to say in her e-mails and when. This proves that project managers should be equally well prepared for similar situations and should be able to prevent them. Both project managers worked for a small translation agency and it can be assumed that fraudulent translators would be mainly targeting such entities. Large translation agencies have procurement departments that take care of recruiting new freelance translators. Project managers in small translation agencies need to recruit new suppliers themselves and, since this is just one of many of their duties, mistakes are likely to be made.

In the next part of this article, I will aim to set out a few rules which should help project managers to identify risks which come with recruiting new freelance translators. I will also discuss how freelance translators should protect their data from potential ID thieves.

Be alert when managing rush jobs

Rush translation jobs have become common in the translation industry and both translators and project managers have become accustomed to working against tight deadlines. All translation agencies have preferred suppliers and usually these are the translators who are approached when a rush requirement comes in. However, the problems start when regular suppliers are unavailable or do not specialize in a particular area. Then a project manager immediately starts looking for new translators who can offer quick delivery. Usually, the quickest way to check who is available is to post a job on one of the popular translators' portals. This way a project manager ensures that only professionals who are available apply. It is a very stressful task and involves a lot of time, attention to detail, and determination. Depending on a language combination, there might be hundreds of translators bidding for a job and a project manager needs to find the ideal candidate. All CVs should be carefully assessed as per requirement of the job. If a few translators are pre-selected, an e-mail should be sent out to make contact with every one of them. It should be checked that translators are indeed available and willing to take on the assignment. Apart from discussing terms and conditions of cooperation and filling in the usual paperwork, a telephone contact should be made and the home address, if given, should be verified. This can be done using Google Maps. On quite a few occasions, I found that addresses given by translators as home addresses were showing as industrial areas on Google Maps. Many translators, when confronted about it, could not explain it and simply stopped correspondence. Many translators could justify this saying that their office was located in an industrial complex, which was always considered a perfectly acceptable answer.

On this occasion, it should be noted that a home address does not need to be provided when applying for freelance jobs and it should not be requested by a translation agency when making first contact and sending availability enquiries. All university degrees should be checked, if at all possible. If no information can be found on a university on the Internet, then it certainly can be considered suspicious. Again, on a few occasions, I discovered that qualifications presented to me as university degrees by freelance translators, turned out to be vocational courses or qualifications achieved at a level lower than university. All these checks are time-consuming, but should be carried out. They ensure that a genuine, qualified individual is selected for an assignment.

Do not publish too much information online

Freelance translators need to organize their workflows themselves and need to ensure jobs are coming in so they can make a living from their profession. Hopefully, there comes a point in every freelancer's professional life when there are enough clients and assignments coming in. Those who have not achieved this comfortable stage of their professional lives are constantly on a lookout to increase their client base.

Modern technology facilitates this process. Online marketing has become the norm in the translation industry and freelancers are expected to have a profile on one of the popular translation websites. Usually, translators are encouraged to make their CV public and provide their contact details online. It should be left to everyone's personal judgment to assess if the advantages of making one’s CV public outweigh the disadvantages of doing so. However, a few simple facts should always be remembered. If a CV is made available online in a Word version, it can be easily be downloaded and stolen. Potential ID thieves can alter a phone number or change an e-mail address and pose as someone else without the victim ever finding out about it. This is a terrifying perspective but, as described above in both ID fraud schemes, it can happen. Therefore, if a translator wants to make their CV public online, they should always publish a version in PDF format. This way, it is not impossible to steal data but it is definitely more time-consuming. Secondly, it should be remembered that a good CV, especially in the translation industry, does not need to reveal a lot of personal data. In most cases, a project manager is looking for the following information: experience, education, software and fields of specialism. The CV should be brief and does not need to give away too much personal information—this should be confirmed at the later stage of the recruitment process. Therefore, I cannot see any need to give home address on a translator's CV. However, the information whether a translator is based in his or her target country should be given. If a home address is given and a project manager wants to verify it as a genuine address, this can be easily done.

Verify references and give references on request

At a later stage of a translation process, references should be verified. Translators should not hesitate to provide contact details for their clients, but only after their clients gave their consent for this to happen. I think that references should be given on request but I have often come across CVs that contain reference details that can be accessed by many people. I do not think this should happen but it seems to be commonly accepted. As a project manager, I am always happy to be contacted to provide references, but when I give my permission for my personal details to be passed on to other language companies, I always make sure I stress this should only be done on request. I certainly would not like my details to be published online.

Minimise the risks of being targeted

Since all quality translators have their reputation at stake, it would be highly advisable to prevent possible clients from thinking that you are doing a job for them, when in fact you are not. One of the solutions to this very complex problem would be put a large notice online to inform all the clients that all jobs need to be confirmed by phone or by sending a message through profile mail messaging system. Since e-mail addresses can be tweaked slightly so that at first glance they look identical, relying on e-mails to confirm identity is not sufficient enough to prove identity.

What is more, having your own domain name can help you not only to come across as a professional translator but also as a secure supplier. This way, you make sure that it is difficult to steal your e-mail by simply creating an e-mail address with your name and surname in it using free e-mail services such as hotmail or gmail.


The translation industry is a very fast-paced environment. Information needs to be accessed instantly by clients, jobs are allocated within minutes and information is the key to success for both translation companies and suppliers. All players of the translation industry try to facilitate the free flow of information in order to make a profit which drives the translation industry, just as any other industry. In the rush of assignments and deadlines, it cannot be forgotten that websites where freelancers' details are published can be accessed by many individuals. Not all of them are interested in buying language-related services. Therefore, personal details should be protected as they would be on any other website or directory.

In this article I aimed to bring the problem of fraud to the attention of translation agencies and freelance translators. I also attempted to start a discussion on what can be done to avoid ID theft. During my work as a project manager I dealt with an ID theft case reported to me by another translation agency. A project manager who contacted me on behalf of this translation agency suggested a solution which seemed drastic at the time. She suggested that after an initial assessment of the translator's qualifications, experience, and skills is made and a translation agency decides to add a particular supplier to their database, they should ask for his or her proof of identity such as national identity card or passport. This would surely cover the translation agency and put their project managers’ mind at peace but would also mean exposing a lot of information by freelance translators. I do not think this idea should be put in practice but it can serve as a proof of how desperately the situation needs to be addressed and how common the problem is becoming.


  1. proz.com (2012), CV theft, http://www.translatorscafe.com/cafe/MegaBBS/thread-view.asp?threadid=19732&posts=5 , [Accessed 21.02.2012].
  1. proz.com (2012), Corporate Identity Theft What do I do??? http://www.proz.com/forum/scams/209374-corporate_identity_theft_what_do_i_do.html , [Accessed 20.02.2012].
  1. proz.com (2012), Translator Scam Alert Centre, http://www.proz.com/forum/getting_established/219193-a_new_feature%3A_translator_scam_alert_center.html#1900222 , [Accessed 26.02.2012].
  2. EUR-Lex (2009), Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council and the Committee of the Regions - Towards a general policy on the fight against cyber crime, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:52007DC0267:EN:NOT , [Accessed 26.02.2012].
  3. Synovate (2007), Federal Trade Commission – 2006 Identity Theft Survey Report, http://www.ftc.gov/os/2007/11/SynovateFinalReportIDTheft2006.pdf [Accessed 26.02.2012]