Jan 28, 2011

Another scam bites the dust?

You know what they say: "If it walks and quacks like a duck..." or in this case smells seriously of fish. A few days ago on ProZ (The Translation Workhouse) there was a series of projects posted for German to English "Wind Power" texts from a certain "Annie Jones". I haven't quoted on projects there for a long time, not so much for the usual reasons I hear mentioned, but simply for lack of time or interest. However, in the past few days there have been a few things of interest to me, so I've played the game, with quite acceptable results (new direct customer, reasonable rate).

In each of my submissions, I quoted no rate but instead requested a copy of the text to examine and use as the basis of a binding quotation. The first request I sent to "Ms. Jones" went unanswered. Nothing fishy there; if someone is too busy to respond to every quotation in the inbox I'm the last to be offended. If I responded to everyone who wants to offer me Bulgarian, Spanish or Arabic translation (of no use to me whatsoever), I would have very little time left for real work or anything better.

The second got a response from a "rocketmail.com" e-mail address. Rocketmail appears to belong to Yahoo; the domain redirects to there. "Her" mail had three files attached and the following text:

Dear Kevin Lossner,

Thanks for applying.  I would like to assign the project to you.

I have attached source files so you can check it.

Looking forward to your reply


Whoa! Assign the project to me? Before I even say what I'll charge? Of course I'm worth any price, but still... no contact details here at all. I checked out "her" ProZ profile: pretty, fresh face, reminds me a bit of my daughter. Even fresher membership date: January 2011. Mackerel, anyone? The salutation is also a bit odd for someone whose alleged name suggests a native speaker of English.

At this point I sent a quick support request to ProZ. Since the responsibility for job postings was taken from former moderators like Ralf Lemster and others who tended to screen posters with some rigor, rumor has it that the ProZ staff to whom responsibility have been given are less discerning. That's not necessarily a fair criticism: it's hard to imagine (probably non-translating) employees having the experience, skill and dedication in sniffing out phoneys and frauds as the jobs moderators on ProZ a few years ago. For any system of screening to be effective, there are many factors involved, and experience is required to develop a workable heuristic.

I sent "Miss Jones" a response with a quotation for the 5000 words of highly technical vibrocoring and cable route analysis (not exactly the windmill technology I was originally expecting) together with that statement that acceptance of the project on my part would require verifiable business details, including a VAT number, since this person claimed to be based in another EU country.

The text itself was interesting: it was in German, but parts had Latvian set as the language. The author name in Word ("Jurgis") was also Lithuanian. I checked out the source of the document and found an extensive list of contacts, no Lithuanians among them. Curious. Not necessarily a big deal, however. I've seen source documents with Swedish, French and other language markers from large, international organizations where they may pass through many hands. Meanwhile, I got a brief, unsigned return note:
Thank you for the quotation, but it is too high for our budget.

I have just received more affordable rate.

Thank you, Mr. Checkov! Our fresh faced beauty was so appalled at my rates that she was temporarily unable to remember the proper use or articles in English! Perhaps I am a little too expensive....
Still no contact details. Rather unprofessional for an outsourcer I would say. Several hours later I received the following note from ProZ staff:

  Ticket title: "You might want to verify this person"
  Reply title: "Appropriate action has been taken"
  From: Alejandro Cavalitto
  The ticket has been closed.
  See ticket for details (and to reply or give feedback).

Another note also arrived from the big P:


I just wanted to let you know that job posting "Technical translation - 5000 words" by a profile named "Annie Jones"
has been removed after doubts were raised about the supplied contact information. If you are considering this job you are encouraged to proceed with caution.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Best regards,

Alejandro Cavalitto
ProZ.com Staff

A quick check revealed that "Ms. Jones" had also disappeared from the site (profile removed). I presume that the investigation by staff failed to turn up any acceptable answers. This was, as I recall from the little "full member" ribbon icon on the profile, a paying ProZ account. But 100 euros or so is small change to invest for a quick return with a fraud that can net you an order of magnitude more in returns. (Please don't try this at home!)

So KudoZ to ProZ staff on this one and better luck at screening the fakes in the future. Perhaps some screening before posting projects might be in order? Before I let someone set up shop in my front yard, I at least want to be sure he's not dealing drugs or kiddie porn.

Postscript: After some consideration, I contacted the author of the report to ask whether he had requested a translation. In fact he had, from a local translation agency, not from an "Annie Jones" with an e-mail address on the Rocketmail domain. So it appears that the agency gave the job to someone who is either to lazy or too unqualified to do the work him- or herself, and that person has tried to get it done in a surreptitious, likely fraudulent way, by a more qualified person. The author is now in possession of the relevant communication and will discuss the matter with his service provider, who is most likely the innocent victim of an unscrupulous "translator".


  1. Nice detective work, Kevin. Most translators wouldn't know how to check the author information or question the things you did, so you most likely did everyone a huge service with this post (and by contacting ProZ). Well done, sir.

  2. Not much to detect, Jill. This one stank like month-old mackerel. In fact I had a funny feeling from the first jobs I saw posted by "Ms. Jones", and that day I decided to relax and have some fun submitting quotations. I was in such a good mood that I even sent one to India at my standard rates. Why the heck not? An Indian IP client once paid me € 1.50 per line for some patent work, so anything is possible.

    The pattern I saw here has been repeated at ProZ and probably elsewhere so often in the past that these portals could, if they cared to, set up software algorithms to flag the frauds. New user account. Starts posting jobs like crazy, all with short deadlines. No real contact info visible. Now this was a paid membership, so there may be a chance to trace the fraud if ProZ is willing to share the data with the victims. Even a simple "probation period" for monitoring job posts by new accounts might help here. But the solution requires the will to do something. Inspiring that will require more than a little grumbling from lil' ol' me.

  3. Echo Jill's comments - great that you take the time to follow these things up and also that you show others how to do it.

    I always question posters or potential clients who have 'free mail' addresses, but sometimes they do have good reasons for using them. (There are people who simply like Gmail's functionality, for instance.)

    And I'm sure there'll be more than one reader of this blog post who wouldn't think of looking for the author information which Word encodes in its files. Great tip.


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