Do you know how to spot a potential scam?

As an online freelancer, you already know that you have to do your due diligence before accepting a new job. There are basic risk management measures that every professional offering their work on the Internet must take, and following them will allow you to spot a potentially problematic client. But do you know how to identify a potential scam? Here, we share three simple steps to tell a scammer from a legitimate new contact. 


1. Check the email address

As an online freelancer, you know better than anyone that an email address can say a lot about a person and, if you are offering or hiring services on the Internet, it doubles as a sort of business card. 

A good amount of freelance translators nowadays can afford to purchase their own domain, and it's now become rare for a company to operate without one. You never know when a distracted project manager may accidentally email you from their free personal email, of course, but you should look twice at anyone claiming to represent a company but using a free email domain. To corroborate that the email address belongs to a real company representative, try:

  • Checking for that email address on the company website.
  • Emailing the official company email address to corroborate.
  • Calling the company to the official phone number on their website.

Sometimes, however, online scammers can get really smart. For example, it has been reported that a group of scammers impersonated the pharmaceutical company Wockhardt, conducting a pay-to-work scam with the fake web domain (note the missing h). Besides checking the domain for inconsistencies, you should try clicking on the domain —you will likely be taken to a domain purchase page or an under-construction website.

But of course, not all clients have companies behind, and individuals will rarely have a personal website. However, individuals do tend to have profiles. If somebody emails you out of the blue offering you work, the first thing you should do is search their names on the web. If you find a social or professional profile for a person of the same name that appears to be your new contact, you can use that to ask if it's really them.

Scammers often use the names of real translators, as many freelancers outsource work themselves. If your search leads you to a translator profile on or a professional translator website, use the contact form to reach out to this person. 

Emails that consist of a name and a handful of numbers are not universally fake, but you should keep the fact that this format is often used by scammers in mind. This, paired with other warning signs should be a red flag.


2. Look for inconsistencies 

A scammer is never trying to scam just you. It is estimated that 10% of adults will fall for a scam in their lives. That percentage makes for a huge number of people who won't, and so scammers try their play with as many people as possible —sometimes sending the same email or text to hundreds, even thousands of people at a time. Of course, a person juggling dozens of lies at a time is bound to mess up.

Scammers will often change the name of the supposed end client or give you inconsistent contact information. For example, the scammers conducting an employment abroad scam a few years back could be easily spotted because they started their emails claiming to represent LangHam Hotel, then became Marriott Hotel employees in the middle of the message. 

When you are given contact information, you should always corroborate it, and be extra careful if you are already spotted other warning signs. Try the phone number, check the website, look for the address on maps. If the satellite view tells you that there's an empty lot at the address that your contact said was an office, you are most likely dealing with a scam.


3. Try to poke holes at the story.

Most individuals will hire an online freelancer to translate paperwork such as their birth certificate, their university degree, or their medical records; and will hire local interpreters for bureaucratic reasons such as court citations. It is rare —though of course, not impossible!— for an individual to personally hire an interpreter to travel for a big event or pay for a several-thousands-words translation. 

On the other hand, scammers usually offer big, flashy projects with a high budget. For example, the overpayment scam consists of sending you a (fake) several-thousand dollars payment, big enough that the victim could believe that the scammer sent an extra thousand by mistake. But, if the victim searches for the document online, they will find that it's freely accessible, and sometimes it even has an existing translation.

If you are offered a big job by an individual, their reasons will more often than not be easy to corroborate. If there's a several-days event that needs an interpreter, it will usually be published somewhere online. If the person claims to need their paper or thesis translated, you should be able to find a mention of the work or the person on their school's website. If the translation is for their business, you must be able to find its basic information online.

And, regardless of the story that you are told, don't forget the golden rule...


No legit client or employer should request that you issue a payment of any kind.


Be it a reimbursement for an accidental overpayment, a translation software that you need to start working, a certification from a certain authority, a credit check, or a "guarantee of service", you will be hard pressed to find a legit reason to send money to a client or potential employer that you met online.

If you are requested your credit card information or asked to make a payment of any kind, you should assume that you were about to fall for a scam. What should you do next? 

Topics: risk management

Andrea Capuselli

Written by Andrea Capuselli

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