How to Not Get Ripped Off as a Freelance Translator

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Freelace Translation Service: 3 Common Scams

The life of a freelance translator can be a joy, and many are drawn to it for the freedom to work from home (anywhere in the world) and the satisfaction they get from working with words.  Trouble can arise though when that “working” part inadvertently turns into pro bono. Below are three scams that lurk in the dodgy side of translating.

1. The Translation Test

An unscrupulous project manager contacts 12 freelancers and tells them all their CV looks great, they just need to take a “translation test” in order to get into the company database. The 12 eager translators do 300 words a piece, perhaps wondering why their translation test looks like it was a random few paragraphs from a legal document. As the translators are waiting for a good score on their test and all the future projects, the company’s in-house editor Frankensteins the 12 pieces together into a complete document that a client has paid for.

Who gets paid? The sketchy translation agency, PM and editor. Does the client pay less? No, he pays the same for something that is most likely convoluted and in 12 different styles. To really add salt to the wound, companies will sometimes frame this with a more realistic “test” environment with a tight 2-hour deadline. That short turnaround time means of course that the company gets to charge the client a rush rate.

2. The Upcoming Project

Instead of fair compensation (i.e. money), a translator is offered the promise of future work, experience, or “exposure.” Photographers, graphic designers and other artists are common targets for this, but translators are not immune either. For freelancers, it generally sounds something like this – “We just signed a big agreement with a household name multinational, so if you do a good job on this one for free, I’ll show the boss how well you did and he’ll put you at the top of the list for this massive future project that is going to pay like a dollar per word.”

A variation of this is the promise of bucketloads of future projects, but with the stipulation that you must first purchase a particular CAT tool, glossary, or some special software so that you can handle these assignments. After you’ve made the purchase of course, they are never to be heard from again.

3. The Middleman

You get an email from a seemingly legitimate translation agency checking your availability and rate per word for a project. As you’ve never worked with them before, you Google the company, look for reviews on, etc. It all checks out, so you write back, come to an agreement on the rate/deadline and do the project for them. Once they have received your best translation, your email is blocked and of course no money ever comes.

You did not send your file to a project manager, but rather a middleman posing as a reputable company, who in turn sent it to a different translations agency and will now be paid for your work. Looking back on it later, you realize that getting the offer from a Gmail account rather than a company email domain should have been a red flag.

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