Things must be getting desperate in the translation business, I thought, as the fourth spam about bridging different languages landed in my inbox.

I've had a few of those before, and ignored them. The spam usually arrives with a curriculum vitae for the translator in question, as a PDF attachment. Opening attachments from unknown internet people is a no-no, as they're usually laden with malware. I never looked at the CVs, in other words.

As it happens, the translator spam is a scam that's been going on for a while and which is facilitated by cheap the cheap distribution and enormous scale the internet offers.

It appears scammers locate bona fide translators, and simply steal their CVs. Then they edit them and add their contact details, and start spamming for translation work, or respond to online job offers.


Using a virtual machine as a sacrificial lamb in case the attachments were spiked with malware, I looked at a few CVs. They seem real enough, down to the cheesy layouts and fonts from various word processor templates.

Sometimes the names of the actual translators are changed, other times not.

Ironically enough, the scammers use services such as Google Translate if they're assigned work. Google Translate is a fun and very helpful tool but not really useful if you don't have at least a working knowledge of the language that's being translated.

I know this, because I've offended and amused people through Google Translate interpretations of phrases in languages I don't speak well often enough.

You can imagine the rest: a terrible machine translation is the result, or the scammers use some el-cheapo people who are unable to do a good job.

Clients are billed via Paypal and if they complain about the quality of the work, the scammers get nasty and threaten clients with debt collection, and all manners of things.

If the scammers have used the name of a real, professional translator ... well, I feel sorry for that person whose reputation will be hurt.

The scam is outlined on the Translator Scammers Directory which uses an almost unreadable layout and uses an anonymous domain registration unfortunately.

If the Translator Scammers Directory is correct, the scam has been going for a few years now, with thousands of bogus translator identities being revealed each year.

You could argue that the bogus translator clients have themselves to blame for breaking one of the golden, immutable rules on the internet: Do not buy anything from spammers, ever.

If you buy anything from spammers, you're are guaranteed to get ripped off.

Not only that, you're encouraging the spammers to continue their business. Sadly, there will always be a small amount of people who don't understand this and buy from spammers.

And, if you send out millions of emails a day, even a response rate in the fractions of a per cent will make the endeavour worthwhile, because spamming is cheap.

More importantly, the translator scam once again shows just how dangerous it is to provide almost any amount of information online.

The whole thing comes about because while an open internet that reaches everywhere is extremely valuable to us, there are few protections to stop that openness from being abused.

For now, I'd suggest that if you offer any type of services via the internet (that is, not via spamming), make sure potential clients have a way to verify you. If someone steals or tries to take your identity, ensure your real site carries a warning about this.

Oh, and be careful with CVs. Make sure the ones you send out are unique and traceable for each potential client, and don't post any CVs online.