Posted by: patenttranslator | July 14, 2010

Scams, Scams and More Scams

Scams, Scams and More Scams!

The whole world seems to be awash in lies and scams these days. Oh, tempora, oh mores!

Every day I have to delete from my e-mail offers of lottery prizes that I won to the tune of millions of Euros and offers to have millions of dollars transferred to me by Mr. or Mrs. so and so from Africa, England, Iraq and other places to my account. My fax spits out vouchers for very inexpensive deluxe trips to the Bahamas, Mexico and other exotic places. Who said that the healthcare insurance system in United States is a shambles – I can purchase a comprehensive healthcare policy for a whole family for 99 dollars according to a fax that I just picked up from my fax machine. I am one of those old timers who still has a dedicated fax line and most of the time my fax spits out only scams like this. The healthcare policy offered on these faxes must be an even bigger scam than the policies that most people have – they work just fine until you get sick. The fax has a removal number that you can call to be removed from the list within 24 hours. I called the number three times. I was assured by an answering machine each time that my number was deleted. But the faxes keep coming, about 4 or 5 times a week. Oh, well, at least I know my fax is still working. When I Googled the removal number, I found several websites where people complain about scammers, including this website. I guess I am lucky that I only receive a few faxes a week from these scammers. I know a translator who no longer uses his fax number because he was receiving too many junk faxes.

I remember that in the nineties I used to receive faxes on officially looking stationary that were allegedly sent from government officials in Nigeria who could not wait to part with a few million dollars and send them to my account. It is much cheaper and much more efficient to run scams like this by using Internet to send e-mails to millions of people, of course. Although only a total moron would fall for this kind of a transparent scam, there seems to be an endless supply of total morons.

Some scams are more sophisticated. I have been offered at least twenty times “free listing in my local Internet Yellow Pages” or “free Google 411 listing”, whatever that is, if I confirm information that the people who were offering it already had about my business. I was called with this offer from different long distance telephone numbers by different guys and girls, some sounding very foreign, some with hardly any accent at all. Since they keep changing the number, I have to answer the damn phone because it could be a customer. I told them that I know that this is a scam and that I have notified relevant government agencies about it (I have not, it would be probably a waste of time). They keep calling anyway. I am not sure what this particular scam is about: Are they collecting information for more spams and scams, or are they trying to steal people’s identity? I tried to Google the telephone numbers but there is no information on them yet as they keep changing them. I think I will keep updating this post with new numbers if the scammers keep calling.

A somewhat more sophisticated scam is targeting professionals such as translators, accountants and lawyers with offers of well paid work, for example as described here. The scam uses an old trick which is based on the fact that checks issued abroad take several weeks to clear although they will show as deposited to your account in just a few days. The scammer offers to pay in advance, overpays by sending a check that looks very legitimate and then asks to have the amount of the overpayment returned. Because most of my customers are law firms, the scammers think that I am also a lawyer so that in addition to phony offers of “translating and interpreting work”, I am also asked to handle divorce cases of wives of rich people in various countries eager to take their American husband for all he’s worth and other legal matters several times a week. Are there really divorce lawyers stupid enough to fall for this trick?

I wonder whether these scams are a sign of declining values in our civilization, or whether they have been always with us and are more clearly visible now only because communication is now much easier and instantaneous. Personally, I think that things are getting worse.

The only scam I fell for so far was when somebody called me about 8 years ago from Washington DC and asked me to translate a long Japanese patent. I don’t quite remember the name of the translation agency (I think the name of the agency was “International Linguist”), or the name of the guy who called, but I do remember that it was a Spanish name and the guy spoke English with hardly any foreign accent. He offered to pay me 50% of my fee in advance since I did not know anything about him. I accepted, deposited the check and delivered the translation. I never received the rest of the money (I remember that the total cost was 1,400 dollars, but I only received 700 dollars). Later I talked to another translator who told me that she was cheated out of half of the money due to her for her translation exactly in the same manner by the same guy. So this is his modus operandi. Apparently, after a while he moves to a different place and gets a new phone number.

It does not make sense to me. It would seem to me that it would be much easier to run business in an honest manner, but what do I know. If I am contacted by an individual who is unknown to me, I always ask for payment upfront these days. A few months ago I was asked to translate a Japanese patent about an interesting fashion accessory by the inventor of a fashion accessory similar to the one described in the Japanese patent. I asked her to pay in advance – it was 560 dollars, I think, by clicking on the PayPal icon on my website. She said that she lost her purse with her credit cards just a few days ago and offered instead to send a check to me in advance by Federal Express. So I said OK, deposited the check and sent her my translation. Only then did I realize that the check was written on Washington Mutual, a bank that went bankrupt and was liquidated some time ago.

Occam’s razor says that if a story is too complicated, the simplest variant is usually the truth, and a scam seemed like the simplest variant. I was waiting for a call from my bank informing me that the check bounced. But the call never came. Washington Mutual was bought by Wells Fargo and checks written on Washington Mutual Bank are honored by Wells Fargo Bank.

So I did not get scammed that time and lived to fight another day.

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