Posted by: patenttranslator | July 1, 2012

As good as you’ve been to this world, as good it’s gonna be right back at you

Or you meet somebody on the street
And you give him a real hard time.
It’s gonna come on home baby,
I said it’s gonna come right back home to you.
I said it’s gonna visit
you now,
Yes it is, oh yes it is ….

As good as you’ve been to this world, as good it’s gonna be right back at you

From the song “As Good As You’ve Been To This World” by Janis Joplin

A friend of mine told me in an e-mail a few days ago that he will probably lose two thousand dollars to a shady translation agency operator. I knew about this agency because I lurk on the Honyaku discussion group where several Japanese translators are in the same situation as my friend right now, and some of them stand to lose even more.

Translators sometime work for weeks, and then wait for months to be paid, and sometime the payment never arrives because although most translation agency operators are probably honest people, there are also many crooks in this industry.

The last time I lost a sizable amount of money was when I lost about 3 thousand dollars to a translation agency in Belgium which went bankrupt about 6 years ago. The agency was represented by a bankruptcy lawyer whose first name was Liliane, I don’t remember her last name, except that it was a Flemish name.

I did understand the first letter that Liliane sent me because it must have been in English or in French. After I responded to the first letter, every letter that Liliane sent to me was in Flemish to make sure that I would not be able to understand it. But in a way I did understand what she was saying in each of these letters in Flemish – she was saying that my claim was hopeless because, she, Liliane the bankruptcy lawyer would get all the money that was still left in that particular business account. So I just dropped the whole thing since pursuing my claim with Liliane the bankruptcy lawyer would be just a waste of time.

But sometime the shoe is on the other foot because once in a while, it so happens that translators are paid by mistake twice for the same job. This can easily happen in any company where several people are handling and paying invoices. It happens to me every other year or so and since I have been in business for more than 25 years, it must have happened to me about 10 times so far.

A translator who gets paid twice for the same translation basically has 3 options.

A.        Return the money because it is not yours. Just because just about everybody out there is a crook these days does not mean that you have to be one too. This will cement your relationship with the client because clients prefer to work with people who are honest.

B.         Deposit the check and let the client know about the mistake on their part later. You can offer a credit equal to the amount of the erroneous payment, or to send the amount of the overpayment back to the client because sometime a part of the money is in fact yours when several invoices are paid at the same time.

C.         Keep the money and keep quiet about it. The chances are the client will never find out. If they do, you can always say that you did not notice the discrepancy and give the money back.

I remember that the largest amount of money I returned in this manner (because it did really not belong to me) was a check in the amount of more than 4 thousand dollars. It had my name on it, but that was because somebody made a mistake in accounting at the office of a major Japanese car manufacturer in California.

Last week another client overpaid an invoice by 538 dollars (by paying twice for the same translation). I let the client know about it and offered them credit toward new translations, or to send them the money back. They chose the credit option.

Like Richard Nixon, I believe that I am not a crook. Also, fortunately I do have skills that I can sell to customers around the world, so I don’t really need to steal.

But I also think that all the three options are applicable in real life, and that option C is in some cases warranted and called for based among other things on what Janis Joplin is saying in her song.

Overpayment sometimes occurs when the client takes a very long time to pay if the accounting department is somewhat disorganized.

I believe that in these cases, some and possibly many translators will keep the second payment if they are really mad at the client.

After all, when we are late with a check that is due by a certain date, we are ALWAYS hit with a substantial penalty, and I mean ALWAYS. So one could rationalize that exercising option C above is really just applying a substantial penalty to a late payment.

Have I ever exercised option C myself? I am not saying. At least not in this post.

Have you ever done it yourself? Or do you feel that option C is not really a viable option, regardless of how angry we may be at a client who takes forever to pay?

Please feel free to share your experience here.



  1. I once got paid twice for a job ($1,000), perhaps 30 years ago. I alerted the agency to the fact, not specifying which job, however, and suggested they should review the “voucher.” I even sent a copy of mine. “They” said the money was correct, and I spent no more time trying to correct their error.


  2. But why did you not specify the job?

    It sounds like they walked right into your trap.

    Good work, Ricky!


  3. Because, I reasoned, having informed them that there was a mistake in the payment, it would be a matter of minutes to find $1,000 on their voucher twice. However, inasmuch as laziness is often a prime requirement for government employees, along with little motivation, the error was not found. Many, many years later, I realize that correcting the mistake would have involved admitting it and a complicated process to get the money back. I probably did taxpayers a favor by not instigating it.

    Yeah, I was happy to have the $$$, and the older I get, the happier I am about it.


  4. 1. “Many, many years later, I realize that correcting the mistake would have involved admitting it”

    Yes, I sometime find to my amazement that when I inform a customer that they overpaid me, they seem for some reason resentful instead of being grateful to me.

    I think the reason is that they don’t like to admit that they made a stupid mistake.

    2. Only one sort of steady customer of mine is a government agency. They have been sending me personal documents such as university diploma of people who are applying for a job with a certain government agency for translation once or twice a year for about 7 years now.

    First they send me a copy of the document to me by Federal Express for a price quote. They could save US taxpayers about dollars by e-mailing it, but why should they, right? They are not paying for it.

    Because these documents are usually only one page long, my quote is usually as follows:

    A. Translation = 100 dollars, B. my certification = 35 dollars, C. notarization = 50 dollars (I charge them 50 dollars for that, although my bank will notarize it for free for me, because I have to waste my time driving to the bank and asking them to notarize it), 50 dollars for sending the translation by Federal Express back to them because that is what they want.

    I jacked up my price a little bit, but my quote is always accepted. Apparently, there are no other bidders.

    So the government agency employee goes through the required bidding procedure and everything is by the book. But what would a private customer or translation agency cost only 135 dollars (100 dollars for my translation plus 35 dollars for my certification since private clients almost never insist on notarization when I explain to them that it is just a verification of my signature), ends up costing 285 dollars (50 dollars for Federal Express, 100 dollars for my translation, 35 dollars for my certification, 50 dollars for notarization, and another 50 dollars for Federal Express when I send the thing to them.

    On second thought, it is probably the prospective employee who pays the cost, not the government in this case. But I think it is a good illustration of how government agencies simply love to waste money every chance they get. It is a part of the culture that would be probably almost as difficult to change as the culture on Wall Street.


  5. Although I am not a translator, I do online writing work. However, with these over-payments, looks like translating is more fun, haha


  6. And all you have to do is learn a new language that is currently in demand, such as Chinese, like this girl

    who obviously does not know any French. But who needs French when you can speak Mandarin?


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