Scams and Default to Truth
If you’d walk into a major bookstore today, one of the first books you see on display will have Malcolm Gladwell’s name on it. In one of his books, Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know (2019), he introduces several concepts that certainly apply to what interpreters and translators deal with every day, which is how to make sense of strangers, their words, their actions, their expressions, and their intentions. As translators and interpreters, we have all dealt with ambiguity, whether intentional or unintentional, in one way or another. As professionals, we also often deal with the dark side of the industry, scammers with malicious intents, some of them operating on such a sophisticated level that it is difficult sometimes to be certain about intention and purpose behind an incoming message. With this in mind, one of the theories called “default to truth,” described by Gladwell in his book and developed by Tim Levine, a communications professor at the University of Alabama, may be of significance for our translation scam problem because the default to truth theory offers a real opportunity to get to the bottom of this! Knowledge about Levine’s theory may be a universal solution to effectively dealing with scams no matter what they may look like in the future
The question that arises, though, is how to know if our inner truth bias leaves us vulnerable to deception.
In a few words, Levine’s default to truth theory explains that we as humans are hard-wired to default to trusting people, messages, and situations even when intentions are not immediately clear and we already have the slight suspicion that, in fact, something might be off. But rather than doubting people’s intentions and openly opposing them, we default to perceiving them as honest and their intentions as good, sometimes with tragic results! Our brains are rightfully wired to default to truth because this is what makes society work! To function as humans, we must trust each other! Mistrust can leave us vulnerable and alone and even mislead us. Defaulting to truth allows us to go out into this world, meet people, and do the things we love to do. The question that arises, though, is how to know if our inner truth bias leaves us vulnerable to deception.
So, how long can we trust others and their messages before we should become suspicious of their motives and intentions?
When can we be sure that an inquiry for our language services is honest and not a scam? The solution lies in our awareness of our personal threshold of how many signs it takes before we reach the point where we can reasonably accept that an inquiry may be a scam. Once we accept that we could potentially be dealing with a scam, we can take action to protect ourselves and our businesses.
So, what are the signs that something may be off with an inquiry from someone unknown to you? The following signs can be red flags when one or more of them are present and there is a pattern:
- Missing email signature and contact information
- Not addressing you by your name
- Sender not knowing your language pair/not indicating a language pair
- Messages not containing any text but attachments
- Unusual requests or payment methods (often after initial contact)
- Requests coming from an email list
- Payment rate that is given in advance for no apparent reason and is way above the going market rate
- Large well-known company name, but the email is from a Gmail account or similar
- Undue urgency and rushing
- Requiring you to log into a system and pay money to get a specific job
What are the next steps?
- Rather than defaulting to the assumption that an inquiry is legit even if something feels off, take some mental notes and follow up on any suspicion you may have
- Get to know your industry’s standards and best practices (ATA best practices)
- Get to know the market rate of your segment
- Familiarize yourself with common scams (ATA or ProZ; see examples of scam messages sent to AATIA members here)
- Research the sender; it is often enough to use a search engine and enter the sender’s email in quotation marks to get some results or try this link to a website that lists translation scammers
- Also check ProZ’s Blueboard for company ratings even if you don’t have a paid ProZ account
- Check if the text offered for translation can be found online (e.g. Wikipedia) by entering one sentence in quotation marks into Google
Of course, it is not helpful to always assume the worst, but just the thought alone that maybe an incoming message could be a scam can lead us to make better choices on how to proceed with a potential client.
Finally, asking the sender of an inquiry a few questions should help to clear things up. Of course, it is not helpful to always assume the worst, but just the thought alone that maybe an incoming message could be a scam can lead us to make better choices on how to proceed with a potential client. Service agreements and job contracts are an additional tool to deal with uncertainty in an effective way and should always be utilized (ATA business practices and service agreements).