A few days ago, a potential client contacted us with a personal document that had to be translated for immigration purposes. Even though these certified and notarized translations can be quite painful and time-consuming, we accept them occasionally, especially when people need them for immigration purposes (Judy has been through that difficult process).
As usual, we asked the client, who had given her name, Lucrecia,(we made this up; not her real name) to send us the document, which she said she'd do right after she returned home. She promptly did, but as soon as we opened the document, we knew that something was off. The client claimed the letter was from a Swiss nursing home (we made this up, too, to protect the client's privacy), but it was a very unusual Word document. Official entities in the German-speaking world rarely issue official correspondence via e-mail, and when they do, it's always in the highly inconvenient PDF format. That was our first red flag. Here are the others:
- A spelling mistake (the name of the month) on the first line
- Multiple references to a person's name, but the second reference did not match the first
- No signature
- The offiicial who supposedly wrote the letter did not include his title (he's probably a doctor), which is unheard of in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. They love their titles.
- The letterhead looked unofficial, too. We did a quick web search, found the nursing home, and realized that the images had been taken directly from the website.
- We were really suspicious at this point. We checked the properties section under Word, which lets you see who authored and who edited the document. Sure enough, the document had been created the same evening -- by our potential client.
- The potential client used the name Lucrecia to identify herself on the phone, but in all e-mail correspondence, which came from a very generic address, she used the name Eulalia (we made this up, too).
We spoke with our pro bono lawyer, Judy's hubby, who was unsure about what sort of fraudulent activities were underfoot. However, he did tell us to stay away from the translation, which had been our first instinct as well. It was relatively evident to us that someone was trying to defraud someone, and we certainly don't want to be an accessory in a crime or be involved in aiding and abetting a criminal activity.We e-mailed the client back and told her, in general terms, that we did not think the letter was an original document and that we could thus not translate it. We don't every want to wrongly accuse anyone of fraud (and we did not), but we think we did the right thing here. Again, we are not sure what the potential client was trying to do, but we are glad we ran for the hills.
What would you have done, dear readers?