The Book Translation & Editing Scam Exposed!

Posted by Tim Johnson

Sad woman stares at laptop screen after realisation she has been scammed

We have first-hand knowledge about this cruel deception, and now know enough to be extremely concerned that this despicable crime may affect many thousands of people across the world. Our aim is to increase awareness globally, so please feel free to share this post with as many of your friends and colleagues as possible.

Join us now as we delve into the underbelly of this multi-faceted fraud, exposing its sinister workings to ensure you are armed with enough knowledge to protect yourself, your family, friends, and colleagues.

In this article:

What is the Book Translation Scam and Who does it Affect?

How does it Work?

The Scam's Anatomy: Deciphering the Signs

The Psychology Behind the Scam

What’s in it for the Scammers?

How to Report Scammers and Fraudulent Websites

How did Obooko Uncover the Scam?


What is the Book Translation Scam and Who does it Affect?

As the name suggests, there are two components, the first involves books, e-books to be precise. But not exclusively: we are aware that the fraud extends to include manuscripts, research papers, theses, and articles. In any event, the translation work and final output is digital.

The second component is associated with people. Potential targets include professional translators, language teachers, graduates, students across the world. In fact, anyone who can read and write bilingually and has basic admin skills is a potential target and victim. Age and gender are irrelevant: we have been asked for help by women and men of all ages. Your skills and qualifications are what attract the fraudsters.


How does it Work?

The scam relies on deception. The perpetrators create an illusion of credibility to gain the confidence of the translator. By using various means, including attractive, professional-looking websites, with photos of their seemingly genuine team of named executives, the potential victim can be lulled into a false sense of confidence and security. 

Once contact has been made, manipulation begins, and the target becomes a victim. Communication is initiated by what appears to be a genuine business executive, who promises lucrative remuneration, usually £3000 to translate a book, which may be a complete book of perhaps 30,000 words, or simply a few chapters. Inexperienced translators will find this very attractive. Whatever the task, there will also be a degree of urgency: the translation must be completed by a given date, which in many instances is an unrealistic deadline.

You have probably guessed what’s coming. Yes, the translator does all the work but does not get paid. In this scam however, it gets worse. After dedicating countless hours to the project, the translator ends up PAYING THE SCAMMERS!

Find out more as we dissect the scam step-by-step and suggest ways to protect yourself.

The Scam's Anatomy: Deciphering the Signs

Screenshot of genuine website account message from scammerThe fraud unfolds after the potential victim registers for an account on a website. We are most vulnerable when signing up on sites where other users can message us. While there are many different types and styles of site used by the scammers, those brought to our attention are popular  freelancer sites and tutor/student websites, where you would set up an account to offer your language and admin skills. While these these sites may operate legitimately, the way they are structured renders them vulnerable to fraudulent activity.

WARNING! If you intend to register as a translator, make sure the site is secure (https) and has a support department in case you need to report a problem. We also recommend researching the site’s credibility before making a commitment. Simply enter a query into google, something like: “is ……com safe?”, or is “……com a scam?” Also check out the trust scores on popular review sites, like Trustpilot

The deception begins when you receive an unsolicited message from a user, who has viewed your recently posted profile, which includes your specific skills and qualifications.

As you can see from this screenshot taken from a real website account, the victim is asked to contact the user via a messaging platform, in this case, Telegram. The fraudsters may use social media tags like @generalmanager @manager @globalmanager suffixed by a number as in this one commonly used in the scam: @globalmanager96.

WARNING! If you are asked to work outside a business environment, you are exposing yourself to fraud and will have no safeguards in place if anything goes wrong. You’ll have no idea who you are dealing with. A username means nothing, a title means nothing: in reality, you could be dealing with a 13-year-old using a phone from their bedroom in Africa, India, Russia, or any other country. You get the picture. Messaging platforms are no place to conduct any type of business. Anyone can set up an account on Telegram. As you can see in the screenshots below, this scammer has a blue tick, which means they have “verified user” status. You may draw your own conclusions! The Internet is a dangerous place. Think the worst first!

Once on Telegram (or similar platform) the deception and manipulation will continue. You will be made an attractive offer, which as mentioned earlier, will be around the £3000 mark. The figure may be in US Dollars or the currency of your country.

The task will be to translate a book from English to Italian, French, Filipino, Arabic, Spanish, Greek, Turkish, etc. Or, vice versa, from any language into English. However, please be aware that you may be asked to work on an unrelated writing job. We have evidence of fraudsters asking for help with tasks other than translations to be completed, for instance, one victim was given a book in English and asked to completely rewrite it in their own style ... in English. Another victim was asked to retype a PDF book into Microsoft Word (which is ridiculous because there are many online conversion tools that can do this free of charge).

Back to the translation scam: you will be sent a PDF or Word file to work from. The Word file is probably one a previous victim has produced, as mentioned above. The PDF however will be frem a free ebook download site like Obooko and used, without permission, for fraudulent purposes. In recent cases the scammers have used copyright-protected books written by Peter C Byrnes, a prolific and popular author, who has over 60 free detective books on the Obooko website. In this instance, his book, Old habits Die Hard, was used for the scam. Another of our popular books used in the fraudster’s ruse is 1984 by George Orwell

Each of the following images, kindly provided by a victim, is a genuine screenshot of a conversation on Telegram. Note the integral screenshots taken from the external fake payment/banking portal.


First set of three genuine Telegram screenshots

Second set of three genuine Telegram screenshots

Third set of three genuine Telegram screenshots


WARNING! To avoid being complicit in a criminal offence, never translate books protected by Copyright unless you have WRITTEN permission from the author or publisher to do so. Don’t believe anyone who tells you they are acting on behalf of the author or publisher. They are lying.

If you ever find yourself in this situation, read the title page of the book, where you will find the name of the author and publisher, along with a copyright statement and license. If you are asked to make any changes to a book you must first verify the name of the person you are dealing with by contacting the author and/or the publisher direct to ascertain if the transaction is legitimate. Should a title page not be present, decline the job. If you are not dealing directly with the author or publisher, you are dealing with a crook. Period.

You probably realize now that the translation, or any other requested task, is merely a ploy. Your work is never going to be used legitimately.

Quick recap. They have offered you lots of money. They have explained what you must do to get this money. They have sent you a copy of a digital book to work from. 

So, you crack on and do the work. Many hours of it in most cases. You have checked and rechecked it, and it’s ready for them to review. Amazingly, they accept your work without hesitation, without question, without revisions. How easy was that? You are delighted when they ask you to head over to their “payment portal” to collect your hard-earned £3000! 

You are having a fantastic day! All that is required now is to sign up for an account at the payment portal, which is a slick-looking financial services website with lots of photos of smiling professional executives and a logo that suggests it’s part of a bank. Can it get any better?


Screenshot of fake banking/payment website used by scammers

Screenshot taken of the fake internet banking site and payment platform, which proves the lengths the fraudsters go to maintain their false portrayal of professionalism.


You sign up and wow! There’s the balance displayed in your account: £3000!

You click the “Wire Transfer” button and … uh oh … you are confronted with a red alert box stating the transfer has failed and that you should click the “Contact” button.

Now you are in the website’s internal chat system and start typing. You receive a reply (is it from a real person, or an AI chatbot, it’s hard to tell)! You explain the situation and are told you can’t withdraw the full payment until your account is activated. All you need to do is pay £100 to activate, and you will receive your payment. 

This is the lightbulb moment!

Will you become a victim or a survivor? Do you pay or walk away?

Fact: you will never be paid. The fraudsters make their money from the account activation fee.

NEVER pay anyone in order to receive money owed to you for work done.  


The Psychology Behind the Scam

It’s easy to imagine that only foolish people will be deceived in this way. The truth however is that most of us are at risk. Falling victim to a scam like this depends on our circumstances and mental state. How we are feeling at the time can adversely affect our critical thinking and levels of trust, agreeableness, and risk aversion.

The current global economic crisis means costs are increasing dramatically for all of us. We are all feeling the pinch, some more than others. Because of this, any (what we perceive to be legitimate) opportunity to increase our income is welcome.

Financial desperation, naivety, and lack of awareness as to how scams work can leave anyone vulnerable. In the translation scam we can clearly see five psychological triggers that put you at risk:

Illustration of two women holding an oversize dollar bill1. Flattery. They have contacted ME! I didn’t contact them. Why did they choose me? They could have selected someone with better qualifications and skills. Perhaps one of my friends recommended me? You can’t contain your excitement! You’ll start using your imagination to conjure up possible scenarios, which in turn induces a false sense of reassurance. You don't want to miss the opportunity, so want to learn more.

2. Money. Just like a fish, they will lure you in with a chunky piece of bait to create the necessary level of desire, which simultaneously lowers your ability to process things rationally. The scammers will have tested different amounts and concluded that £3000 is the “sweet spot”; the tastiest figure to ensure you bite and stay on the hook as they reel you in.

3.Urgency!  They need it doing quickly. They must have the job competed for their client by a certain date. Combined with a natural human desire to help, this not-so-subtle tactic is designed to encourage you make quicker but poorer decisions.

4. Blindness. This is bewildering. Each of the victims saw the title page of the book, which clearly displays the author’s name and copyright notice, along with the publisher’s name, contact details and usage license. It is hard to believe they did not contact either party to check the validity of the transaction before proceeding. The victims are intelligent people, so we must conclude that Inattentional Blindness is another psychological facet of this scam.

5. Unexpected fee. This is an unforeseen (but planned) technical issue that appears just as your cash is within touching distance. It makes you anxious, worried, and confused. You begin to create psychological blind spots: you are almost there; perhaps you missed the part where they mentioned the fee; maybe they will return it with the final payment; it’s such a small amount in comparison to the payment offered. In this state of mind, you continue to disregard the risk cues and it becomes easier to persuade yourself to pay.

A lot of research has been conducted on the subject, including this piece on Scam Compliance by the National Library of Medicine.   

What’s in it for the Scammers?

This is the current variation of the scam, no doubt it will evolve, especially if the fraudsters read this article. The basic concept will probably be the same and will repeat until enough people become aware. 

The fraudsters are very happy to continue because it’s a money-making machine. To illustrate how lucrative the scam could be for the fraudsters, there are 3.3 billion bilingual people in the world, if we imagine just a third are skilled enough to translate a work of fiction, the market for the fraudsters is huge. It’s worth their investment in flashy websites and time spent deceiving potential victims.

Let’s do a bit of math with the £100 activation fee (or whatever it may be called in future scams). Should they manage to defraud 500 global victims each month, that’s £600,000 annually. If they manage to part 500 people from their cash each week, the gross figure will be £2,600,000 per year!


How to Report Scammers and Fraudulent Websites

TELEGRAM: head over to this article, which includes a useful video and screenshots.

USA: report any fraud or scam to the Internet Crime Complaint Center

UK: report any fraud or scam to Police Action Fraud 

If your country is not listed here, enter “report scam” or “report fraud” into a search engine to locate the relevant authority.


How did Obooko Uncover the Scam?

We found out about the scam from victims, each of whom had direct experience of the deception and contacted us for help (our contact details were always there to be found in the title page of the books they had been asked to work from!) We naturally asked a lot of questions. As you will see from the transcripts and screenshots of Telegram conversations, the answers we received were shocking.

Here are three of many genuine email transcripts we received from disgruntled translators:

1. Long story short, I was hired by a verified user on telegram to translate Old habits Die Hard by Peter C Byrnes from english to filipino, if you want all the details I need you to contact me to report this issue. I've already translated the task chapter, the payment was done through this site Then they sent the money to me and when I asked the bank why I can't transfer my funds to my bank account, they said that my account needed to be activated so that I could get the money, It was a redflag to me because I have to pay 100 GBP to activate my account. Please help me to report this type of scam. They're using this platform and this piece to make a scam.

2. I am a B.A. English graduate and job seeker. A representative from reached out to me and asked me if I would copy-edit a novella into British English, from your website, 'Old Habits Die Hard' by Peter C. Byrnes. Ms. Liz Houtz said it was for an urgent deadline and that I would be paid £3000 for the finished work. Having researched and found that the author does not receive any money for uploading his books to your site I now suspect they are scammers, can you possibly confirm my instinct is correct? 

3. Hi, I would like to ask if 1984 book is being translated? I'm not sure if it is a scam and someone is using your book. I was offered to translate 1984 to my native language in Filipino. And I just want to make sure if it's legit or not. Thank you and God bless!

Note: by the time you read this, the websites referred to should hopefully been taken down by relevant authorities.


1984 and Old Habits Die Hard book coversBook: 1984 by George Orwell Book: Old Habits Die Hard by Peter C ByrnesWhat incensed us more, is the fact that the fraudsters are using copyright-protected books, downloaded from our site, in this case, Old habits Die Hard by detective fiction writer, Peter C Byrnes. While this book is available free of charge exclusively from our website, it remains fully protected by copyright law. Translating the book is a criminal offence because it creates what is known as a 'derivative work', which without the written permission of the author, infringes upon their intellectual property rights. We knew then that we were about to uncover a nefarious landscape fraught with copyright infringement, and many other fraudulent activities.

Another of our books that has been used in the fraudster’s ruse is 1984 by George Orwell. Again, while this is edition is free to download from Obooko (we've recently redesigned the cover) it is protected by Copryright.

Stay vigilant, stay safe, and don't forget to share this post wherever you can.


Screenshots displayed with written permission. Brand names and urls have been used fairly and in good faith. Royalty free image credits: Drazen Zigik and Pch vector at Freepik.