The New Age of Business Card Exchanges

Executive summary: Exchanging business cards can lead to unexpected outcomes if you are not careful. One fellow in a major Japanese company found that out recently.

Here is a demonstration that you do not need to be too smart to look like you are a smart cyberthug if you are helped by unwary people who do not guard their personal information.

This morning we received from just such a cyberthug an amusing email purporting to be an RFQ from a reputable entity, a well-known subsidiary of a huge auto manufacturer. It showed that the thug has smarts in some areas but is a bit lacking in others. But it also points out the danger of indiscriminately handing out your business card.

The signature line in the footer of the clearly spoofing email is totally correct as an actual person in a specific location of the company, which is in Aichi Prefecture.

The telephone number and the email address given in the footer were also verified as being the actual person’s telephone number and email address.

How could they do that? It is simple.

The thug got this information from somewhere, and it was in such detail that it could only have been gotten from a business card. Some people would, of course, call or email the person being spoofed and go no further when they found out that this was really a criminal emailing them. For many people, that would end the victimization before it starts. But others will click on an attachment in the email, which is the real purpose of the email.

But the cyberthug made some serious errors that clearly reveal both the inauthenticity of the email and the stupidity of the sender.

  • The cyberthug did not even change the sender’s email address from the actual address. It was not in Japan but rather an email address associated with the top domain pw of Palau, a group of islands in the West Pacific (changing the sender email address displayed in the header is a no-brainer);
  • the Japanese is laughable in too many ways to go into here; and (the clincher)
  • the time stamp is UTC +0300 (Eastern Europe and the New Russian Empire), despite the fact that it is also a no-brainer to change your system clock to spoof a “less-suspicious” time zone (Japan Standard Time would of course have been better).

After checking on their website, I called the main number of the auto manufacturer’s subsidiary and they verified that the name, telephone number, and email address in the spoofing email were correct for a person who actually works there. Upon calling that department’s number, I was not surprised to learn that they have been flooded with phone calls and the individual whose identity was being spoofed has been flooded with emails.

The takeaway for translators is that these days you need to be careful about revealing your personal information, including your email address, in public places. Your email address should not be placed on any webpages in harvestable (i.e., text rather than graphic) form. And do not disclose your normal business email address even in graphic form. Use an alias email address that can be changed if necessary if it starts collecting spam.

And, more relevant to the above-noted spoofing incident, be wary of casual exchanging of business cards. The victim of the spoofing in the above incident evidently had not been. I have heard translators gleefully reporting that they were able to hand out N business cards (where N is probably an unwise integer) to people at an event, often under the impression that they were doing sales. A bit more discretion is probably called for.

I am actually considering printing up some business cards with only a safe and disposable email alias, for handing out to potentially suspicious people. This will avoid problems such as what happened when I handed my business card one day to a fellow at the front desk of a major hotel in Osaka. The result was a deluge of daily spam from the hotel group directed to my normal business email. It took weeks of dealing with a fellow at a call center somewhere in the bowels of India to finally have the email address removed from their spamming list. A safe disposable email address on a business card for use in such situations would have avoided this problem.

An Apology and Resignation

I’m not resigning from any position, of course, other than the overly optimistic position of thinking that any but a tiny number of translators will every break away from their bonds with agencies to become first-tier providers themselves. It’s simply not in the cards.

But I do sincerely apologize to the people who came to listen to my presentation at the IJET-30 Conference in Cairns and, of course, to people who have listened to my advice over the years. I misled you. In fact, I lied.

Most Japanese-to-English translators will continue to surrender their agency to brokers—willingly or begrudgingly—and will continue to work on tier two. And almost none of them will ever work with an entity that knows anything about translation or understands what they’re asking them to translate. That reality is as clear as the nose on your face. The outlook is bleak for almost all translators. And it is getting worse. This truth is more useful than a comfortable fiction.

I have deceived colleagues and potential colleagues into thinking that it is reasonable to aspire to something better. It is not, except for a very tiny number of translators and even then only with considerable good fortune.

I am sorry if I gave the impression that breaking out of tier two was possible. It is an unreasonable hope for almost all translators.

More specifically, only a very tiny number of Japanese-to-English translators will:

  • ever have any engagement with the users of their translations,
  • ever have any engagement with purchasers of their translations who know anything about translation or understand the subject matter they are asking them to translate, or
  • ever be able to get nearly the amount of money spent by the translation consumers who purchase their translations from translation brokers.

Accordingly, I hereby resign—not from translation, of course—but from efforts to tell translators that there is something else available. For almost no translators is that “something else” within reach. Most have already resigned themselves to that situation, and some rationalize their plight. And things are not going to improve for the vast majority of Japanese-to-English translators.