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12:42pm on Saturday, 18th June, 2011:



I received an interesting email yesterday. Here it is:


I'm willing to translate page located at http://www.mud.co.uk/richard/games.htm to the Belorussian language (my mother tongue). What I'm asking for is your written permission, so you don't mind after I'll post the translation to my blog. The translation is intended only for web, no print copies planned.
Visitors of your website, who come from Minsk (Belorussia) will be the ones, who will read this blogpost, that's the only way to spread them, no additional instruments we can use. Every translation we ever do does not costs a penny for the webpage, which is translated. All we ask is to link back in whatever way you feel confident about it.

You can leave a voice message and I will call you back, if you prefer a call instead of emails. Do you prefer email or IM for contact (if any questions regarding the translation arise)? What instant messaging client (if any) do you use? AIM, MSN, Skype?
Thank you!

Alyona Sinkovich
+(360) 488-0303

It looks to me like a phishing attempt, as the web page it wants to translate is not one anyone would want to translate. The email is targeted at me personally, I guess because it's my email address at the bottom of the page, but it's automated rather than written individually (spear phishing). If they'd have chosen my Players who Suit MUDs paper then I may have replied, because that has already been translated into Russian and Chinese. Quite why the good people of Belorussia would be interested in it in large enough numbers to justify a translation into their language is another matter, of course.

I've had a look around, and there are several copies of letters from Alyona Sinkovich identical to the above except for name and web page. Surprisingly, though, some of them do appear to link to actual translations: http://mcsp.wartburg.edu/zelle/python/python-first.html is translated by Alyona Sinkovich as http://www.fatcow.com/edu/python-be/, for example. I don't know how accurate the translation is, of course; well, actually I do, because when I ran the same page through Google Translate it came up with what looks to be an identical result. So that's where the translation is coming from, then.

There are more web sites that have had the same offer of a translation into Belorussian but with a different translator's name at the end. The ones that come out top in a Google search are from Bohdan Zograf, Amanda Lynn, Patric Conrad and Galina Miklosic, but there are doubtless others — I didn't keep looking.

The question is, why would someone want to do this? The tranlsated web sites aren't hosted anywhere central, so it's not some scam to drive up links to trick Google or to lure hapless Belorussians into installing malware. Maybe they just want to trawl for email addresses that they know are live? Or get people to call some £50 a minute phone number? Or perhaps it's some academic or journalist doing some kind of unethical study to see how many people fall for this kind of email request?

Hmm, I suppose it's entirely possible that I myself fell for something similar twice when I linked to the translations of my Players who Suit MUDs paper, but if those were scams they were very elaborate ones.

Tempting though it is to reply to Alyona Sinkovich to discover what happens next, I think I'll pass...

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Copyright © 2011 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).