I am not sure if this question should be asked in the academia.SE. But, I don't have a clue either for other forums.

Today, I received an e-mail(in my academic id) from Kazakhstan saying that they would pay me USD250 per review of the research projects submitted to National Center of Science and Technology Evaluation (NCSTE) in Kazakhstan.

The e-mail reads as below:

Dear Sir/Madam,

The National Center of Science and Technology Evaluation (NCSTE) in Kazakhstan regularly organizes peer-review of research proposals from Kazakhstan’s scientific community. The center was founded in 2011 according to Decree of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

NCSTE invites you to participate in peer-reviewing process of technical and scientific projects. The payment for assessing a research proposal is $250 (USD). One expert may assess up to 10 research proposals per call. The calls are expected to be announced throughout the year.

If you are interested in cooperation and would like to be a member of our peer-review expertise, please let us know by filling in the “Form for international experts” (see in the attachment).Please, send to corporate@ncste.kz

Please note, that NCSTE expects your H-index to be 5 or above according to Scopus or Web of Science databases for a particular period 2012-2017. Links are provided below:

https://www.scopus.com/

https://webofknowledge.com/

In case your H-index is lower than 5, we still include you into our database, however won’t be able to use your service until it reaches 5.

All expenses (postage and bank transfers) will be covered by NCSTE.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

P.S.: For more information, please visit our official web site at http://www.ncste.kz/en

I am hesistant to click any link provided or to visit any link provided here because of the latest Ransomware attack (WannaCry).

For answer to my worries, I went through a forum like discussion in Cronicle page where few persons claim that it is legit.

I have the following questions:

  • Should it be legit?
  • Why will some agency pay this much money for a review of 10-15 page report?
  • For the first time I am experiencing this, how should I respond? Should I respond at all?
  • Can it be a spam or a scam? (There is a doc attachment, which I have not clicked till now.)

Disclaimer: Please avoid yourself from clicking any link here if you think it could be a s[c/p]am even from my side.

  • 10
    I wouldn't touch it with a 10 foot pole (or a 3.x meter pole). – Jon Custer Jun 1 '17 at 13:15
  • 10
    It seems that organization is a part of Kazakhstan's government. They probably are trying to gather foreign scholars to review their local grants and have a bit of money to do so. – Cape Code Jun 1 '17 at 13:33
  • 5
    On the topic: baltimorepostexaminer.com/… – Cape Code Jun 1 '17 at 13:34
  • 3
    Same reaction as @CapeCode ... the article could be legit but it doesn't mean someone wouldn't use news of this to phish. – Fred Douglis Jun 1 '17 at 19:36
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    "Why would they pay this much money?" Because the amount of time and expertise it takes to properly review a grant application makes 250 USD actually a bargain for them. – Miguel Sep 13 '17 at 1:07
up vote 24 down vote accepted

This is most likely genuine, in particular if the proposal to be reviewed fall broadly into your area.

Just check the actual web address of the links given (rather than what they say they are) and/or search the respective institutions online. I did once a similar job for the Polish science foundation.

Actually, if you click the link http://www.ncste.kz/en provided, you will learn that they are attempting to boost their science standing and one way to do that is to get international reviewers.

Don't be too paranoid about viruses, just don't do stupid things (like typing your password into some unknown/new website), or opening mail attachments of unknown origin, etc..

  • 1
    (+1) Being a computer science guy, I am handling it with care. Yes, I viewed the mail in original version, and to me it looked legit. But then, I was surprised by the offer they give i.e. 250 bucks for one review. Yes, their website looks legitimate. – Coder Jun 1 '17 at 16:58
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    $250 per review is not that much, if you work for a good fraction of a day on it, then this is fully justified (in terms of the salary of most senior scientists in the west). – Walter Jun 1 '17 at 21:25
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    @Coder Bulgarian Ministry give from 500 to 850 euros per review, Check Nature jobs – SSimon Feb 6 at 2:19

I performed 8 reviews for them back in November of 2017. While the grants were quite low quality in terms of the science, everything seemed legit in terms of the process, paperwork and contracts. While payment was promised by December 2017 I have yet to be compensated, initially it was just a constant string of excuses and delays but now stopped answering my e-mails. I will update if I ever receive payment.

UPDATE: Payment received. While it was delayed by many months, I did end up receiving full payment for my efforts.

  • 1
    Thanks for citing such a situation. Kindly update once you receive the payment. – Coder Mar 13 at 17:28

Well, the telltale sign of a scam is when payment time comes. There are basically four possibilities:

  1. no payment: you have been scammed into doing a service gratis. However, the service you are doing here is unlikely to be useful for scammers.
  2. payment "forthcoming" once you forward some processing fee/administrative fee that is small in comparison to the expected payment. Of course you never here anything once you pay. "small in comparison to the expected payment": the expected payment appears too small to make this scam worthwhile for this case.
  3. You'll get the agreed fee.
  4. You'll be paid quite more than you are supposed to receive, some flimsy excuse is given for that and are asked to move the excess payment back or onward to other reviewers. This is money laundering or fraud, depending on whether the owner of the original account is aware of the payment happening. In the former case, the police will eventually catch up with you. In the latter case, the money paid to your account will get retracted eventually and the money you "handed on" is gone irretrievably out of your own pockets.

So the real danger is case 4): if anything like that happens, notify the authorities and refuse to handle any money outside of your own pay.

Outside of that specific scenario, there does not seem much of a point in using this basic setup with the mentioned sums for fraud.

It is plausible that it is genuine. However, it is also plausible that, even if it is genuine, the information security there is lax. In particular, do not give them your bank account or routing number for "electronic transfer". If you want to do the work for free, just say so. If you do want the fee, (try to) insist on having a paper/physical check mailed to you, rather than electronic transfer. Even then, if they send you a check, it may take forever to clear, or bounce... eventually... and you pay a fee and get no money.

I've done a few of these referee jobs for far-away places, just to be a good sport, and attempting to decline payment. In one or two cases, they did send me a physical/paper check anyway, and it did clear. I absolutely did not give out any personal info in the process! Again, no bank account, no social security number, no date-of-birth. The risk is not worth it.

TL;DR: it is quite possible that this is legitimate, but it just may be a well-disguised scam. Apply your usual cautionary procedures.

I have reviewed for internationally less visible research councils before; there may be some reasons why they invite international reviewers - for instance, some ambitious science minister wants to raise the scientific profile and quality of the research and thus invites well-known and -respected scientists to the panel to improve decision quality and visibility.

Without prejudicing your further investigations, there is a possibility that this is legit. Depending how the expense is paid (per report or in total) you would not have to read just a single 10-15 page report, but 10 of them; that can be tiresome (although some comments say payment may be per report, which would, in turn be very generous). It still might be legitimate to pay for that, and some research councils pay a compensation for reviews. Are you well suited for reviewing the call? That would indicate that they did some research and they are well informed.

Still, it might be a spearfishing attack, so tread with care.

  • If he would be well suited and they did some research, they would address him by name and even title. The "dear sir/madam" makes it look more like a scam or at least like people desperately looking for reviewers and simply contacting everybody, suited or not. – Dirk Liebhold Jun 1 '17 at 13:26
  • I read it as 250 per proposal and you can "earn" up to 2500. – StrongBad Jun 1 '17 at 13:33
  • 1
    @StrongBad If that is the case, it is very generous. Still, they may try to get some visibility. The more prestigious the research council is, the less they (need to) pay :-) – Captain Emacs Jun 1 '17 at 13:34
  • @CaptainEmacs I agree. Consider them getting 100 proposals from the whole conuntry. Each proposal will have 2 reviewers. Each total amount of money to be paid 250 x 2 x 100 = 50000 USD. (all in lower bound). That is huge. (as per Google: equivalent is 15636500.00 Kazakhstani Tenge) – Coder Jun 1 '17 at 17:00
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    @Coder 50k is chump change in a government budget, even in Kazakhstan, if someone has decided they want this to happen. It costs the NSF roughly 2k to have someone attend a panel, and the panels I have been on have had 3 proposals per reviewer, so about $700 or so per proposal reviewed. That's a much more thorough process than this would get you, but I think you see my point. – Ben Webster Jun 2 '17 at 1:16

I have already reviewed 4 projects for them and send them everything by November 2017, but they didn't pay me yet. I am an associate professor and they found me with similar way as you described earlier.

I will respond in general terms.

  1. Check the quality of the English. The worse it is, the higher the likelihood that it's bogus. Here, I saw one weird sentence: "If you are interested in cooperation" -- not too bad, could be legit.

  2. Try responding to the email but without your signature, or with a throwaway account. The response you get will probably be more illuminating than the first, unsolicited one.

  3. And, obviously, try googling them. When I come across something suspicious, it is sometimes helpful to type the normal search words that you would normally use, and then type "scam" as well. Or "complaint".

You can set yourself up to receive payments via PayPal without divulging personal information. However, it is best to link PayPal to a separate bank account than the one you normally use. Once in a blue moon PayPal freezes the bank account, sometimes due to a misunderstanding; and then you can't get any funds out of it.

Alternatively, although I haven't tried this, you can create an account at a freelancers' website, and then the payment would go through that organization.

Simply look at the domain where the email came from. Go to their official website then to check. Don't respond if it is from other than official domain. I don't trust emails from yahoo, Hotmail, gmail etc. Recently I did review a grant application from a middle eastern university and I got paid USD500 already. That one was also came suddenly by email but from the university's domain. So there is nothing to worry about. Many times we don't understand what is fake and what is genuine which is very simple. Do one application first and see whether they pay or not. If not, don't do again. Ask your payment by a check if you don't want to give your bank details. At the end of the day you are not loosing anything except some of your valuable time. Good luck.

  • Thanks for the answer. Nice to see that you have already experienced the peer review and got paid. – Coder Sep 12 '17 at 20:39

I sent my evaluations at the end of August the required documentation for the payment, but I am still waiting a reply from that email. No reply, no payment. I I sent many e-mails to Mr. Dusmanbetov and info@ncste.kz lot of times. More than eight months without an answer. This is not serious.

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