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Phonies Impersonate Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Customers


Small Businesses Beware: BBB Reports Rampant Abuse of Phone-Relay System

Anchorage, Alaska – Oct. 27, 2009 – Con artists are taking a particular phone scam to a new level, attempting to scam restaurants, auto-repair shops and more. Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon, and Western Washington has received numerous reports in recent months about con artists misusing Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) to place fraudulent orders and scam businesses over the telephone.

Using this technology—intended to assist the deaf and those with trouble hearing or speaking—the scammer uses an operator to relay typed messages to the called party, in this case the business.

Through the relay service, the scam artist calls requesting to use the business' services, but alleges that the delivery company they use won't take credit cards; and as a favor, the caller requests that the business wire money to the shipper and add the funds to their total order cost, which will be charged to the "customer" or scammer's credit card. In this scheme, the wired money goes to the con artist and the charges end up on a stolen credit card.

If contacted by a relay operator, here are tips to identify a phone system scammer:

  • Be wary if the caller is not willing to provide basic information. Request their full name, address and phone number. Take notes during the conversation and write down any particulars that sound suspicious.

  • Before doing business, confirm with the bank that the cardholder's information matches. Ask the caller to disclose pertinent details, such as the credit card's three or four-digit card verification code. Also, inquire about the issuing bank and its toll-free customer service number. This data should be printed on the back of all credit cards.

  • Deny all requests to wire or forward money, period. Always be extremely wary of complicated instructions which involve paying or transferring funds to third parties.

If you suspect a call is fraudulent, report it to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov; or if it is a suspicious order or service request via e-mail, file a complaint at www.ic3.gov. Report abuse of the TRS system to the Federal Communications Commission by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) voice or 1-888-TELL- FCC (1-888-835-5322) TTY.

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