In case you do not know, Ip Relay is the telephone service intended for those who are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech disabled. IP Relay is a telephone available through the computer, as opposed to the traditional TTY/TDD that they have used for many years. They go to a website like, http://www.ip-relay.com
, and connect to an operator who then becomes a "human telephone wire" for the remainder of the phone conversation. This is how it works: The deaf person will type their message out on the computer screen, the operator will then relay the words verbatim to the hearing person. Then the operator will type the hearing person's response for the deaf person to read.
There are no long distance fees involved for either party on the line, all they need is an internet connection, and the phone services are at their disposal. The key to Relay for the deaf is being able to use the phone just like a hearing person would, with complete anonymity. The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Federal Communications Commission call this "functional equivalence" for the deaf. It enables the deaf folks to have the same telephone services that hearing people have.
While the advance fee fraud is not new, the scammers are finding new ways of contacting their victims, and we as operators are stuck in the middle. It's a genuine moral and ethical vs legal dilemma . . . do we do what is right and warn the victims, or do we "just do our job" according to the ADA and the FCC mandates?
Anyone can connect to IP Relay from anywhere in the world as long as they have an internet connection. Since the inception of IP Relay, The advance fee fraud scammers have been hard at work using this service to defraud all types of people and businesses by pretending to be deaf. One big reason why this is popular with the scammers is that it allows them to make international calls for free and they have an "American Accented" voice speaking for them. It also gives the caller the impression that their caller (the con artist) is deaf, which evokes a type of sympathy for the caller right off the bat.
Here's how the 'typical' fraud call works: The scammer will call businesses, people with advertisements in online newspapers, or people who are selling things online. When they call a business, they order huge quantities of merchandise over the phone, and use fraudulently obtained or illegally manufactured credit card numbers to pay for their "purchases". Examples of this are the following:
Scammers calling a home furnishing business and ordering $10,000 worth of floor tiles. Also, calling people who have a classified ad on the internet for just about anything. One disturbing trend is the scammers trying to purchase puppies. They will order a puppy, and "overpay" the victim with a phony cashiers check, and have the victim send them the balance.
One critical part of the scam is needing an address for their packages to be shipped inside the US. The way they find these US addresses is an entirely different scam altogether. They find these people in a great number of ways. They have people inside the US who are either voluntarily helping them by "reshipping" the merchandise to Nigeria, in exchange for keeping some of the stolen goods. Or they use websites like Careerbuilder.com and put Help Wanted ads for "Re-shippers". These people believe that this is a legitimate part time job for some obscure company. The job doesn't last long, because for the most part, the person doing the reshipping is paid using a fake cashiers check, which initially clears the bank, but eventually the bank finds out that it's fraudulent, and the person is out that money, and often times will need to repay the money to their bank.
Many, many times they will swarm dating websites, and con their love matches into believing that they would be helping them get things they need for their family if they will "reship" this merchandise for them. It's a HUGE problem. With the businesses, once the "purchase" has been made, often after using multiple credit card numbers until one finally goes through, the retailer or private party sends out the package very quickly, at the scammers request. Several days later the person who shipped the package will be notified by the credit card company that it was a stolen credit card. The shipper is then out the merchandise and the money.
This problem has become so widespread that operators can, and often are, spending 80 to 90 percent of their day making calls for the scammers while legitimate users sit in "queue" waiting for an operator who is tied up with a scammer making call after call scamming businesses. The operators have no option but to allow the call to go through due to the mandates set out by the FCC and the Americans With Disabilities Act. The FCC has been very clear. The government pays these relay companies a minimum of $1.30 a minute for each relay call, no matter the content, so it's very profitable for the companies to keep the scam calls coming in!
The operator cannot make any judgment about the legitimacy/legality of any call for any reason. In short, the operators have to put any call through no matter what. The end result here is that the fraud has caused many businesses to stop accepting relay calls altogether.
Some deaf people have a very hard time purchasing things over the phone. This problem needs exposure. The operator's hands are tied because warning a victim, or somehow attempting to stop the fraud during the call will result in immediate termination from the job and the threat of being sued by the relay company they work for.
There is so very little information out there for people who have been scammed and for people who might be next in line. I feel that it's imperative that the general public learn about this problem. I can think of no better way than to contact the media. I am available at any time to tell my experiences as an operator. I also have many operator friends who would participate in any interviews. You can contact me at the following email address:
operatorhere AT yahoo.com.
I am a moderator at a forum for issues on the abuse of relay. There are many
operators there who all have the same stories. You can browse the site if you'd like. The web address is: