June 2004, updated June 2007Two scams involving the Deaf Relay telephone service for deaf people.
Ever heard of Relay?It's what the Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Speech Disabled use to speak to the hearing community. A person with a text telephone or more recently, an internet connection can call a Relay Service and the operator dials the number for them and relays the text conversation to the hearing person and types back to the deaf person what the hearing person says. Unfortunately hundreds of people from West Africa have found a reason to abuse this free service that telephone companies provide to the deaf community that your tax dollars pay for, scamming American and Canadian businesses and consumers out of thousands of dollars with each call. Here's how it goes.
Business Owners:A person from West Africa, usually Ghana, Nigeria, or Accra, calls a U.S. or Canadian business via one of the online Relay Services and requests to place an order from anything ranging from multiple pairs of soccer, athletic or hiking shoes, laptop computers and other small electronics, and airline tickets (usually from Accra to Europe). They provide a credit card number(s) and usually the name and address of the credit card holder, but usually request that the merchandise be shipped to Africa or an alternate U.S. address. They often claim to be a reverend of a church, a business owner, or other respected community member. With the airline tickets they want immediate delivery via an email address (usually a yahoo account) so nothing has to be picked up at the airport.
[Scam-o-readers are probably familiar with the basic "I want to buy your car for way more imaginary money than you're asking" scam, but wait, there's more.]
The credit card information is always stolen and often doesn't go through. When this happens they often have an alternate credit card to use or even give you multiple credit cards to use with the purchase. If you ask for the CV number on the back of the card they either can't provide it or they provide a made up one because they don't have the card. They often ask that it be shipped immediately, as it is urgently needed, and they sometimes provide a stolen UPS shipping account number. They will beg for an email address to continue contact, provide one of their own (almost always a yahoo adddress) and call back and email repeatedly asking about the status of the order and the shipping tracking number etc. If you are gullible enough to fall for this scam then the product may ship before the credit card company, holder of the card or you catch on and/or denial of the charge by the credit card company is returned. You're then out a few thousand dollars worth of merchandise. Some small business owners have actually caught it in time and contacted UPS and had the item(s) tracked, shipping froze and returned to them. Quick thinking on their part, and thank goodness they kept the tracking number.
As small business owners smarten up to this one, the Africans wise up and try new methods. They befriend people in the U.S. usually over chat and claim they will pay them to forward items shipped to them. This gives them a U.S. address to have the item shipped to, dimming any suspicion business owners may have. It also involves this person in Credit Card fraud. They often get your phone number and call you incessantly about the orders they ve placed with stolen credit card information and hurry you to ship items to them as soon as they arrive. When the police come knocking on your door, you face criminal charges for receiving stolen property and possibly credit card fraud and the merchandise is long gone. I have been unable to find out what agency is responsible for overseas fraud in this fashion. When I talked to the FBI they seemed disinterested.
The down side to all of this... it is causing business owners to refuse ALL calls from relay services. So when an honest deaf consumer calls to place an order the business refuses the call. The deaf consumer thinks its discrimination. Actually it is a frustrated merchant trying to prevent loss Blame the bigger businesses, like AT&T, Sprint and MCI who are fully aware of this scam and fail to block calls over their IP RELAY services from Africa to the U.S. and Canada because every minute these callers are connected the Phone Company gets a government payout, courtesy of us taxpayers. They are more concerned with lining their pockets than the results to the deaf community permitting these calls will eventually have.
[Scam-o-note: we don't know about this, but it's interesting stuff!
Someone from Africa calls you via Relay and inquires about a car you have for sale in a local newspaper. If the car is say 3000 dollars the person asks for your Routing Number and Checking Account number to wire you the money. If you give it to him you can kiss any money you have goodbye. It will be wired out of your account. Another option is they ask for your address to send you a check for the amount of the car plus 2000 dollars for the cost of shipping the car to them. The remaining 2000 is to be removed from your account by you as soon as the check is deposited and forwarded to their "shipping agent" and then he will pick up the car. The person in the States who receives this money and drives your car away ends up with 5000 dollars profit. Two thousand cash and a 3000 dollar car. Though sometimes they will just take the money and run. Other times it is the unfortunate person who has met the scammer on chat who receives the money and then forwards it to West Africa. Either way the bank later finds out that the check is a Ghost Check, drawn on an African bank and account that simply do not exist. You then owe the bank the 2000 dollars and maybe lose the car too
The latest method I've heard of obtaining information about you: A person from West Africa called a credit card company and gave them the credit card number and expiration date of a credit card and told the Credit Card Company Customer Service Rep that they needed the name and address on the account to verify the authenticity of the purchase. The Customer Service Rep actually gave this caller the information even after saying he wasn't permitted to. This is ludicrous that this could happen. Where is their training? This personal information is never needed to verify a transaction except when making a purchase online and then it is fully automated. Ever make a typo on your personal information when trying to make a credit card purchase online?
To consumers and Businesses:Be very aware of relay calls if you've never received one before. Ask questions that would determine the caller's location and verify the validity of their deafness by asking them what sign language they speak. ASL (American Sign Language) is most common in the U.S. Africans may not know this. You may also kindly explain to them your knowledge of this scam and ask for their number so that you may call them back and verify that they possess a TTY (text telephone) and hence are calling from a U.S. location. You will hear a couple short chirps similar to a dial up connection when a TTY phone answers.
You should never give out your bank routing number and account number to a stranger over the phone for any reason. This is less safe than giving it out on the Internet on a secure site. Money can be wired straight out of your account with this information. Businesses should always ask for the CV number on the back of the Visa or Master Card. If a person can't provide this it's time to end the call. And remember the relay operator has signed a serious confidentiality agreement and cannot engage in conversation with you. He/she is acting as a human telephone wire. If you suspect fraud or scam simply hang up. You are free to do that without asking, as you would with any other phone call. Keep in mind though that the person is also welcome to call back as often as he/she wishes. If this happens ask the relay operator for their customer service number. Enough complaints about this scam may make the big three take some steps to curtail it. Become familiar with Internet based Relay Service now so you are prepared if you receive a Relay call.
You can find out about these
Be smart any time you accept a check for payment for anything and wait until it clears before using any of the money from it or giving up the merchandise. NEVER give out your routing number and account number to someone you don't know. If you travel to West Africa, whether for business or pleasure, it would be very wise to NOT use your credit card to make purchases while visiting that country. That's what travellers checks are for Each time you use your credit card there you are risking the information falling into the wrong hands. If you rarely make large purchases on your credit card call your credit card company and set up an alert for any purchases above a certain dollar amount. Since most of these attempts are for a dollar amount of a single purchase well above 1,000 dollars, your credit card can be restricted to purchases less than that and an alert be sent to you when such an attempt is made. If you meet someone on a chat or Instant Messaging service who wants to use your address to have items purchased in the U.S. shipped to, with the expectation for you to ship it to them after it arrives, time to end the friendship. Businesses should always ask for the CV number on the back of the Visa or Master Card. If a person can't provide this 3 digit number, it's time to end the call. I've also heard of these calls coming from other countries through other online relay services, so don't think because it's not from Africa it's okay. The caller often lies and says they are from the U.S., so it is important to be aware of how the scam itself works and not where the call is from.
[OK, so, they're scum, but you knew that. Fast forward to March 2004, when we hear from a hard-of-hearing user of the Deaf Relay Service about a different way Lads are using Deaf Relay to find new people to bother:]
Hello, Scamorama people:
...his last wish was for the money be used to keep up the good work.