Reach out and defraud someone

Many years ago, I worked customer service for StarText, the online version of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. I occasionally recieved calls from deaf subscribers that worked like this: the subscriber called an operator, speaking to that person by typing comments on a device such as a TTY machine. The operator called me, relaying each comment and transcribing my replies.

This service, a vital lifeline for the deaf and hearing impaired, is being destroyed by Nigerian scam artists and other lowlifes. The Arizona Daily Star broke a story Friday that needs some unified weblog outrage to increase its profile:

Overseas scam artists have hijacked a telephone relay system for deaf people and turned phone operators in Tucson and nationwide into full-time facilitators of fraud. ...

The callers try to use stolen credit-card numbers to make big purchases of merchandise from American companies. The operators often suspect fraud, but they can't just hang up. Federal rules require them to make the calls and keep the contents strictly confidential.

Scam artists from all over the world are monopolizing taxpayer-funded services like AT&T Relay Service, using American operators as accomplices to defraud Americans, and the operators can't even report the crimes because of confidentiality requirements.


Seems to me the way to resolve this is to require some kind of authentication to use the relay system (not the telnet-operator-voice, but the internet-operator-voice system). Perhaps the hearing impaired person would have to request by mail/in person an account for the internet relay system. They would have to provide proof of residency in the state and the account would be good for a limited time (6 mo? 1 year?).

That would prevent the Nigerian lowlifes from hijacking the system and still allow local residents full use, with just a minor inconvenience.

You'll find some VERY interesting information at this site...some relay operators are sick and tired of being part of 'the game' that is 'ignored' by ivory tower monopolies such as these telecommunications providers.;=273609

ARE YOU a victim of these credit card scams? Are you an operator sick of processing them, or just an outraged tax payer. Post your comments and gain more information on this issue at the above url BBS.

Forgot the URL -

I work at a mid-sized independent bookstore in Vermont, and we've been plagued with these calls since last fall. The scammer will employ a relay operator to call us and request 30 or 40 copies of a random recent hardcover book, which he wants shipped to Nigeria (once, one of them purported to be calling from South Dakota, but his credit card numbers were equally invalid). The calls can tie up staff members for as long as thirty minutes, as we try to deal with the very persistent fraudster on the other end, while actual customers in the store wander around un-helped. It is now our policy, whenever we receive a relay call, to ask immediately where the caller is calling from, and then to say firmly and politely that we only take orders for callers in our immediate local area. Even that apparently very simple conversation can take five to ten minutes while the scammer hems and haws and tries not to respond to questions and to simply press ahead with an order. We can't just hang up on them immediately, for fear of alienating an actual, legitimate deaf customer, but at this point our whole staff is frustrated enough to tear their hair. We reported the scam last year to the Vermont Attorney General's office -- don't know what's come of that -- and passed the info on to NEBA, the New England Booksellers Association, which sent an email around to everyone notifying them of the scam. It happens less often these days, but we still get one of these calls every couple of weeks.

I also have received these phone calls. We are a small business in Missouri, and just received a call from Michigan. The "customer" pressed me and pressed me to run the two card numbers through my machine. They wanted the top end of a laptop. Actually two of them. And wanted them overnighted. I told him I had to call our suppliers and see if it could be done. I immediately called Mastercard and ran the numbers. The name was not on the list. MC then took down the caller's name, address, and said they would be turning it into the fraud dept. The "customer" called back and asked if I had the total for the laptops. I informed him that the name he had given me was not on the card. He then said he'd give me a # in Africa to confirm the card. I said no thank you. Towards the end he asked if we took Cashiers Checks upon delivery. I said no. Then he told me to run the cards through. 3 times he tried to get me to run them. The caller called me 3 times to try to get this order. They ARE pushy. And Kirstie, I like your advice about telling them that you only take orders from the area. I will definately do that next time. Good luck to everyone.

I know I am almost a year late to comment on this blog entry.. but I'm Chelsey Bishop.. the person quited in the article. I had no idea it was linked to so many blog entries until i did a web seach! You guys are so awesome for bringing attention to it.

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