Scam Alert: Beware of Telephone Relay Fraud

September 08, 2010

September 08, 2010—Pittsburgh, PA -- Your Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns small business owners that reports of scammers plying their trade through telephone relay services — typically used by the hearing impaired to make phone calls — are cropping up all across North America. At a time when businesses literally can’t afford to fall victim to fraud, this scam is experiencing a comeback and small business owners should take precautions to avoid losing thousands of dollars.

BBB has received reports from many types of businesses that received suspicious orders through TTY or telephone relay services. These services are meant to assist the hearing impaired in making telephone calls and often rely on an operator who relays a typed message from the caller to the business. Because, by law, the operator is not allowed to disclose the origin of the call, this service allows the scammers to hide their identity.

“With many small businesses struggling to stay afloat in these tough economic times, the old adage ‘buyer beware’ only addresses half the issue, because we’re seeing increasingly that sellers need to beware as well,” said Becky Maier, Public Relations Director of the Better Business Bureau of Western PA. “The use of telephone relay services to scam small businesses isn’t new, but is seeing a comeback, which is why owners need to know the warning signs or risk becoming the next victim.”

The scam being employed over telephone relay is a variation on an overpayment scam. A business receives an order from a customer over the phone through a telephone relay service. The customer will explain that the delivery service they’d like to use won’t take credit cards and asks that the business wire money to the shipper and simply tack the cost onto the overall order and charge their credit card for the total amount. Any money wired to the supposed shipper, will actually end up in the hands of the customer/scammer and the credit card number provided is stolen. Not only does the business suffer the loss of the goods or services ordered by the scammer, it will also lose whatever money was wired to the phony delivery service.

A local Pittsburgh business contacted the BBB about this scam as it almost happened to their flower shop. The “customer” ordered 4 large flower arrangements for a wedding, but explained he was using a private carrier to pick up the flowers as the wedding was over 100 miles away. He then asked the flower shop to wire money to cover the cost of the private carrier so the customer could make just one payment to the flower shop. The business started to do some research and realized it was a scam.

BBB offers the following advice to business owners to help identify fraud over telephone relay services: 

  • If the customer is using a TTY Relay Operator ask the customer for his/her full name, address and telephone number.
  • Ask the customer to provide the name of the issuing bank and its toll-free customer service number as printed on the back of all credit cards.
  • Ask the customer for the three or four digit Card Verification Code that is found near the account number on the back or front of a credit card.
  • Tell the customer that you will check with the bank and call them back. When you do that, keep good notes. Verify all information the customer provides. If a customer objects, explain that these procedures are for their protection, as well.
  • If the customer still objects to providing any of the above information, abandon the conversation and advise that you are not prepared to do business this way.

For more information on this and other scams targeting small business owners, visit BBB online at


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