Scammers Use Phone Relay to Target Businesses

September 09, 2009

RICHMOND, Va. – Recent calls to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) point to a growing number of cases in which scam artists use telephone relay services to defraud small businesses.

Telephone relay service is typically used by hearing impaired people to make phone calls. Using a TTY or other similar device, the caller contacts an operator who relays the typed message to the called party. By law, operators are not permitted to disclose the origin of the call, which makes the service appealing to scammers who want to hide their identity.

Tom Gallagher, president and CEO of the BBB in Central Virginia, said the telephone relay scam is a variation on an overpayment scam, which has been around for some time.

Here’s how it works:

A business receives an order from a customer/scammer over the phone through a telephone relay service. The scammer explains that the delivery service he or she would like to use won’t take credit cards. The scammer asks that the business wire money to the shipper and simply tack the cost onto the overall order, charging the customer/scammer’s credit card.

Any money wired to the supposed shipper, will actually end up in the hands of the customer/scammer. 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.

“We have received several calls about this in the last couple of months. One mechanical shop has received two attempts in the last month. That causes me to be particularly concerned, because if the bad guys are working one business, they are working others” Gallagher said.

He said the most recent example involves a Richmond-based auto repair shop. The shop was contacted by a caller through the telephone relay service. The caller said he was buying a used car out of state and wanted the repair business to tow the car to Richmond and make any necessary repairs. The caller said the seller of the vehicle would not accept any credit cards and asked that the repair shop send a check to the seller and charge the caller’s credit card. Fortunately, the owner of the business became suspicious and contacted authorities.

The 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.

Businesses that have fallen prey to the telephone relay scam should notify the BBB at 804-648-0016.

The BBB in Central Virginia serves Richmond and Tri-Cities, as well as 42 surrounding counties, from Fauquier to Mecklenburg and Northumberland to Amherst. The nonprofit organization was established in 1954 to advance responsible, honest and ethical business practices and to promote customer confidence through self-regulation of business. Core services of the BBB include business reliability reports, dispute resolution, truth-in advertising, consumer and business education and charity review.