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Part one of this article:

Caught in the Middle! The Plight of Relay Telephone Operators Nationwide

 

 

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Online Businesses at Risk

How Nigerian Con Artists Are Using the
Relay Telephone System for the Deaf
to Defraud Online Sellers

by "Operator Here"

This report adds to the information shared earlier by "Clear Conscience." "Operator Here" is a former IP operator who is doing everything possible to bring media attention to this problem--one that is not only causing harm to deaf individuals, but great financial loss to thousands of businesses and other individuals on the Web.


I just found your 2005 article on the abuse of IP Relay, and the plight of the operators. In that article, you had "Clear Conscience" talk about what the operators are going through. He's a good friend of mine, and he's part of the "network" of operators that have banded together at our website.

I was a relay operator for over a year, and I saw all these things first hand, every single day. I had to quit my job because I couldn't justify doing the job to myself anymore. I felt like a criminal when I left work every day. So I've turned the tables for myself. I now work confidentially with the victims of these scams. Thanks to a network of current operators who provide information to me on people who are would-be victims, I am now using my own time and energy to help the people who have already fallen victim to these horrible scammers, or people who are about to become victims. I work very hard to try to stop these scammers every time I find them. I get at least one new victim every single day of the week.

I've been sending the following information to all media outlets in the hopes of getting the problem recognized in the media, but I have not been too successful. Last November, a story about this appeared on NBC Nightly News. Later, the Today Show carried a similar story, and I was one of the operators interviewed for those stories. The reason I did those interviews was to inform the public of the alarming problem of Nigerian fraud using the IP Relay system for the deaf. Nigerians have literally hijacked the relay telephone system for the deaf to defraud American businesses, individuals who are selling things online, and people who are just looking for love.

How the Scam Works

The IP Relay is a service intended for those who are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech-disabled. They go to a website such as IP-Relay.com and connect to an operator who then becomes a "human telephone wire" for the remainder of the phone conversation. The deaf/HOH/SD person types a message, the operator relays it to the hearing person, and then the operator types back the response by the hearing person 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. This is called "functional equivalence" for the deaf by the FCC and The Americans with Disabilities Act.

The way the IP Relay system is set up at this time, 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, Nigerian 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 gives them the benefit of having an American voice to speak for them.

The deaf are entitled to the same services that hearing people are. While these scams are not new, the scammers are finding new ways of contacting their victims, and we, as operators, are stuck in the middle in a moral and ethical-vs-legal dilemma: Do we do what is morally and ethically right and warn the victims, or do we "just do our job," ignoring our conscience, but staying on the "legal" side? Contacting victims is completely unlawful. But I do it anyway. It's my way of making up for being forced to help Nigerians scam people out of their money. I help victims because of the stories I hear all the time from all the people who went bankrupt, had loved ones commit suicide, or lost everything they have. People have even been arrested for cashing phony checks that they had NO IDEA were fake!

The Reshipping Scam

Here's how the “typical” fraud call works. The scammer will call businesses, and people with advertisements in online newspapers or other websites like Ebay, or Craiglist. 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 these purchases. The critical part of the scam is needing an address for their packages to be shipped inside the U.S.

The way they find these U.S. addresses is an entirely different scam altogether. They may have people inside the U.S. who are either voluntarily helping them with full knowledge of the scam by "reshipping" the merchandise to Nigeria in exchange for keeping some of the stolen goods. Or the Nigerian will use websites such as Careerbuilder.com and Monster.com, and put Help Wanted ads for "Reshippers." The people who respond to these ads believe this to be a legitimate part-time job for some obscure company. The company will always have a legitimate-looking website, and everything looks above-board. The job doesn't last long because, for the most part, the person doing the reshipping is paid with a fake cashiers check. Initially, it clears the bank, but eventually the bank finds out that it's fraudulent, and the person is out that money and oftentimes will have to repay the money to their bank. If they cannot repay the money, there have been incidents where the reshipper has been arrested.

Editor's note: This reshipping scam is affecting many people who are looking for part-time employment at home, and it's easy to be conned. Educate yourself by reading this Scam Alert by Amy C. Fleitas at Bankrate.com.

Scammers on Dating Websites

Sometimes the con artists meet people on dating websites and con them into believing that they would be helping them get things they need for their family if they will "reship" certain merchandise for them. This particular aspect of the scam is a HUGE problem. The Nigerian cons are breaking people’s hearts and trust in order to further their illegal activities. Because they are so convincing at making people believe that they love them, they have their victims in the palm of their hand. The victims will do just about anything to help the con artist and his "family." The outlandish stories they make up would seem very incredible to most people, but once they get a victim lured in, and the victim thinks they're in love, they will believe these truly amazing stories. They rarely have any idea that the Nigerian is working with a network of people, and their photo online is never really them, and often, the victim is corresponding with several scammers pretending to be the same person.

When Businesses Bite

With the businesses or individual sellers who become victims, once the "purchase" has been made, sometimes after using several credit card numbers until one finally goes through, the retailer or private party sends out the package very quickly, just as the Nigerian demands. Several days later, the person who shipped the package will be notified by the credit card company that it was a stolen credit card. Or they are notified by the bank that the cashier’s check is phony. The shipper is then out the merchandise and the money.

Example: As I was writing this article, I was assisting a young female business owner in stopping a Nigerian from scamming her. I caught her just in time, as the merchandise was just getting ready to ship. This con artist was trying to buy floor tiles and have them shipped to Ghana. The total amount of tiles they wanted to buy came to over $10,000. Thankfully, I was able to help them save their money, which would have bankrupted this small business. At the same time, the scammer was giving the business three credit cards at a time. The scammer wanted to split the 10 grand between three different cards. In an effort to get all the cards he had available to him, we kept telling the scammer that the cards kept coming back declined ... and the scammer kept providing stolen credit card numbers! When it was all over, the scammer had provided nine credit card numbers. I took each card number, called Master card to get the phone number for the issuing banks, and then called each of the banks to inform them of the situation. Each card was flagged, and the money available was frozen until the bank could contact the owner and make them aware that their account had been compromised. In this particular instance, I was able to not only save this business from losing $10,000, but I also helped save nine different credit card holders from losing a whole lot of money. I also sent an anonymous tip to the FBI regarding the situation and gave them all the pertinent info.

How the Deaf Are Being Deprived
of a Valuable Service

This problem has become so widespread that operators can, and often do, spend up to 80 percent of their day making calls for Nigerians, while legitimate users “sit in queue" waiting for an operator who is tied up with a Nigerian who is making call after call scamming businesses. Those poor people sit and wait, and I always worry ... What if they were in an emergency situation and needed to call 911? What if they were with a loved one having a heart attack, or some other emergency? How scary is that?

Here is another important key to the scammer’s success: 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 on the issue. 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 Nigerian fraud has caused many, many businesses to stop accepting relay calls altogether. Some deaf people now have a very hard time purchasing things over the phone. This problem needs exposure! The operators’ hands are tied because warning a victim, or somehow attempting to stop the fraud during the call will result in immediate termination and the threat of being sued by the relay company. Because operators can lose their jobs (at the very least) for warning a victim, some former operators, like me, have taken things into their own hands, at the risk of prosecution, to help these victims.

I am only speaking out, and putting myself at risk of going to jail because the more people that hear of this, the fewer victims there will be. I have asked Barbara to respect my privacy and keep my identity hidden. I only want to help people, and it would be very detrimental to me and my family if I went to jail or got sued for trying to stop these scammers. I also need to protect the operator network system that we have. These operators are integral to putting an end to these scammers, and I need their help in order to help others.

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 story as an operator. I also have several friends who are current or former operators who would participate in any interviews. The more people who are warned, and informed, the better. In trying to stop these scams, we hope to save the relay system that was intended for the deaf to be able to make phone calls, just like you or I can. They deserve to have their phone system back.

I am currently in the process of getting the attention of senators and the FCC, and working with a victims advocacy group called Fraud Aid. They are pushing lawmakers very hard to get this system changed. The media option is only being used to put pressure on the FCC (who is very aware of the problem) and the Relay companies to change how Relay is used. The goal is to make sure it's available to those who rely on it, and unavailable to those who abuse it.

As I’ve stated before, I must keep my identify secret, but if you are interested in giving this problem media coverage, you may communicate with me through Barbara Brabec, who will forward your message on to me.

Read the first report on this topic, by "Clear Conscience."

See also these reports from readers who were targeted by these scammers.

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