Protect Your Business From The Deaf Relay Scam

Side view of customer advisory service at work


Small businesses are seeing a rise lately in a classic scam that like many others is designed to capitalize on well-intended kindness. The fraudsters are pretending to be deaf.fraudsters are pretending to be deaf.

Relying on relay system

The scam relies on the use of the relay system used by those who are deaf, hearing impaired, or speech disabled. The service allows those populations to communicate over the telephone. It works using a text-enabled telephone or internet connection to contact a relay service operator. The operator calls the desired number and then verbally translates … relays … the typed information to a hearing person on the other end of the connection. The operator also translates the verbal responses into text for the deaf person to read.

The scam has been perpetrated for a number of years and has usually involved people in West Africa exploiting the telephone relay service.

How it works

Someone calls a business using an online relay service, requesting to buy anything from laptops to clothing to airplane tickets. They often pose as a minister, business owner or other respectable party. They provide a credit card number, along with the name and address of the cardholder. However, they want the goods shipped to an African address or alternate address in the United States. .For airline tickets, they often want them sent electronically to an email account. The credit cards are, of course, stolen. If the first number is not approved, they usually have backup cards, or they ask to split the charge among multiple credit cards. If asked for the CV number they usually can’t provide it as they do not have the physical card with them.

There is usually a sense of urgency to the need for the item. The item needs to be shipped immediately, often using a stolen UPS account number, They also ask, insistently, for an email address to follow up while providing one themselves (usually a Yahoo! address). There is usually frequent follow up via email and relay telephone to check on the order status. Those who fall for the scam often will send the product before a credit card company or call holder reports the lost card or suspicious activity. Some business owners who have gotten taken on the scam have called UPS and had shipping halted and the item returned.

Shipping pressure

Business owners are not the only ones who can be scammed in this way. Often the scammers will befriend someone in the U.S. and offer to pay them back for any items forwarded to the U.S. address. This makes the shipper less skeptical. Again urgency is the name of the game, with repeated requests to send the merchandise as soon as it arrives. Unfortunately, once the goods are gone, it is the unsuspecting party who may have to answer for charges such as fraudulent use of a credit card or receiving stolen property.


A variant on the scam is using relay services to inquire about a For Sale ad a consumer may use to sell a car or other large item. The caller asks the dupe for a checking account number and routing number in order to transfer the money to your account. If you provide this information, there will certainly be money transferred, but not in the direction you want. Instead, the thieves will empty your account.

In another variation they ask for your address and plan to send a check for the cost of the car and, say, $2,000 that will be used to ship it to them. They ask that you deposit the check and withdraw the $2,000 to pay a “shipping agent” who will collect the car and shipping fee from you. Those who don’t wait for the check to clear (they never do) in these cases end up being out the $2,000 and the car.

Fighting back

To counter these scammers, some business owners have adopted a policy of refusing any call using a relay service. Some have called for the major phone carriers to block IP addresses coming from some West African countries. Both of these developments are unfortunate for those who are hard of hearing, speech impaired or deaf who rely on relay services to communicate.

How can consumers and business owners protect themselves? Be wary of relay calls and try to determine the caller’s location. You can also ask for a number to call them back to verify they’re using a TTY (text telephone). Finally, do not provide any banking account or routing information and do not agree to be a middleman in these kinds of transactions.B