Credit card scam uses relay services for the deaf

Published 4:37 pm Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A new credit card scam has affected some Shelby County businesses by preying on their sympathy for the deaf.

Kathy Levine, owner of Uncle Monk’s Café in Chelsea, said that’s exactly what happened to her when she received an unexpectedly large catering order through a relay service, a web-based telephone program for the deaf.

Relay services work by allowing deaf users to type their conversation online while an operator reads the typed script to the other person on the phone.

Levine received such an order for 150 grilled chicken Caesar salads for what the caller said was his mother’s birthday party.

Levine became suspicious when the caller asked her to charge his credit card an additional $1,200 and then wire the money to an address in Arkansas for delivery. The caller tried to use a Visa and a Mastercard, which were both declined, before he gave Levine the information for the Discover card that she ran.

“The transaction went through and I e-mailed him a confirmation,” she said. “He kept asking, ‘Can you go ahead and wire that money?’ and became agitated with me when I told him he had to wait two days for the money to be deposited in my checking account.”

During this time, Levine contacted the credit card companies and the company that handles credit card processing for her business and discovered the whole thing was a scam.

The credit cards were most likely stolen and if she would have wired the extra money, Levine would have been out $1,200 and 150 salads.

Relay services are often used for scams because they hide the location of the scammer since the operator actually makes the call, Levine said.

Relay operators can’t interject themselves into calls, even if they suspect the call is a scam.

“You feel sorry for the deaf,” she said. “That’s exactly what happened with me. I was a little naive, but I’m not now.”