Deaf Relay Credit Card Scam

Deaf Relay Service/TDD Exploited in Credit Card Scams Involving Self Storage

TSSA members and other self-storage operators throughout the country have been reporting scams involving the Deaf Relay telephone service, or what many of us have heard referred to as TDD, Telecommunications Device for the Deaf.

What is Relay?
Relay is what deaf, hard of hearing and speech-disabled individuals use to speak to the hearing community. A person with a text telephone or more recently, an Internet connection, can use a relay service where the operator dials the receiving phone number and relays the text conversation to the hearing person, and then types back to the deaf person what the hearing person says.

The Scam
TSSA members affected by this scam have reported receiving a call, ostensibly from a deaf individual, through a TDD operator or relay service.  The operator tells the storage manager that the caller wants to rent a storage unit, but because of his disability he wants to take care of the transaction in advance by paying with a credit card. All seems to proceed fine as information for a lease is gathered by phone, though there may be a few things that seem odd, such as the operator reading language that seems slightly stilted, perhaps indicating that the caller is not a native English speaker.

In one scam, after renting the unit, the "deaf" tenant asked the storage operator to receive packages on behalf of the tenant's business, to be relabeled and reshipped to another location.  Though this may sound suspicious as you read about it now, keep in mind that these scam operators are quite skilled at creating plausible stories, and with payment in advance, the request seemed reasonable to the member.  The sympathy evoked by the caller's disability may also work in the scammer's favor as self-storage operators try to be accommodating.

Another TSSA member reported that the "deaf" prospective tenant reported she was moving to the area after treatment for cancer, and offered to pay all charges in advance by credit card, including fees for a moving service.  She asked the storage manager to send the moving company payment via Western Union, but only after she paid all charges in advance by credit card.  The manager became suspicious enough to get an authorization on the credit card provided in advance, at which time it was declined and later identified as stolen.

Stolen Credit Cards the Common Denominator

In each of the scams, the common denominator is that the caller was renting a space using a stolen credit card number.  Unfortunately, it can take from 30 to 60 days to learn that a credit card number has been stolen, at which time charges are typically disputed and reversed.  By then, the "deaf" tenant is long gone, having never actually occupied the space.

Tips for Avoiding a Scam

  • Always do a credit card authorization on charges for units rented over the phone or by TDD; though not a guarantee, the stolen card number may be flagged.

  • Ask for the security number on the back or front of the credit card; typically a scammer won't have this information.

  • Scammers will usually provide an e-mail address for future correspondence; try to verify the e-mail address provided, though this can be difficult when provided by a skilled con or scam artist.  Check online services such as www.whitepages.com to verify the physical or mailing address, which should always be provided as well.

  • Ask the caller using TDD or relay where they are calling from, and be alert to the use of substandard English in what the operator reads to you.

  • Ask the TDD or relay operator to ask the prospective tenant what type of sign language he or she uses. (American Sign Language is most common in the United States.) If he or she cannot answer that question, or answers it with something other than ASL, that should be a big red flag.

  • Ask for a call-back phone number so that you can verify that the caller possesses a TTY (text telephone).  You would hear a couple of short chirps similar to a dial-up Internet connection if the number is for a TTY device.

  • With the Internet, it is fairly easy to go online and verify identity using the name/address given to you by the caller using www.whitepages.com or www.publicdata.com; if things don't jibe, there is probably a reason!

  • In short; proceed with caution, and take whatever actions you can to verify that the caller is actually a legitimate user of TDD or relay.  Just don't expect the operator to give you information, as they are bound by confidentiality agreements that prohibit sharing of information.

  • If you are ever suspicious, you can just hang up. The worst thing that can happen is that the caller will contact you again using a service, buying you a little time to think things through, and discouraging potential scammers.