Drowning in fraudulent IP Relay Calls. Help!
October 13, 2006 12:32 PM   Subscribe

IP Relay Scammers are plaguing our PBX operator. Is there anything we can do besides refusing to answer any IP Relay call?

I work at a large Non-Profit and as such we're the occasional target of fraud attempts. Recently we've been targeted by a ring of criminals attempting to us the free Internet Relay Call service (discussed on MEFI here) provided by phone companies for the use of deaf and hard of hearing individuals, but abused by scammers.

Is there anything more we can do besides refusing to answer these calls once an operator connects them to us? It's really beginning to tax our resources, which are already pretty constrained since we're a non-profit.

The IP Relay companies claim they can't help us because of privacy and common carrier laws. Those same laws make it impossible to track the fraudsters without setting up a sting, which as a non-profit, our BOT would not let us do.
posted by IndigoSkye to Work & Money (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Following up to my own question...

Here is a discussion board where IP Relay Operators go to vent and discuss the issue.
posted by IndigoSkye at 12:36 PM on October 13, 2006

(Former Relay Operator here.) I really sympathize with you. The scammers, and management's refusal to do anything about the situation, are a large part of what made me quit the job. The best advice I can give you is that IP Relay is only authorized for use inside the United States, and most of the scammers don't know this, so go ahead and ask the caller where they're located. If (when) they say they're in Ghana or Nigeria, just hang up.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:38 PM on October 13, 2006

As a relay user, I too sympathize. Faint of Butt's advice is about the only thing you can do, other than watch out for obvious scams ...
posted by spaceman_spiff at 12:48 PM on October 13, 2006

Faint of Butt, you're now in the running for Kookoobirdz's MeFi Username Hall of Fame. That... that is fantastic.
posted by kookoobirdz at 5:26 PM on October 13, 2006

(Former Relay Operator here.)

What FoB said. Relay users have a hard enough time ordering pizzas, checking bank balances, cancelling AOL accounts, and contributing to non-profits without a flat refusal to accept the call.

Pro-tip: If the operator says "[State] Relay Operator [ID#]" rather than "IP Relay Operator [ID#]", take the call. It's a TTY call over regular phone lines, and probably legit.
posted by sixacross at 9:16 PM on October 13, 2006

Some more details:

After calling various phone service providers and government agencies, this is what I found. IP Relays were designed to help deaf and mute people place calls without any special equipment required. Under the law, IP Relay users are not required to register or even provide proof of disability. It is entirely anonymous. Since the actual phone calls are being dialed by an operator (which could be anywhere in the country, depending on what operator is free at the particular moment), there is no way to block the call by phone number. The IP Relay operators previously were able to block people and businesses from receiving IP Relay calls (perhaps they had a database of known entities that did not want to receive IP Relay calls and would consult that before dialing any numbers), however the FCC ruled in July 2005 that operators refusing to place an IP Relay phone call (regardless of the reason) violated the Americans With Disabilities Act. Therefore, under the law, the operator must attempt to place every IP Relay phone call.

I called our area’s Congressional office, who said they couldn’t do anything about the situation and recommended we call the FCC, who has jurisdiction over phone companies. The FCC recommended we file a complaint and if they got enough of those from various citizens and corporations, perhaps they would change their ruling. However, in order to file a complaint, they would need to know who is initiating the fraudulent IP Relay calls (the users on the computer) and since the IP Relay users are anonymous, we don’t know. The FCC also recommended we call the Federal Trade Commission and file a complaint, however, the FTC also needs to know who is initiating the call in order to file a complaint.

Basically, the only thing we can do is refuse the calls. The phone operators no longer have the authority to block the call from their end due to the July 2005 FCC ruling and since the actual phone calls are being originated from operators all over the country, there is no way to block the call on our end using Caller ID or anything like that.
posted by IndigoSkye at 7:00 AM on October 16, 2006

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