Mar 162010
 

Who loves barbecue? Scammers love barbecue, that’s who. Well, scammers and me, but I’m actually going to pay for mine.

Tom Caulfield, who owns Chubby’s, a joint dedicated to the food up in Emmitsburg , obviously loves barbecue, too.

What he’s not so hot on is that he’s been called six times by crooks trying to cheat him out of his hard-earned cash.

What’s unusual about this case, although not unheard of in the annals of conmanship, is how the scam is conducted.

I’ve written a lot about advance fee fraud, and what Caulfield has experienced is along the same lines. What’s particularly insidious about what the scammers were trying to do in Caulfield’s was the use of TTY to make the call — a service meant to make it easier for deaf, hard of hearing and speech-impaired people to communicate.

In brief, the TTY system allows a user via a terminal to type a request to a relay operator, who acts as the intermediary between the deaf caller and hearing recipient.

According to a news release from the Better Business Bureau back in 2004, this has become common practice:

“Overseas con artists have discovered the phone company’s TTY service and are using it to swindle hundreds of businesses out of thousands of dollars in expensive merchandise.”

Why TTY? For one thing, no accent, which is a dead giveaway (most of these cons generate out of Nigeria). For another, TTY shields the caller’s identity. Caulfield has talked to TTY operators who said they can’t do anything about such cons, even though they know the intent behind them.

That the service is for the deaf, hard of hearing and speech impaired, also elicits sympathy from the targeted business.

Caulfield got the first call of the several he received about two years ago, he said. The method has been the same each time, he said. Callers allege to be female, give American names, and are short, sweet and to the point in their requests. They asked each and every time if Caulfield could cater a lunch for 300: Always 300, he said and always for an event within four weeks.

To pay for the catering, the scammer offers a credit card number (from a list of stolen or randomly generated numbers).

Here’s where they make their money (and you may remember this from a few weeks back when I wrote about a similar scam attempted on Club Dogz): The caller asks the businessman or woman to pay for the delivery service out of the amount paid.

In Caulfield’s case, the callers asked him to send the money via Western Union to an address “she” gave him. This is the advance fee fraud at work.

“An advanced tip, an advanced anything, is sticking a fork in your eye,” Caulfield said.

In other cases of this con, where it’s merchandise, the scam is simpler, because sometimes, after the card has cleared, the goods get sent on. It’s only after vendors find out the card is no good and the merchandise has disappeared that they find out they’ve been had.

And the con artists can be pretty relentless.

“The thing that’s weird is you get a call back the same day,” he said. “You’d think they’d say, ‘Scratch this one,’ but they don’t know, they just have a list of numbers.”

Caulfield called me about what he’s been going through to get the word out, especially to mom-and-pop stores like his.

“Given the (economic) situation out there, there’s some mighty desperate people out there whose guards are anything but up,” and could fall prey to the con, he said.

Some BBB tips to keep your business safe:

  • If the customer is using a TTY Relay Operator ask the customer for his/her full name, address and telephone number.
  • Ask the customer to provide the name of the issuing bank and its toll-free customer service number as printed on the back of all credit cards.
  • Ask the customer for the three- or four-digit Card Verification Code that is found near the account number on the back or front of a credit card.
  • Tell the buyer that you will check with the bank and call them back. When you do that, keep good notes. Verify all information the buyer gives. If a buyer objects, explain that these procedures are for their protection, as well.
  • If the caller still objects to providing any of the above information, abandon the conversation and advise that you are not prepared to do business this way.
  • If the buyer insists on paying with a certified check, wait until the funds are in your bank account before shipping the merchandise.

Cliff Cumber is the assistant city editor at The Frederick News-Post. Frederick Watchdog can be contacted by e-mailing watchdog@newspost.com or following on Twitter at twitter.com/FNPwatchdog.

– Written by Clifford G. Cumberof the News-Post Staff, 3/15/10.  Original post at http://www.fredericknewspost.com/sections/news/display.htm?StoryID=102470.