As you may have seen on ABC 13, there has been a discussion about the scammers using i711.com. Since there has been a heightened awareness of the ip-relay scam or also known as www.i711.com scam. Please note, i711.com itself is not a scam, it is the scammer that is using the i711.com service.
I want to address a few concerns by those in the deaf and hard of hearing community. While we condemned the abuse by the scammers using the ip-relay. We want the community at large to understand that while we conduct business or personal calls through TTY (Telephone Typewriter) ip-relay (internet), Video Phone, or VRI (Video Relay Interpreter). There will be a concern among those in the community at large on whether a relay call would be legitimate or a scam.
This scam reflects poorly on the deaf and hard of hearing community and we strive to fight against the abuse of our services. The purpose of using an relay service provides us the independence in order to function within the hearing community. In fact, there are two devices that provides us the giant leap when we socialize with those in the community at large. First is a relay service which a deaf person has access to and currently the three most common “phones” are: TTY, ip-relay (internet), and Video Phone. Second is the use of pager/cell phone with a QWERTY key (virtual or physical) in order to communicate with other people.
Let’s put some of the technology we use in a nutshell. TTY is an age-old technology which unfortunately many of them are still in use within the business community. It is quickly becoming an obsolete device very much like the VHS tape of the old days. You can still find many of them within the government sectors and hospitals. Personally, every time I go to a hospital and I say, “Can I make a phone call? I am Deaf and do you have a device I can use?” The first thing the staff would say, “Yes, we have a TTY.” *record scratching* NOOOOO! Come on! Upgrade already!
Ip-Relay has been around since the 1990’s and is still in moderate use. The most common method of an ip-relay is when we are on our cell phone or pager that has a AIM or an Internet connection. For example, on my iPhone, I use AIM to conduct calls via sprintip and it enables me to make calls quickly anywhere as long as my iPhone is connected to a wifi or a 3G network. Unfortunately, ip-relay is one of the most abused by scammers because it is relatively easy to use and requires no knowledge of sign language in order to communicate. All the scammers have to do is type on a keyboard and communicate with anyone under secrecy. To my understanding, the FBI task force is aware of this abuse and there have been raids in some parts of country, more on that later.
Video Phone is a newcomer and is one of the fastest growing segment in regards of deaf and hard of hearing customer’s preference. It requires the knowledge of sign language to communicate in order to use Video Phone. Also, it is one of the most saturated in the market because there are more competitors than the device themselves. You have competitors such as HOVRS relay, CSDVRS, Viable, SNAPVRS, Sorenson, and Sprint whom are competing for the deaf customer’s business. In regards to the device that is used to conduct Video Phone, is it an ever changing environment because new technology are coming out every year.
The FCC pays for all of those device and the services that is being provided for those in the deaf and hard of hearing community, increasingly, I have been noticing that more and more deaf and hard of hearing individuals are now preferring to purchase the device themselves and do not need the FCC to purchase them for the deaf and hard of hearing community. That will be another story to write about later.
I want to emphasize to the community at large, many of us in the deaf and hard of hearing community condemned the abuse of our relay service and we hope that this communication access will not set us back when we try to call anyone in the community due to the concerns on whether a relay call is legitimate or a scam. Of course, there are preventable measures and the only way to fight against the scammers is by educating everyone on this issue. Everyone is responsible in educating each other whether you are hearing or deaf in knowing what service is legitimate or not.
Education is the key in exposing awareness of the needs of those in the deaf and hard of hearing community.
By the way, I encourage many in the public, private, and the government sector to take a serious look at VRI (video relay interpreter). It is the new kid on the block and it enables many of those in the community to quickly have a communication access with those whom are deaf and hard of hearing. It is a lot cheaper than having a real interpreter being present and reduced the delay of having an interpreter to show up. For an illustration of an VRI, click here.
Correction: Please note, VRS (Video Relay Service) is a free service that is provided for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and VRI (Video Relay Interpreter) is a pay-per-use service that provides an intermediate interpreting between two parties in the same room. Sorry for the confusion!