IP-Relay Scam

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!

About Bradley Porche

Bradley Porche is a High School Teacher for the Deaf at Clear Creek ISD. He is also a professor at Houston Community College and a Deaf Activist. You can see his website at http://porchedaily.typepad.com/porche-daily/ or follow him on Twitter @porcheb .

8 responses to “IP-Relay Scam”

  1. Maryellen says:

    Good article.. However, I’m a little confused on what the “scam” is. Can you clarify? Is it hearing people using ip-relay to make phone calls so that they cannot be identified via caller ID and/or their voice? Are people using the service to pose as another person? Are the peple using ip-relay to conduct illegal actions so that they cannot be identified (although, I am thinkin they can possibly be caught by looking up their ip addresses)?

    Funny thing is, when I read anything about people abusing the system that has been created for us D/HH people so that we can have an almost-equal access to communication, I immediately think of hearing people. However, we all have to remind ourselves and others that not only hearing people but I’m sure there are lots of D/HH people out there that are abusing the very systems that were designed to help them.

  2. Maryellen,

    I am glad you are clarifying the issue, what the scam is about. On ABC13, they had a customer alert and explained that someone was using the i711.com relay. The reporter explained and said that the scammer would obtain a phone number that is registered through an i711.com and place that phone number on a newspaper. Once someone sees a newspaper flyer on something that is selling, what the customer would have to do is call the i711.com number and leave a message. The scammer would call back to the customer’s number through an i711.com relay and instruct the customer on what to do with the money.

    Unfortunately, not a lot of hearing people realize to take note of the interpreter’s ID number so that way things can be followed up. That is why it is so important to take note of the interpreter’s ID number that way it can be traced though the ip address.

    You are right, not only a hearing person can abuse the relay service but the deaf and hard of hearing as well. I can think of many examples!

  3. jncutt says:

    Bradley….One clarification need to be addressed… FCC does not pay the VRS provides…FCC hired NECA (National Exchange Carrier Associaton) to handle the payments to the VRS providers. NECA reports to FCC on the statistics and paymetns.

    Secondly, I would highly recommend all of you to list all your numbers (including Videophones) to the http://www.donotcall.gov . You have to list all the videophone numbers you have to prevent it. I did it and it helped. All VRS Provider has not control over this to prevent it. Just for your informations.



  4. matilda porter says:

    Been scammed via IP Relay. Tell us your story here! Visa & MasterCard Fraud Contact Information included

  5. Mike says:

    Please edit your post to clarify that VRS (Video RELAY Service) is the free service and VRI (Video REMOTE Interpreter) is a pay-per-use service. Businesses can contract with a video interpreter company to buy “time” with an interpreter for VRI. You may wish to correct your last paragraph.

    Also, for anyone using a RELAY service of any type, please be patient with the company’s process for verifying your identity. All the codes, passwords, and secret questions are used to protect you and your transactions. If a company does not ask to identify you, you might wish to identify THEM. Remember, you may be a male, and the caller hears a female interpreter’s voice. It can be very important to ensure your identity.

    Tip: The more clear you are, the better your interpreter can “work” and provide accurate interpretations!

  6. Maryellen says:

    I heard about another scam this morning concerning VRS. At first, I thought it was the same issue discussed in the above article, but it is quite different. I would be glad to do a write-up of this scam to explain the situation if anyone is interested in it.

  7. relay_operator says:

    i’m a relay opr and i can attest personally that scam calls are so rampant they’re taking up almost 75% of our calls every single day. i recommend http://www.stoprelayabuse.com if you want to know more about how these scammers (mostly Nigerians) operate through relay. what puzzles me is how they can use the service since it is only available here in the US. i think the scammers are working in a call center or something, like it’s probably a company, because their messages are always the same, as though it is scripted. they make purchases and insists on paying over the phone using a stolen credit card. again, check the website i mentioned.
    what’s funny about them sometimes is that it’s obvious that they’re not americans and still they try so hard to seem like one, using american names and stuff. i even had a scammer who identified himself as “Chris Brown” and i almost wanted to tell that i’m Rihanna.
    if you have questions for a relay opr like me, i’ll answer them the next time i come back in this page. 🙂

  8. Melissa Ruth says:

    I’m hearing impaired but have only been so for approximately 4 years. I have recently been strongly considering using relay or video phones but haven’t seen the point of a video phone as I don’t know asl. This topic is very interesting to me and I’ve learned alot just by reading it! Thanks for posting it! I primarily use text to talk to most of my family so have been considering going to a data only cell phone plan but am leary…what you have shared makes me think otherwise.

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