Get Jesse: Call relays being used by scammers



Posted on January 22, 2010 at 12:29 AM

Updated Friday, Jan 22 at 12:29 AM

SEATTLE - Toby Matasar is the owner of Seattle's "Eats Market Cafe". Last week, the classically trained pastry chef almost got burned by an elaborate scam.

"A small business could really get hurt by something like this," she said.

It all began with an order that came into the restaurant via relay call. The relay call system allows the deaf to use phones by typing a message on one end and then it's converted into a voice on the other. In this, case the person on the call asked for an order of chicken salad for 250 people.

"That was an enormous order for a small restaurant like me. How did they get my name? How did they think of me?" asked Toby.

We don't know why Toby was chosen, but they wanted the $1,050 order quickly. So, she made plans to cook all weekend long.

"I had to order and enormous amount of chicken," said Toby.

But when Toby asked for the cash, the person who made the order made a strange request himself. He asked her to add an extra $1,050 to the order and put it on his credit card. Then, she was supposed to send $1,000 back to him by moneygram. Toby didn't bite, she called me.

"I knew something was up with this and I thought this is something that you've seen before or you've heard of a similar situation," said Toby.

I did some research and learned that relay abuse is rampant. Scammers from around the world can use these calls to reach their victims. So, I sent the scammer a message: "I'm on to you and I'm calling the cops." Thankfully, Toby's butcher took back the 200 pounds of chicken she ordered.

"I'm a small business and I know how much that would have hurt my business my cash flow," said Toby.

Now, I'm not telling businesses to stay away from relay calls. They do serve a very important purpose. But I want to make sure business owners trust their instincts. If a simple cash deal is getting too creative to make any real sense, stay away.