The FCC explains an IP relay call as:

IP Relay allows people who have difficulty hearing or speaking to communicate through the telephone system with hearing persons. IP Relay is accessed using a computer and the Internet, rather than a TTY and a telephone. So individuals who use IP Relay do not need to invest in a TTY; they simply use the computer to communicate by text. When conversing over IP Relay, people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have difficulty speaking can participate in a conference call or go online while holding a conversation.

The article goes on to explain that the IP relay call goes from the caller to a TRS (Telecommunications Relay Service) which is staffed by communication assistants.  These CA’s place a landline call to the phone number requested and act as the voice of the person typing into the computer.

Many people who are deaf, have difficulty hearing or who are unable to speak on the phone currently use TRS to communicate.  In fact, the TRS is funded by public money and overseen by the FCC.

 But the TRS has started being used by scammers in an attempt to swindle money from funeral homes.  The scam goes like this:

1.  Scammer is sitting at a computer and has several IP relay calls launched on screen.  Because he/she can type fast, none of the communication assistants in stateside TRS centers notices any real lag in conversation.  (The FCC site actually lists the ability to surf the internet or handle multiple conversations as a benefit to the IP relay service)

2.  The CA handling the request makes a call to your funeral home, explaining that a deaf or disabled person is seeking assistance from your firm.  In recent scams, the person is trying to repatriate remains from an African country.

3.  While the CA is talking to you, the scammer is copying the same information to other IP relay calls, hoping to trick one or more funeral homes into sending advance checks for consulate fees or other charges.

We’ve already heard from a number of funeral homes about this type of call and they all sound the same.  One director, Joe S., shares this story:

I am a funeral director in Oregon, and last night I received a ip relay call from someone claiming to be a Jehovah’s Witness missionary in Legos, Nigeria.

He said his name was “Michael Moore”, and his wife’s name is Arlene Moore.

He said that his wife had died September 4, and that the casket and death certificates where all taken care of.

He said that he was from the same town as my funeral home and that he wanted me to find a cemetery for his wife. This made me very suspicious, since I am in a small town, and anyone from here would be very familiar with the only cemetery nearby.

When I asked for contact info for the funeral home in Nigeria, he said, “Yes, yes I will give you the postals for them so you can make arrangements.” This person suppled an e-mail address for both him and the funeral home, and both where He was reluctant to give me a phone number for the funeral home, but after I insisted he provided one.

He wanted me to arrange with the funeral home in Nigeria to have his wife’s “Corpse” as he put it, transported to the nearest airport, and he asked me where the closest airport would be. Again, anyone from around this area would know that the closest international airport is in Portland. He wanted to pay for all this over the phone with a credit card. (Presumably another ip relay)

You know, what would happen if you actually where a missionary in Nigeria and your wife died, AND you were deaf/mute?

IP relay is not a commonly used service.  Those who truly need it are, thankfully, few.  What are the odds that the only IP relay call you’ll ever get is from someone in Nigeria who wants repatriation, the same scam being perpetrated in email?

Even worse, U.S. tax dollars pay for the very real system of human work that goes into making the TRS and IP relay calls functional.  These scammers have found a way to scam us out of money and even get us to pay for the call.

Don’t take the call.  Or, at the very least, ask enough questions to verify that the call is real.  And don’t pay for anything up front or offer your bank account number.