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June 2, 2004

Relay phone scam hits Fargo-Moorhead area

From: In-Forum, ND - Jun 2, 2004

By Craig McEwen, The Forum
Published Wednesday, June 02, 2004

A scam using stolen credit card numbers to make purchases using a relay calling service reserved for the deaf has hit Fargo-Moorhead.

On Thursday, Alan Evans Bridal of Moorhead received a call taken by Mark Bayer, one of the store's owners.

"This is Mark from Nigeria. I'm interested in purchasing 30 wedding gowns," the caller told a telephone operator, who relayed the message to Bayer.

"I'm not interested in selling them to you over the phone," Bayer said, telling the caller to stop in the store and he would gladly sell him 30 wedding dresses.

The operator relayed that message back to the Nigerian customer, who said, "Thank you very much," and hung up.

Bayer knew right away what was going on after reading about similar calls from warnings posted on the Internet.

"Our industry has alerted us," said Valerie Softing, another Alan Evans store partner. "They order 20 to 50 wedding gowns from store stock, put it on stolen credit cards and ask to have it shipped overnight to Nigeria."

It can take several days, even weeks to find out if the credit card purchase went through, Softing said. "By that time you've lost all your merchandise."

The same thing has been happening in Fargo. "We see this scam surface from time to time," said Parrell Grossman, director of the North Dakota attorney general's consumer protection division.

North Dakota businesses need to be very careful when they get suspicious large- quantity, large-ticket orders from outside the state or country, Grossman said.

To report an incident in North Dakota they should call (800) 472-2600, he said.

Leslie Sandberg, press secretary for the Minnesota attorney general's office, said victims of such scams can also call the U.S. Secret Service financial crimes division at (202) 406-5850S.

Ron Peterson said Crown Jewels of Fargo has received about 10 calls in the past month.

A store employee came "very close" to shipping out $1,500 worth of gold chains, Peterson said.

The caller gave the employee a Master Card credit card number, registered to an account in Nigeria. But store personnel wondered why anyone from Nigeria would be purchasing anything in North Dakota, Peterson said.

Master Card's fraud division said the credit card number the store clerk was given did not match the name on the card.

Another customer wanted to order 10 Rado stainless steel watches by phone.

"I said, wow, this is a good deal," Peterson recalls. "But we didn't have 10."

Peterson said he told the potential customer how many Rado watches the store had. The customer wanted prices, he said.

Peterson told the customer to call back. The call never came.

Telephone companies offer the relay calls to assist disabled persons.

For instance, Sprint's Website says Sprint Relay Online is a service offered to deaf and hard of hearing individuals that allows them to play relay calls over the Internet between locations in the United States (including its territories).

International calls will either be blocked or terminated, the Web site says.

AT&T Internet Relay Service enables deaf, hard of hearing or speech disabled people to place text calls through the Internet to hearing people who use standard phones to communicate.

Users access the relay site and are connected to a communications assistant to whom they type messages. The assistant relays the messages verbally to the hearing person on the other end of the line, who then types a return message.

AT&T advises that anyone receiving unwanted Internet relay calls request that a relay block be placed on their telephone line. For more information check out

Bayer said he thinks the scam artists are using the relay call system because it's more difficult to track.

Readers can reach Forum Business Editor Craig McEwen at (701) 241-5502

©2004 Forum Communications Co. Fargo, ND 58102 — All rights reserved