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November 14, 2005

Business caught up in scam targeting phone sysem for deaf

From: Black Hills Pioneer, SD - Nov 14, 2005

SIOUX FALLS (AP) - A labor union is working to organize employees of a Sioux Falls business that relays calls to people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing in an effort to stop scammers who take advantage of the system.

Through companies such as Communication Service for the Deaf, people with hearing impairments can communicate through the telephone or computer. Operators can place or receive calls using several methods such as a TTY text telephone machine or video relay services.

Mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act, Telecommunications Relay Service provides millions of deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans with a way to use the telephone.

But scammers have found a way to place fraudulent calls through the system. In other cases, information that is pornographic in nature is passed along.

When an operator places a relay call, the worker is required by federal law to repeat exactly what the original caller wants. That means the operator, who might know it's fraud, cannot stop it.

By unionizing, workers hope to put enough pressure on the Federal Communications Commission to force a rule change that would allow them to warn potential fraud victims and end phone sex calls, Rozanne DuBois, local president of the Communications Workers of America, told The Argus Leader in a copyright story Sunday.

Rick Norris, a spokesman for CSD, said most fraud comes from Internet-based calls and the majority originate in the African nations of Nigeria or Ghana.

''The important thing that we want to convey is that we should not be blaming the deaf community,'' Norris said, ''or the people who provide the service.''

FCC rules do not allow service providers to monitor the content of the calls, so there is no way to know how many are illegitimate. But the problem has caught the attention of the FCC, officials said.

''That's an issue that we're aware of and studying very hard,'' said Thomas Chandler, head of the FCC Disability Rights Office in the Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau.

Norris said CSD has been working with the FCC to minimize the calls. But the scammers ''have found loopholes to find their way around that.''

''It's a growing problem, and more and more people are becoming aware,'' Norris said. ''It casts a bad shadow on the entire deaf community.''

©The Black Hills Pioneer, Newspapers, South Dakota, SD 2005