RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – There are more than a thousand car repair and towing companies in the Richmond area. Many of them are independently owned and the FBI says each and every one of them is a potential target for a growing fraud scheme.
People who are deaf or have speech impairments use a telephone relay service to send and receive phone calls. Scam artists are abusing that service to exploit businesses.
For 27 years Sid's Towing has been a fixture in eastern Henrico. They've done a lot of business with a lot of different people. But a recent phone call was familiar and odd all at the same time.
"It was very consistent with working with previous relay calls before," said Gena Barker, Sid's Towing Service.
Gena says the call was placed using a teletype service, which is how deaf people and people with speech impairments make phone calls. The caller wanted Sid's to pick up some cars from the airport and that's where the call got weird.
"He didn't refer to the local airport as being Richmond International, it was just the local airport," she said.
Red flag number one says Gena. Still, she worked up a quote and confirmed she could a credit card. Then the operator relayed-- can you go ahead and pay the shipper for me.
"If you pay them $2500, I'll give you a thousand dollars and I'll settle up with you," said Gena.
Sid's Towing isn't alone. The FBI issued a warning for auto repair shops and the like about these scammers. They're using the relay service to claim that a vehicle has to be shipped to a repair shop and charged to a fake credit card. The business is then told to wire the money to shipper to cover the shipping costs. A scam that leaves the business holding the bag.
"I was very offended. I was very upset, especially in this economy. He just basically moved on to the next individual," Gena said.
Gena didn't fall for it and the caller hung up. Relief for Sid's Towing, but concern for other business in an economic climate where everybody is struggling to protect their bottom lines.
"It doesn't take you long to get behind on your bills and get behind on paying your vendors and it could have a snowball effect," she said.
This type of scam isn't limited to just the phone or just car repair and towing businesses. Consumers and businesses should be careful to know exactly who you're doing business with before you go finish a transaction.