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"People can even make drug deals on the phone, and the relay operator is not supposed to do anything but convey the information."

- from an article on  BoingBoing.net

See also these related articles:

Nigerian Scams on the Rise

More Reports from Readers Who Have Been Targeted by Nigerian Con Artists

Business Owners' Experiences with Nigerian Con Artists Using the Relay Telephone Service for the Deaf to Defraud Online Businesses

Visit FraudAid.com to learn how to verify a money order, regular check or cashier's check and know when you're dealing with a Nigerian scammer.

Caught in the Middle!

The Plight of Relay Telephone
Operators Nationwide

by "Clear Conscience"
September, 2005

This exclusive report was received from a relay telephone operator named "Clear Conscience" (who must remain anonymous for reasons that will quickly become clear). He explains how Nigerian con artists have hijacked the telephone relay system for deaf people – with the blessing of the FCC and the three major telephone carriers! – and turned relay phone operators into full-time facilitators of fraud. And there is nothing they can do about it
 . . . except spread the word at the risk of losing their job and, worse, being prosecuted! Please help them by alerting small business owners to pass on filling orders from anyone in Nigeria.

I'm a relay operator, and I've witnessed firsthand many of the Nigerian fraud orders you’ve written about on your site. I read many of the comments you’ve posted, and they appear all too familiar. I have seen these people try to order any and everything, ranging from the absurd (a supposedly deaf person trying to order a musical instrument), to the scary (orders for 50 AK-47 assault rifles), to the perverted (orders for mass quantities of sex toys). And it is not only merchandise that they try to get. Quite often, they try to buy plane tickets to move themselves from one continent to the next. And all the while an unsuspecting card-holder is footing the bill.

As relay operators, it angers us to see it happen. We have to participate in it, and we don't like it. But guess what happens when we voice our concerns to the phone companies we work for: We are told to process the calls, and to keep our mouths shut about it. The company I work for is MCI, and they have told us repeatedly that if we don't keep our mouths shut, we will lose our jobs immediately at best and, at worst, be prosecuted.

Many were the times that I went to supervisors, begging them to allow me to disconnect these fraud calls, but the response I got was "Well, this might be an actual deaf person, and we cannot interfere in their calls." A friend of mine, shortly before losing his job for defying company policy on this issue, was told by his supervisor that he "ought not to wear his morals on his sleeve," and that his beliefs were not important to the company. He was told that if he did not agree with facilitating crime that he should just go find another company to work for.

Tons of operators who have openly defied the policy and disconnected the calls and/or warned the victims have lost their jobs on the spot. Many more have just quit out of sheer frustration and guilt. The sad thing is that we all took the job on the good faith that what we did would help the deaf. We all held lofty ideals of providing a service that would allow a segment of the population that desperately needed our help to be able to finally communicate in a world they couldn't previously communicate in before. We didn't know we'd be hijacked into thievery and international fraud.

The IP Relay companies are aware of this, and they are fully complicit. MCI, AT&T, and Sprint have full knowledge of what's going on, yet they maintain an appearance of plausible deniability by intimidation and threatening of their employees and Gestapo-like tactics of rooting out dissenters. They hide behind dubious FCC rulings. They ruthlessly toss out people who try to protect the innocent, they buy out media coverage, and they lie.

It might interest you to know that the reason I remain anonymous even here is that even just revealing that one works as a relay operator is punishable by immediate termination (even if you reveal it to your own spouse)!

So, please, let the word get out there that those of us who process the relay calls for the scammers do not enjoy or like what they do. Many of us are trapped, and we don't know where to turn. So forgive us, and let everyone you know be aware of the problem and that there are those of us who are trying to defy the system and fight back. - Thanks, "Clear Conscience"

Editor's 2013 Update: For a while, there was a discussion forum on the Web for IP Telephone Operators, but it has closed down; or perhaps the FCC closed it down. I am no longer in touch with "Clear Conscience."

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