Scam artists play off emotions

An alleged scammer tried to give the address of 218 N. Monroe St. as the residence where he was selling bulldog puppies. The house is unoccupied and under extensive interior remodeling.

An alleged scammer tried to give the address of 218 N. Monroe St. as the residence where he was selling bulldog puppies. The house is unoccupied and under extensive interior remodeling.

ALBANY, Ga. -- Using a method for deaf people to make phone calls to the hearing community, scammers try to steal money from residents, a law enforcement official said.

A system for the deaf known as Internet Protocol Relay allows the hearing impaired to call the hearing community. Scammers pretend to be deaf and use the services of companies such as AT&T to con money from the unsuspecting.

"The sad part of it is that many pretend to be veterans who served in Iraq and lost their hearing in the war," said Dougherty County Sheriff's Office Capt. Craig Dodd.

Dodd said that many of the scammers call numbers from classified ads that advertise puppies for sale.

"They say that they were injured in the war and that having a dog would be helpful for the emotional trauma of their injuries," Dodd said. "It is hard to turn your back on a veteran."

The way the scam works is that a scammer offers to buy puppies, such as the $350 purebred Shih Tzus offered by Karen Sills, through a classified ad.

A couple of weeks ago, Sills received a call from a scammer using the IP system. Using the system, a scammer types in a message and a live operator makes the call.

The system is mandated by the federal government, paid for with tax money and is free to the deaf. Scammers have also found a way to use it.

The scammer Sills dealt with wanted to overpay her, she said. Then Sills was supposed to wire any leftover money back to the scammer.

Typically in that kind of scam deal, Dodd said, a bogus credit card or check is used by the scammer. Once the seller receives the payment, they send off the wired cash.

By the time the scammer's bogus payment is rejected by the bank, the seller's wired cash has gone into the pocket of the scammer.

Sills didn't fall for the ruse.

In a recent call to the Albany Herald, a scammer sought to place a classified advertisement to sell bulldog puppies.

Through the operator, he said his ad should read, "Two English bulldog puppies. If you are interesting, contact Steven Williams."

The operator asked Williams if the spelling of 'interesting' was correct. He said it was. Because the scammer was led on, he gave his name, a telephone number and an Albany address.

Williams said he lived at 219 N. Monroe St. Asked if someone could drop by and talk to him at his Monroe Street home about the dogs or about scammers using the IP Relay system to steal from people, he hung up.

A visit to the address revealed an uninhabited home undergoing extensive interior remodeling. In this case, a victim would probably be asked to wire money and would never receive the bulldog.

The misuse of English could mean that the scammer is in Africa or the Middle East and have an accent or little command of the language, Dodd said. There is always the possibility the money scammed could end up in terrorist organizations' hands, he added.

The Federal Communication Commission and the FBI are aware of the scammers using the IP Relay to scam people, said Stacy Harth of AT&T Corporate Communications.

Harth said, "This issue is not unique to AT&T services, and the FCC has issued a consumer advisory offering more background and tips on this website: http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/iprelayfraud.html."

The Albany Police Department and the Dougherty County Police Department have received no complaints about this particular scam, officials with both departments said.

"These people have no morals or scruples," Dodd said. "They will steal from 80-year-old grandmothers if they can."