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Deceiving the Deaf

People who are hard of hearing, and organizations that advocate on their behalf, are being victimized or used as fronts in several little-known but persistent, unscrupulous schemes.

In one ongoing scam, deaf people are notified by e-mail that they’ve won a “lottery for the deaf,” sometimes purportedly connected with the National Association of the Deaf.

It’s a lie, says the NAD, a bona fide organization based in Silver Spring, Md., that has nothing to do with the phony lottery.

This fraud first surfaced several years ago but recently rebounded in several states. E-mails targeting the hearing-impaired promise winnings of $50,000 or more—but the “winners” are told they can collect the prize only after first paying $1,500 to cover taxes or other fees. Once the money is wired, the victims never hear back from the perpetrators, who are believed to be based overseas.

Another scam claims to be from charities or advocacy groups for the deaf, asking for donations or answers to surveys. In reality, these e-mails attempt to gain personal financial information—and money—from good-hearted Samaritans. Recently, scammers sent a barrage of such e-mails appropriating the name of Deaf Women United, a national nonprofit based in Philadelphia. The advocacy group has issued a warning about the phony solicitations—and cautions people not to respond to e-mails from, or similar addresses.

Scammers also target businesses using technology designed for deaf people to communicate by telephone. Messages entered on a TTY (teletypewriter) or TDD (telecommunications device for the deaf) are transmitted over the Internet or by a telephone relay operator—a telecommunications employee who serves as a go-between for deaf and hearing parties in a call. The process masks the scammer’s identity because, by law, the operator is prohibited from disclosing the origin of a call and must relay any message, no matter how suspicious. Usually, the crook orders a large quantity of expensive merchandise and pays with a stolen credit card. The business ships the order and finds out later the payment was fraudulent.

To protect yourself:

• First, realize that there is no “lottery for the deaf”—and any “prize” demanding upfront fees is bogus. Scammers can easily get your e-mail address from chat rooms or by buying address lists.

• If you want to donate to organizations that help the hearing-impaired, do it directly. Do not respond to solicitations sent by e-mail.

• Business owners should check with the credit card issuer before shipping orders placed via TTY or TDD, purportedly from deaf customers or organizations that assist them.

If you’ve been duped in any of these scams, report it to your state attorney general’s office. E-mails claiming to have come from deaf services or promoting a “deaf lottery” should be forwarded to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.