The phone call, e-mail or fax may be a familiar one to body shops. It typically indicates that a person is out of town and needs a tow to the shop, and asks if the shop would agree to wire $1,500 or a similar amount to him or her to cover the tow because the towing company won’t take credit cards. The person then instructs the shop to bill him or her the $1,500 on his or her credit card.
As many shops now know, this is a scam. The credit card number given by the perpetrators is stolen. If a phone call is placed, it’s typically through IP Relay, a service offered by AT&T, Sprint, MCI and others that allows deaf people and people with speech impediments to connect via any Web-ready computer, PDA or phone. The reason the perpetrators use IP Relay is because it provides a convenient way for them to hide their identities and lets them make free long distance calls.
The scam is still alive and well. A recent post on www.bodyshopbusiness.com indicates that Pello Body Shop in Brunswick, Ga., was contacted by the scammers recently by fax. The fax stated that the person had an accident and was in need of repairs but didn’t want insurance involved. The vehicle was said to be a 2007 Escalade and he needed information in order for the wrecker to drop off his vehicle, specifically the shop’s contact information. At that point, he would call the shop via IP Relay and ask for $1,500 to be charged on a credit card to cover the tow, with the rest being a deposit on the repairs.
When the call came through, Layla Morris-Watson, office manager at Pello Body Shop, told the IP Relay operator she would need the card present and also the tow company name and number for the mysterious “Mr. Morgan.” At that point, the call was disconnected.
“Times are tough right now for some shops, and some people don’t know any better,” said Morris-Watson. “I knew from the very moment I read the fax that this was a scam! I would like other shops to know that this is going on so no one falls victim to the scheme.”
Another shop owner posted online that he has come up with a new word track to handle the barrage of scam calls he gets: “Now, when I receive a relay operator call, I start the conversation off by saying, ‘It is shop policy not to accept credit cards over the phone. All customers must be present to sign a work order before any work can be initiated.’ When they hear that, they just hang up. This way, you don’t waste a whole bunch of time on the phone.”
An IP Relay operator remarked that 90 percent of the calls they handle are fraudulent, which she said is unfair to those who really need the service. She recommends to disconnect the call and to call IP Relay customer service at (877) 885-3172 to block future calls.