A TTY system is a telephone specially outfitted for users who are hearing-impaired. In a disturbing new trend, it is being increasingly used to commit fraud against small businesses.

“TTY” stands for “teletypewriter,” and the term is sometimes used to describe teletypes in general. TTY systems allow people who are deaf and hard of hearing to make calls to each other, and with the assistance of relay systems, users can also communicate with people who do not have TTY systems.

A North Carolina restaurant nearly lost hundreds of dollars to a scammer using the system.

“Don’t let scammers take advantage of you and the TTY system,” said North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. “Falling for one of these calls will cost your business money instead of helping you earn a profit.”

Active in North Carolina

According to Cooper, Big Ed’s restaurant in downtown Raleigh received a call last week made through a TTY operator with a message from a customer who wanted to order 200 sausages at a cost of $700. The customer provided a credit card number and an email address to receive the invoice.

When the caller asked the restaurant to also send $852 by Western Union and charge it to the credit card, Big Ed’s got suspicious and reported the call to Cooper's office.

A Wilmington bakery, Hot Pink Cake Stand, reported getting a similar call last week via a TTY operator. The caller claimed to be a regular customer who needed money wired right away because his car had broken down.

The TTY scam is a new wrinkle on an old scheme. The objective remains the same – the persuade the victim to wire money to the scammer. Authorities believe the use of the TTY system is designed to elicit sympathy from the victim and make them lower their guard.

Red flags

Here’s how to spot and avoid similar scams:

  • If you get a TTY call from someone you don’t know, always ask for the person’s full name, address and telephone number.
  • If the caller wants to place an order from your business by credit card, ask for the name of the bank that issued the card, their toll-free number as listed on the card, and the three or four digit verification code listed on the back of the card. Verify the information with the bank before placing the order. This will help weed out callers using stolen credit card numbers.
  • Never agree to charge a credit card or cash a check and then wire money back to someone.