Scam Alert: Scammers using taxpayer-funded tool for disabled to steal money

By: Tim Ciesco Email
By: Tim Ciesco Email

A tool meant to help Coloradans with disabilities is now being used by scammers as tool to steal your money.

Grand Junction resident Teresa Black recently found herself with a litter of six puppies. She placed a classified ad in the newspaper in the hopes of selling them and almost immediately she got calls from people interested in buying them -- but not from a source she was expecting.

"I started getting calls through the relay operators," said Black.

Relay Colorado 711 is a free, state-run service that helps people with hearing and speech disabilities make phone calls.

"I recognize relay calls and at first, it didn't send off red flags for me," says Black.

But she soon learned this caller was not who the service was meant for. She says after the call, she received an email from the buyer, who told her he wanted to wire her the money to pay for the dog. Black says the entire email had very poor grammar.

"They offered me a hundred dollars extra for my trouble," says Black. "And I knew immediately that it was a scam."

Authorities say scammers will send businesses or people selling things a fake money order for more than an item costs, telling them the additional money is to cover shipping costs. They then tell the seller to deposit the money order immediately and forward the leftover money to the "shipper's" account. But because the money order is fake, any money sent to the "shipper's account" will ultimately end up coming out of your pocket.

"I got on the Internet and did some research and apparently this is really common," says Black.

Black immediately cut off contact with the buyer and did not move forward with the sale. She says she's upset to see scammers use a service meant for good for criminal purposes.

"I saw blogs from people who are hearing impaired and they're as upset as we are because now, when they try to use it for legitimate business purposes, they're labeled as scammers," says Black.

And to make matters worse, "I pay a tax every month to support that system that people are now using to scam me," Black says.

The Better Business Bureau says scammers are getting more creative as more and more people become aware of their ploys. Officials say using the relay service gives them more legitimacy when talking with businesses or people.

To prevent yourself from falling victim to a scam like this, authorities say never wire money to someone you don't know, be wary of anyone who sends you more money than the item you're selling is worth, and above all, keep your guard up.

"If I got two calls in three months, other people in the Valley are probably getting them as well," says Black.

For more stories on other scams hitting the Western Slope, click the links below.

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