Below I quote from this Wikipedia entry about Telecommunications Relay Service:
As much of the tele-relay system, particularly IP-Relay, is open for public use, it is possible for anyone with the proper equipment to place calls. This includes people who are not members of the original intended user group (i.e., persons who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, or speech-impaired). Some such users have noted its usefulness in making long-distance or local calls free of charge and without a telephone. The accessibility even to those who are not deaf, etc. has been defended by providers as a necessary evil. This is because the principle of “transparency” – the belief that the operator and the mechanics of relay should generally go as unnoticed as possible in the call – requires that Relay be as easy to use as a normal telephone, which does not require any kind of verification for hearing people to use. This decision has been defended by leaders in the deaf community, and generally retains strong support among speech and hearing-disabled users of the service.
One of the “necessary evils” the above quotation refers to is the use of text relay services by Nigerian scam artists. Some text relay operators actually gave up their jobs in order to stop doing what made them sick and be free to break the story to the news. Here are two of those news stories that are linked to from the aforementioned Wikipedia entry:
Con artists target phone system for deaf – Security – MSNBC.com and Overseas crooks abuse phone service for deaf | www.azstarnet.com ®
I feel sorry for those relay operators who lost their jobs, but I applaud them for doing what was right. If it were not for their refusal to remain silent, the world might not know about the abuses that were going on. And as they said, having to relay fraudulent calls was driving them crazy. That’s what we have consciences for: to nag us into doing what is right.
I have to be so careful what I say about my work. This makes it hard to talk about publicly, but I feel a need to say what I can without breaking any confidences or codes of professional conduct.
The abuse I see occuring in video relay is not so much that the scam artists are masquerading as deaf people, but that they count on the interpreters to interpret everything they say without advising the deaf person that they are being scammed. Good old “transparency”!
Yes, “transparency,” may be a necessary evil, because if interpreters advised their deaf clients of their opinions all the time, the interpreters might sometimes be wrong in their assessment of the situation and the hearing consumers would no longer feel confident that interpreters would render their messages faithfully without injecting the interpreter’s opinion.
But transparency is evil in the sense that hearing scam artists take advantage of it, knowing that they can tell deaf people whatever they want without the interpreter interfering!
There is something interpreters can do, however. In public forums such as this blog, or in private discussions with their deaf friends or colleagues, they can alert people to the fact that such scams are going on. And if an interpreter receives a call that they cannot interpret for ethical or personal reasons (whatever those reasons might be), the FCC allows for that interpreter to transfer the call to another interpreter. When transfering a call, it is permissible for the interpreter handing off the call to give pertinent information to the interpreter taking the call. I don’t see why one interpreter cannot tell another, “I believe this is a scam call.” Then, the receiving interpreter may choose whether or not to accept the call. Another thing the FCC allows an interpreter to do is look at the telephone numbers of incoming calls and decide whether or not to take them. There is nothing to stop an interpreter from keeping a personal list (not shared with anyone else!) of numbers that they will not accept calls to or from.
Still, the FCC does not allow any telecommunications relay service, be it text or video, to terminate a call unless one or both of the callers directly abuses the interpreter or fails to follow the rules of the service. Unless the interpreter rejects the call before it even begins, his or her only recourse is to handoff the call to another interpreter. Perhaps the frustration of having to wait a long time for an interpreter (because they are all “on to you”) or having to be handed off from one interpreter to another (because no one can stand you) might be enough to disuade frauds from abusing the service. But I wouldn’t count on it.
I think that more safeguards need to be in place, and I just thought of one idea I may have write about in another entry: if a relay service has all of its deaf consumers agree to “terms of service,” or a “license,” then why don’t they make the hearing consumers agree to the same? One of the rules could be: “I agree not to use this service to defraud people or commit crimes punishable by law.” Then, if an interpreter saw either party breaking the rules, the interpreter would be in his or her rights to terminate the call and report the abusers to the service. Hmm! 🙂