Don't believe everything you 'hear'

HOUSTON Playing on your sympathies is not unusual for the unscrupulous. But this latest effort is a new way to search for victims.

We've told you before about fake checks being sent to people selling items on eBay or Craigslist. Con artists are doing the same thing but with a twist, playing on a seller's willingness to help the hearing impaired.

Some little dogs nearly led their owner into big trouble. The miniature schnauzer puppies are for sale and Stephanie Alford recently put an ad in her local paper hoping the pint-sized pups would attract a lot of interest, and they did.

She said, "It was getting good feedback. I was getting phone calls and Friday evening at 5:45 is when I got 'the phone call.'"

That caller used an unusual way to communicate.

Alford explained, "It was a relay service and when I picked it up she said it was a relay call and had I had one before? And I was like, 'No, ma'am.' She said the other person on the other end is going to type and I am going to relay it to you."

Relay operators are used by the hearing impaired. Alford says the relay came from The relay operator told Alford the person using the service was interested in buying one of her dogs.

"My mind, anyway, told me that person on the other end was most likely deaf," Alford said. "They gave me their email so that I could email them directly."

The buyer wanted to send Alford a check for more than the asking price of the dog to cover shipping fees.

She said, "She just wanted to send me a check or money order, and for me to cash the amount and keep $100 for my trouble and mail the rest of it to Western Union."

As soon as Alford saw that detail, she turned to the Internet and found other pet sellers who have been contacted in the same manner with the same payment arraignments.

"I had seen a few others (that referenced) hearing impaired, which is really said," Alford said. "I cannot believe that people would go that low."

Alford admits the hearing impairment angle had her eager to help the potential buyer, and it's that sympathy that consumer advocates say gets people to let their guard down.

Deana Turner with the Houston Better Business Bureau explained, "Any time you've got any kind of an emotional situation, you are going to see the scammers come out."

We spoke with an advocate for the hearing impaired who said relay operators are a typical way for the hearing impaired to communicate, but they add that anyone can use the service, not just someone who needs the assistance. That's very likely the case with the person looking to pay more for that puppy than the asking price.

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