The Biz: WNC Business Briefs

Deaf-relay scam targets local eateries

In recent weeks, at least two Asheville restaurants have found themselves on the wrong end of a scam involving a telephone deaf-relay system. Such systems allow deaf users to conduct phone conversations by using operators to read text to the other party.

Nice catch: Dave Trout of Trout Insurance Services hoists the trophy his business was awarded as tops in customer service for local employers with one to 15 employees. At its annual "We're for Business" luncheon on Feb. 23, the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce awarded eight local companies in the fields of customer service, green business, innovation and community involvement. To see all the winners, go to www.mountainx.com. Photo by Jason Sandford

But in the past decade, scammers, often from other countries, have used the free service to mask their identity while conducting credit-card scams. And recently, they turned their attentions to the West End Bakery on Haywood Road and the Tomato Jam Café on Biltmore Avenue.

Bakery owner Cathy Cleary says the call came in the form of an order for a wedding cake. "A very, very expensive wedding cake," she says. The caller ordered the $1,500 cake, even sending a photo of what they wanted. They then asked the bakery to put the $1,000 charge for shipping the cake to Toronto on the credit-card number they supplied and pay the shipper with a check.

"I thought it sounded fishy all along," says Cleary. And when the credit-card number didn't work, they gave her others, none of which were approved. Contacting the credit card company, Cleary was told "not to have any contact with this person and that it was a classic phone-relay scam," she reports.

A few days earlier, Tomato Jam Café owner Rebecca Daun-Widner got a similar call from someone who ordered 200 salads but wanted the restaurant to charge an extra $900 to the card and give it to the person who came to pick up the order.

"The whole thing felt just a little bit strange," she recalls. Both businesses terminated the exchanges before any money was lost and then sent out word about the scams via e-mail and listservs.

"The credit-card guy told me they're trying to mask their identities because they're from another country and don't speak English very well," notes Cleary. Deaf-relay operators are barred from saying anything other than the text message, even if they suspect a scam.

The two business owners didn't report the incidents to the Asheville Police Department, and the APD says it hasn't received any other complaints about such scams.

Meanwhile, Cleary says she's already gotten another deaf-relay call requesting 20 kilos of flour, a call she suspects was also a scam.

Locals are green lawn-care finalists

Asheville residents Jon Allred and Matt Card are among five finalists in a national contest to win a local Clean Air Lawn Care franchise. The Colorado-based sustainable-lawn-care company runs its mowers on wind and solar power and uses organic fertilizers.

Contestants in the online contest submit video detailing their belief in green operations and why they had a challenging 2009. The winner will receive a franchise, complete with equipment and a "virtual grand opening," worth a total of $39,000, according to the company's Web site.

To view Allred and Card's video and vote, go to www.cleanairlawncare.com/opp2010vote.html.

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