It's summertime and the scammers are busy. Maybe it's not the hot weather but the recession that's fueling what seems to be a resurgence in telephone scams.

A particularly odious scam is annoying local businesses in part because it's a time waster and in part because it plays on the mark's empathy for the disabled.

Known as TTY scams, these ploys are part of the Nigerian family of frauds, a group so named because it began with rackets to get people to send money to a beneficiary far away, often said to be in Nigeria.

The TTY calls supposedly come via the the telephone relay systems used by the hearing-impaired. The caller, who claims to be a TTY operator, offers a blizzard of numbers as identification and then initiates a protracted conversation, with bits of information interspersed by long delays.

Eventually there's a pitch. The "deaf person" needs some service or goods, provides a phony credit card and directs that the goods - or sometimes an overpayment supposedly made in error - be sent to a third party.

The sad reality of these scams is there is no deaf person and, in most cases, the "operator" is using a computer to simulate a telephone relay call. The credit card or check provided by the buyer turns out to be phony, and the goods - or a refund on a bad check, in some versions - go to the con artist.

Merchants fooled by this scam often admit they got caught because they were worried about saying "no" and being accused of insensitivity, or even discrimination against the deaf.

The fact is, merchants have a right to protect themselves and their customers from fraud. According to the Better Business Bureau, the savvy merchant should ask the relay operator for his or her full name, address and phone number, and require not only the credit card number and verification code but also the bank name on the card. Next. the merchant should tell the "customer" he or she will check with the bank and call back.

Remember, a real TTY system works both ways.

The scammers are not above using a local customer name and phone number to present as the cardholder. But the second step - calling to verify - reveals the con.

It's unfortunate sign of the times that such precautions are necessary, but the extra effort is well worth it. And you can take that to the bank.

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