Off the hook

Joseph Waring

Off the hook

July 20, 2012

Talk about bill shock. A business owner in the US state of Massachusetts received a near $900,000 bill from AT&T for calls supposedly made over four days to Somalia.

The businessman claimed hackers used AT&T as a "dial around" long-distance service and refused to pay, so the telco giant sued him in 2009 for $1.15 million (of course tacking on more than $200,000 in interest). He later countersued.

The interesting thing is that the company with 14 employees had didn't even have a phone contract with AT&T – its service provider was Verizon, which had noticed a huge increase in international calls over a weekend (to the tune of $260,000) and cut off service. Verizon later wrote off the bill.

But not AT&T. According to The Consumerist:

AT&T claims the company should've taken more precautions to prevent unauthorized access to its phone system, and that under FCC regulations, it’s allowed to collect the money from the owner of the phone line used to make the calls, even if the business wasn't the one making the calls.

AT&T said last week it would drop the three-year-old lawsuit if the businessman dropped his countersuit. The man is consulting with his lawyer.

One question is how could someone rack up a near million dollar bill in just four days – at the posted rate of $6.67/min to Somalia, that's nearly 35,000 minutes in calls. Four days has just 5,750 minutes. If the hackers used AT&T's "Value Calling" rate, for the same amount they would have had almost 539,000 minutes (that's almost 374 days).

But the shocking question is why did the company pursue a bill it knew was fraudulent and why did it take three years before it stopped harassing the business owner?

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Joseph Waring
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