DoJ finds AT&T culpable for relay

Rob Powell/Telecom Ramblings
26 Mar 2012

If you thought that three months after the T-Mobile deal died the US government and AT&T might have shook hands and made up already, you were wrong.

Ok, maybe nobody thought that. But yesterday the US DoJ accused AT&T of knowing that those Nigerian scam artists that never seem to get tired of filling your email box had also overrun the carrier’s taxpayer-funded hearing-impaired program.

Specifically, AT&T managed to get reimbursed to the tune of $16 million for the program, while 95% of the calls were actually from overseas scammers trying to buy things with stolen card numbers and such.

They would use the the IP Relay’s text service, presumably to not be so easily identiable as a foreign caller since an operator would then read the text out loud to the merchant on the other end. For its part, AT&T says that it was just connecting calls for people who identified themselves as disabled, as required by the FCC, and isn’t responsible for how it was used.

AT&T’s proceeds from this were, in the grand scheme of things, not much more than what they spend on gourmet cupcakes for FCC staff each year. It’s not the kind of thing top management would have known about, it’s more the kind of thing that some folks in the middle know and have their own reasons for not making a stink about it. Obviously AT&T as a whole probably should have spoken up, but in cases like these it’s usually the case that lots of other people knew too. It’s just that they weren’t getting paid for it, and apparently AT&T was – at $1.30/minute.

You just can’t make this stuff up. Had the US and AT&T been on speaking terms, perhaps they could have turned this whole thing against the scammers somehow. Maybe redirected foreign IP Relay calls into a honeypot or something, to collect and deactivate the cards or track the organizations behind the fraud. Now it’ll just get settled by the lawyers for the lawyers and get written off in a few quarters, while the scammers just find another way in that nobody’s watching carefully.

PC World has more details, with a whistleblower figuring highly in the accusations.

This article was authored by Rob Powell and was originally posted on

Rob Powell is founder & editor of Telecom Ramblings, which was set up in 2008. The website is dedicated to discussing trends and developments in the telecom industry.

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