Gov't sues AT&T over Internet calls

Mar 22, 2012 By PETE YOST , Associated Press

(AP) -- The Justice Department has sued to recover millions of dollars from AT&T Corp., alleging the company improperly billed the government for services that are designed for use by the deaf and hard-of-hearing who place calls by typing messages over the Internet.

The system has been abused by callers overseas who use it to defraud U.S. merchants by ordering goods with stolen credit cards and counterfeit checks. In response, the federal government ordered telecom companies to register their users.

The Justice Department lawsuit said AT&T failed to adopt procedures to detect or prevent fraudulent users from registering. The government said the company feared its call volumes would drop once fraudulent users were prevented from calling on the system. The government reimbursed AT&T $1.30 per minute for every call on this system.

AT&T spokesman Marty Richter said the company has followed Federal Communications Commission rules for providing these services for disabled customers and for seeking reimbursement for those services.

AT&T has allowed thousands of calls by fraudulent users who registered with fake names or addresses and then billed the government for making the calls, the Justice Department said in court papers filed Wednesday. The department alleged that up to 95 percent of such calls handled by AT&T since November 2009 have been made by fraudulent users.

The United States has paid millions of dollars for calls by international fraudsters, the Justice Department's complaint says. Many of the calls are made by Nigerian users.

The department's action came as an intervention to take over a "private whistleblower" lawsuit that was filed in 2010 in federal court in Pittsburgh by Constance Lyttle, a former AT&T communications assistant in one of the company's call centers who made the original allegations about the improper billings. If the government is able to recover money as a result of the lawsuit, Lyttle would receive a portion of it.

The system is intended to help users who are hearing- and speech-impaired. "We will pursue those who seek to gain by knowingly allowing others to abuse this program," said Stuart Delery, the acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil division.

Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, the government must ensure the availability of telecom relay services allowing the hearing- or speech-impaired in the U.S. to place phone calls. One such service is Internet Protocol Relay.

Richter, the AT&T spokesman, said that "as the FCC is aware, it is always possible for an individual to misuse IP Relay services, just as someone can misuse the postal system or an email account, but FCC rules require that we complete all calls by customers who identify themselves as disabled."

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hyongx
not rated yet Mar 22, 2012
The department alleged that up to 95 percent of such calls handled by AT&T since November 2009 have been made by fraudulent users."

WOW! 95% fraudulent actions is absurd. That seems to call into question fundamentals about the functioning of the service.
Many of the calls are made by Nigerian users.

It seems that an unexpectedly high proportion of international calls coming from Nigeria might also raise suspicion. How extensive are US international relations with Nigeria?

Also, I don't think I actually understand what the service is that they're discussion, and why
The government reimbursed AT&T $1.30 per minute for every call on this system.
garfield
not rated yet Mar 23, 2012
Nigeria is a criminal haven, a country of theives and scammers.How long has this been going on? They should be locked down on the internet and the government program halted.
Jotaf
not rated yet Mar 23, 2012
Here's a typical case of the pathological behavior of a company in the name of profi. "The company feared its call volumes would drop once fraudulent users were prevented from calling on the system." Of course they would, most of them are fraudulent! It boggles the mind.
Vendicar_Decarian
not rated yet Mar 23, 2012
It is essential that companies like AT&T defraud the Gubderment of as much money as possible, because Corporations are pure, and Government of the people, by the people and for the people, is pure Communiz and pure evil.

Wake up people. Corporate rule brings pure freedom.
NotAsleep
not rated yet Mar 23, 2012
I don't think that the majority of that 95% were nefarious fraudsters... I'm pretty certain the service they're referring to is a service where a deaf person can type a message that is read, verbatim, by a human to whoever the recipient is. I have first hand knowledge that this is a hilarious prank to pull on someone. Legend has it that the middle-person will say ANYTHING you type.

No, I've never been the typer... that would be fraudulent! The point of that story is that AT&T puts absolutely zero effort into screening fraudlent users out of their system and the government is upset for the wrong reasons. I wonder if they really think that, someday, they'll eliminate all possible avenues of identity theft and credit card fraud