When a small Massachusetts business that never in the past ever called the Africa nation of Somalia racks up almost $900,000 in calls in four days to that country, some might find that unusual. Instead, AT&T decided that was totally normal and that the business — which usually runs up a bill of about $700 per month — should be on the hook for $1.5 million, including charges and interest. And the kicker? AT&T apparently doesn’t think he made those calls either.
The owner of the small manufacturing firm is now being sued by AT&T for $1.15 million for charges incurred over a four-day period in September 2009. He claims someone hacked into his company’s phone system to make hundreds of calls to Somalia.
“Nothing about this makes sense,” he told the Salem News, adding that a bill that size would force him into bankruptcy, and leave 14 employees without jobs.
His business, which makes equipment and supplies for machine shops, uses a private telephone network system called PBX with eight lines. A hacker could potentially gain access by dialing the company and then entering access codes until they get in, allowing them to then place calls anywhere.
The business’s phone service is provided by Verizon, which did notice an unusual amount of international calls — $260,000 worth — in one weekend, and shut down the company’s ability to make such calls. Verizon later wrote off the bill.
AT&T was used as by the hackers as a “dial around” long-distance service, claims the business owner, who says he never had a contract with AT&T for phone service.
“This is the crazy part,” he said. “AT&T is not arguing over whether these calls were fraudulent. There’s no dispute there.”
AT&T claims the company should’ve taken more precautions to prevent unauthorized access to its phone system, and that under Federal Communications Commission 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.
The business owner has filed a countersuit against AT&T, alleging abuse of the legal process and violation of state consumer protection laws. The case is scheduled for a mediation session next month.
“It could all be over if there’s a judgment against us,” said the business owner. “It’s my life. It’s 14 families that I love dearly. We’re all vulnerable.”