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Government Sues AT&T Over Internet Calls

WASHINGTON (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 Dallas-based 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.”

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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    T-Mobile deal fell through ! $$$$$$6 billion dollars. Now this debacle ! What is going on ?

  • steve

    It comes as no surprise after dealing with ATT the last few years….they cut every corner and take every advantage of their customers…but not enough to be “fully illegal” and prosecutable…as a consumer its hard to sue them so they get away with this kind of behavior….

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  • Rick

    they are going to put at&t on check. I hope they win this lawsuit as well.

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  • reynold guerrero


    i signed up for an unlimited internet use with at&t for the past 5 or 6 years ago and enjoying their service for years …. checking my stocks from 5:30 am up to 2:00pm , and then enjoying surfing the net up to midnight or past midnight….and about 5 months or more , they blocked my internet service, the reason ? over 5 gig usage… i complained and told them i have unlimited use plan , and even ask for a supervisor, and the supervisor replied they dont offer unlimited use anymore because it is very expensive…… is it my fault? this month, they blocked it again for the third time maybe, it is so upsetting…so i just cut my ties with them and so mad and furious about this kind of practice…. cant our government do something about this kind of practice? can somebody out there say something and help me fight this very unfair practice of at&t?

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