On Wednesday, the Justice Department joined a suit filed by a whistleblower in federal court in Pennsylvania against AT&T. The suit claimed that AT&T had cheated the U.S. government out of millions of dollars by failing to prevent swindlers from using subsidized services meant for deaf people. On Thursday, the Justice Department stated that it had accused AT&T of billing for reimbursement of calls placed by international callers, who on top of being ineligible also used the service for buying goods using stolen credit cards.
The United States has in place a policy that allows free service to place calls to individuals impaired with hearing defects through text messages by using an IP Relay provider. Such providers, including AT&T, are reimbursed by the Federal Communications Commission at a rate of $1.30 per minute from fees levied upon other telephone consumers.
AT&T denies knowledge. It said that it was unaware of foreign callers misusing the system and that it had followed the FCC rules for providing service and seeking reimbursement.
Marty Richter, an AT&T representative told the media, “”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.”
However, the Justice Department contends that AT&T knowingly skirted a 2009 FCC requirement that mandated IP Relay providers must verify the names and mailing addresses of registered users. In presence of the fact that foreign callers are abusing 95 percent of the call volumes and AT&T shifting the costs onto the shoulders of American bill payers, the anomaly is too gross to have been ‘overlooked.’
Such happenings could have never taken place if AT&T followed the FCC requirements of verifying user mailing addresses and names.
The Justice Department also alleged that “out of fears that fraudulent call volumes would drop after the registration deadline,” AT&T refrained from implementing a registration system that ensured users were U.S. residents.
David J. Hickton, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania said “Taxpayers must not bear the cost of abuses of the Telecommunications Relay system … Those who misuse funds intended to benefit the hearing-and-speech-impaired must be held accountable.”
The original suit was filed by a whistleblower Constance Lyttle under the False Claims Act.
The case is U.S. ex rel. Lyttle v. AT&T Corp, U.S. District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania, No. 10-cv-1376.