The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against AT&T, claiming the carrier knew Nigerian-based crooks were abusing a program created for hearing-impaired users.
Department of Justice is accusing AT&T of knowing that a free program set
up to aid deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans was being abused primarily by Nigerian
thieves, costing the government more than $16 million that it had paid to the
carrier to support the program.
reported March 22 that the Justice Department had filed the
lawsuit, explaining that the federal government ordered all carriers to
register their users, after it was discovered that callers from overseas were
using the system to purchase goods with stolen credit cards and counterfeit
lawsuit, reports AP, "said AT&T failed to adopt procedures to detect
or prevent fraudulent users from registering. The government said [AT&T]
feared its call volumes would drop once fraudulent users were prevented from
calling on the system."
For each call
placed on the system, which enables users to type messages over the Internet,
the government reimburses AT&T $1.30 per minute. It estimates that only 5
percent of the calls it reimbursed AT&T for were legitimate.
are required to provide the I.P. Relay-based service under the Americans with
Disabilities Act (ADA). The New York Times
explains that AT&T and
other carriers "employ intermediaries," who act as the middle person,
conversing between the hearing and hearing-impaired callers.
has followed the FCC's rules for providing IP Relay services for disabled
customers and for seeking reimbursement for those services," said AT&T
spokesman Marty Richter. "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."
follows from a whistle-blower case that came to court in Pittsburgh March 21.
It was originally filed in 2010 by Constance Lyttle, a former AT&T call
center worker. Should the DOJ recover funds, reports the AP, "Lyttle would
receive a portion of it."
is said to be seeking triple damages.
The ADA is a broad-reaching piece of legislation
had a significant impact on the technology industry, stating that the inability
for a person to obtain and use information easily is a form of discrimination.
However, the I.P. Relay service solution, which the Federal Communications
Commission in 2001 said carriers could be reimbursed for using, has for
sometime been an easy target for abuse.
In 2004, Broadband
said the system "has been ripe with abuse, from
kids forcing operators to verbalize sexually graphic comments for amusement, to
Nigerian scammers using the technology to con the disabled."
that scams constituted 90 percent of the calls, "all paid for with your
out of Baltimore, also ran a story in 2004 describing the experience of an MCI
call center worker, Robert Grodevant, who estimated that 60 to 80 percent of
the calls he dealt with were scams, lasting 30 to 90 minutes per callversus
legitimate calls, which were far shorter, with deaf users ordering a pizza or
calling a friend.
given day, I calculated that I purchased over $40,000 worth of laptops, inkjet
cartridges and T-shirts, all shipped to Africa," Grodevant told City Paper.
"Lately, they have it
shipped to a relative in the U.S., and they forward it to Africa."
In the 2004
article, AT&T spokesman Roberto Cruz said, when asked whether the carrier
allows the scams as a way to increase revenue: "It's antithetical to the
way we would do business around here." He called the scams "a growing
trend" and an unavoidable fact of life.