Is AT&T relying on Nigerian scammers to make millions of dollars off the U.S. government?
The company insists it is not, but the Justice Department claims it is and is suing AT&T to get its money back.
The department said AT&T is improperly billing Uncle Sam under a Federal Communications Commission program that allows the hearing-impaired to make international calls, according to a Hill.com report on the lawsuit.
Under the program using Internet protocol relay, the hearing-impaired place calls by typing Internet messages that are relayed by an AT&T communications assistant. The FCC reimburses AT&T at a rate of about $1.30 per minute.
The company instead is knowingly allowing people who aren’t hearing-impaired to use the service to order goods with stolen credit cards and counterfeit checks, according to the Justice Department suit.
AT&T was ordered in 2009 to verify that callers were hearing-impaired, but it didn’t, the Justice Department said. The suit says nearly 95 percent of calls made under the program since November 2009 were made to scam U.S. businesses.
According to the suit:
“As a result of AT&T’s false and fraudulent claims for payment of international callers, whose misuse of IP Relay was facilitated by the company’s deficient registration processes, the United States has paid millions of dollars for calls by Nigerian and other international fraudsters.”
A spokesman for AT&T told the Hill.com the company has “followed the FCC’s rules for providing IP Relay services for disabled customers and for seeking reimbursement for those services.”
Spokesman Marty Richter also said the company is obligated by FCC rules under the program to complete calls by customers who identify themselves as disabled.”
The Justice Department suit was inspired by a whistle-blower suit filed by former AT&T communications assistant Constance Lyttle, who worked in one of the company’s call centers. Lyttle’s suit also alleges AT&T sought FCC payments for calls that were made by persons ineligible for the IP Relay service.
In December, AT&T sued the FCC after the agency voted to overhaul a subsidy program that funds high-speed Internet service regions of the country that lack broadband service. The new program, however, caps disbursements to Internet service providers like AT&T.