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LANDLINE FRAUD: Ames Man Gets $120K Phone Bill

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Most of us know crooks can hack into your computer or steal your identity through a credit card transaction, but hacking into a landline isn't as common.

Tim Severson, the owner of Severson Insurance in Ames found out the hard way that it can happen.  A message from AT&T was waiting for him when he arrived at work Monday morning.

"Initially, I thought it was not legitimate.”

When he found out it was - "Oh, Wow.  I've got a major problem."

Someone had used his phone lines to place 815 calls, over a 95 hour period, to Somalia.  At $22 a minute, the total for the calls came to about $120,000.

Severson's service provider is Century Link, but somehow, in the vast network of domestic and international phone lines, the calls were transferred to AT&T.

"Nobody’s been able to give me a firm answer on how that works," said Severson, who has now blocked all international calls.

Still, he's not sure that's enough.

"I think I’m still vulnerable."

And in fact, during our interview he got another call from AT&T saying his phone system had been compromised.

Severson says both Century Link and AT&T have assured him he won't have to pay for the unauthorized calls, but in similar circumstances, AT&T has pursued payment.  Just last month, the Iowa Utilities Board admonished AT&T for demanding payment for an unauthorized call.

Craig Graziano, an attorney for the Office of Consumer Advocate says Iowa law provides protection for consumers.

"We would take the position that the charges are unauthorized and he doesn’t owe them," said Graziano.  "We would encourage him, if he doesn’t get a satisfactory response from AT&T, to file a complaint with the Iowa Utilities Board."

It remains to be seen what AT&T will do in Severson's situation.

“I mean they tell me, don’t worry about it," said Severson.  "Well, I'm worried about it.”

He says you should be too.

"We want to make people aware, business owners, even individuals.  Your phone system could be compromised."

Click here for information on how to protect your phone system from being hacked.


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