DOJ sues AT&T over billing for text-based communications service

The agency accuses AT&T of overcharging the government for IP Relay service for the hearing impaired

The U.S. Department of Justice has accused AT&T of overcharging the government by millions of dollars by failing to crack down on scammers using a text-based Internet service for hearing-impaired people.

The DOJ on Thursday announced it had filed a complaint against AT&T in a whistleblower lawsuit brought by Constance Lyttle, a former communications assistant in one of AT&T's Internet Protocol Relay call centers. IP Relay allows hearing-impaired people to place telephone calls by typing Internet messages that are relayed by communications assistants.

Lyttle's lawsuit was filed in October 2010 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

The lawsuit alleges that AT&T sought payment from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission for IP Relay calls by international callers who were ineligible for the service. In 2009, the FCC required providers to verify the accuracy of each registered user's name and mailing address, in an effort to reduce fraud by foreign scammers using the system to defraud U.S. merchants with stolen credit cards.

AT&T, with up to 95 percent of its IP Relay calls coming from foreign callers, knowingly adopted a registration system that did not verify whether the user was located in the U.S., the DOJ alleged. The DOJ accused AT&T of improperly billing the FCC's telecom relay fund for millions of dollars in fraudulent calls.

The FCC reimburses IP Relay providers at a rate of about US$1.30 per minute.

"Taxpayers must not bear the cost of abuses of the Telecommunications Relay system," David Hickton, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, said in a statement. "Those who misuse funds intended to benefit the hearing- and speech-impaired must be held accountable."

AT&T disputed the allegations. "AT&T has followed the FCC's rules for providing IP Relay services for disabled customers and for seeking reimbursement for those services," a spokesman said. "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."

Lyttle filed the lawsuit under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act, which allow private citizens to sue on behalf of the U.S. government. If the lawsuit is successful, the whistleblower can share in the money recovered by the government.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Mobile

Exec

Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?