Telephone company trying to collect bills from the victims of hackers

Tuesday, 22 April 2003, 2:37 AM EST

Victims of a telephone hacking swindle are disputing a contention by ATT that they are responsible for costly long-distance calls fraudulently made through their voice mail systems.

The dispute revolves around a string of incidents in which hackers broke into business voice mail systems and rigged them to accept international collect calls from the Philippines and other countries. The charges for these calls, which occurred when the businesses were closed, typically run in the thousands of dollars. While most of the victims so far have been in California, similar incidents have recently been reported in Texas and Ohio.

The city of East Palo Alto, Calif., is now battling with AT&T over who is responsible for a $30,000 long-distance phone bill that resulted from voice mail hacking. Over a five-day period last summer, hackers in the Philippines and Belgium penetrated the agency's voice mail system, operated by SBC Communications, the local phone service provider, by figuring out system pass codes. An official of AT&T notified the city that its phone system had been hacked before the phone bill came in the mail.

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