Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Melissa Bream Was Hit with a $600,000 Bill; but At&t Let Her off the Hook

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Melissa Bream Was Hit with a $600,000 Bill; but At&t Let Her off the Hook

Article excerpt

ST. PETERS * First, the phones at Melissa Bream's real estate company rang off the hook one Saturday with no one on the other end.

Then, the bills started pouring in.

There was a small one, for $5.90 from Sprint, even though Bream's office doesn't usually use that company. Another came from Vartek, a long-distance provider in Texas that Bream had never heard of, for $320.

There was a bill from Charter for $14,234.09.

And five bills from AT&T totaled $586,371.26, more than most of the houses Bream sells.

"The girls opened the envelope and when I got in, they had it sitting on their desk," Bream said. "They had this look on their faces like 'Oh my god, she's going to faint when she sees this.' "

In all, the phone bills came to more than $600,000.

Bream, whose monthly phone bill is usually about $300, says she was the victim of hackers dialing into her business's lines. But she's had a difficult time convincing the phone company, or in this case, several phone companies, that she shouldn't have to pay for the charges.

More than 2,000 calls were made, most in a 24-hour period, to the African nations of Somalia and Guinea and to Azerbaijan, which is situated between Russia and Iran.

Bream's phone service provider is Charter, but the bulk of the questionable calls were placed with AT&T.

Bream estimated she was on the phone between 60 and 70 times in the past month, trying to get the bills cleared up. Each time, she got a different person and had to retell her story.

"The companies are so big and when you call in, it takes you 10 minutes to even talk to a person," Bream said. "They say, 'Let me access your file,' and then, 'OK, we'll get back to you.' "

The problem began on March 9, a Saturday, when her receptionist was the only one in the office. The phone system, which has seven lines, was ringing non-stop in the morning, and every time the receptionist picked up, no one was there.

"After a few hours, she got a phone call from AT&T's fraud management department, saying that someone was 'porting' Charter's phone lines," she said.

The receptionist called Bream to tell her what was happening. Bream also got calls from Charter, who noticed something was wrong. …

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