The Justice Department has accused AT&T of bilking the government out of more than $16 million by purposely allowing Nigerian fraudsters to abuse a service intended to help deaf Americans. AT&T says it's just following FCC rules requiring it to offer a free IP Relay service, which allows the deaf to type messages for an operator to read. The government then reimburses AT&T for the calls at $1.30 per minute, Bloomberg explains. But the Justice Department says 95% of the calls AT&T facilitated were from foreign con artists, mainly from Lagos, Nigeria.
In 2008, the FCC required AT&T to verify callers were US residents. At first, AT&T complied by mailing out postcards that needed to be returned. Revenue plummeted, and the company feared it would miss its projections. “We are expecting a serious decline because traffic from fraud will go to zero,” one technical manager told company executives. Soon after, AT&T allowed people to simply enter an address online. Registration soared, and internal emails indicate the company knew it was because of fraud—but did nothing to combat it, the complaint alleges.