The US Department of Justice has sued AT&T over claims that it purposefully violated registration requirements for use of IP Relay — a service that allows the hearing impaired to place calls over the internet by typing messages — and collected millions of dollars from the government for fraudulent calls. The US says that fraudulent calls accounted for 95-percent of AT&T's IP Relay calls since November 2009, and that the company received federal reimbursement to the tune of $1.30 per minute for every call on this system. AP reports that the DOJ's actions follow a "private whistleblower" lawsuit filed in 2010 by Constance Lyttle, a former AT&T communications assistant that made the initial allegations about the undue billings. If the lawsuit is successful, Lyttle stands to receive a portion of the damages.
In 2009 the FCC required IP Relay providers to verify the accuracy of each registered user's name and mailing address in order to reduce international scams and abuse, and the US says that AT&T knowingly ignored these requirements in order to prevent a drop in fraudulent call volume. But just as it told the AP, AT&T notes to us that "FCC rules require that we complete all calls by customers who identify themselves as disabled." See the full AT&T statement below.
AT&T has followed the FCC’s rules for providing IP Relay services for disabled customers and for seeking reimbursement for those services. 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.