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Pair Get 3-Pound Phone Bill For Calls That Weren't Theirs

Filed: 05/27/2000

By AMY WHITE Californian staff writer

David Foster of Bakersfield thought his life had gone crazy last month when for two weeks his phone rang with long-distance calls that not were not for him.

But when the bill arrived on his doorstep  weighing in at about three pounds and charging him for $1,099 in calls  things had gone too far.

"It's 265 pages, the size of a phone book," said Foster, 44, a local businessman. "All of the calls are, like, a nickel. It takes a lot of nickels to make 1,100 bucks."

Foster and his wife, Nancy, had already battled with the phone companies over the apparent crossed lines that caused MCI calling-card calls from around the nation to be directed to their Bakersfield home between March 30 and April 13.

The estimated 40,000 calls forced the Fosters to unplug their home phone and rely on their cellular phone and two business lines for communication.

But when the bill arrived April 21, they got back on the phone with MCI and AT&T  their long-distance carrier  to find out how they had gotten charged for the calls.

What they learned was that AT&T, which had sent the bill to their home by Priority Mail, had no record of the behemoth bill.

So the Fosters called the Federal Communications Commission to report what had happened.

It was about that time that the telephone line for one of the businesses Foster runs out of his home was disconnected.

"That really bothered me," Foster said. "I lost a couple of business deals. I have a brand-new company and we had to shut down for two days out of our control. When people are calling a number that has been disconnected, it looks really bad, it looks really low-budget to have your phone shut off."

AT&T officials reached this week denied a link between the disconnection and the bill.

"We could not find any indications in the system that service was interrupted on our end," AT&T spokesman Paul La Plante said. "Certainly there was nothing that occurred because of the charges on the bill or anything like that. No one had taken steps to suspend service."

AT&T officials initially said they had no record of sending the bill to the Fosters, but after receiving a faxed copy of the first few pages  with calls ranging from Georgia and North Dakota to Florida and Nevada  they acknowledged sending the bill.

La Plante said the balance on the bill was adjusted on May 17 and the Fosters have been credited the full amount, even for a few calls that were theirs.

"We zeroed out the whole thing because of the customer's inconvenience," La Plante said.

But someone apparently neglected to tell the Fosters that.

La Plante said a customer service representative was ordered to call the couple Friday to tell them they didn't have to pay the bill.

The Fosters were out of town earlier in the week, and came home Friday to find a message from an AT&T representative that the huge bill would be credited, Nancy Foster said Saturday.

The Fosters have said that the huge bill was separate from their regular phone bill and were angry that "they didn't have a record until we started shaking the beehive," David Foster said.

"The woman at AT&T said it was a simple fix," Foster said. "Then why didn't they simply fix it?"

The Fosters have asked MCI and AT&T about being reimbursed for their cellular phone bill  which amounted to about $450 for the time period in which they could not use their residential phone  but have had no definite response.

Throughout the ordeal, Foster has thought about hiring an attorney, he said. He has grown increasingly frustrated and angry because he doesn't feel the phone companies understand the scope of the situation. But he retains a tone of optimism.

"We just want our bills paid," Foster said. "You can't put a price on the time and hours we spent on (the problems)."


-- (, May 28, 2000

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