Cox sends small business a $44K phone bill

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- Dave and Tori DelVecchio own a print shop in the northwest Valley, and like many small businesses, it's run by family and a few employees.

"We're a full-service print shop," said Tori DelVecchio. "We do printing here in house for lots of businesses all over the Valley."

She and her husband opened the shop about 10 years ago, and they print just about everything from brochures to signs. And one thing that keeps them in business is their phone line through Cox Communications.

"Our normal Cox phone bill, on average, is right around $350 a month," she told 3 On Your Side.

The DelVecchios say they allow Cox Communications to automatically draft that $350 from their bank account every month to simplify their bill paying. So you can imagine their surprise when, they say, Cox Communications called them and claimed someone had hacked into the business phone line and racked up numerous international calls.

"I said, 'How much do you think that they did and am I going to have to worry about it?' And she's like, 'No, you probably won't even see it on a bill,' " Tori DelVecchio recalled.

She says she and her husband didn't worry about it; that is, until Cox tried to draft the DelVecchios' bank account for $44,000. That's how much all of those fraudulent, international calls amounted to. The DelVecchios say thank goodness their bank didn't let the draft go through.

Tori DelVecchio says she clearly remembers the conversation when her bank called her. "The person said, 'Oh, this is definitely a mistake. You better call Cox right now because it looks like they tried to draft $44,000 from your account.' "

The DelVecchios say they were stunned and alarmed. But how in the world could someone hack into their business telephone line, make hundreds of international calls and rack up a bill for $44,000?

Ken Colburn is a computer and technology expert and says it's a common scam.

"I think that's where the disconnect is for a lot of people; they think it's a phone system," he said. "No, it's a computer. And if it's a computer then it can be hacked, and if it can be hacked, this type of thing can be done very, very easily."

In the DelVecchios' case, someone hacked into their business line and used a computer-generated system to call hundreds of revenue-generating phone numbers which charged exorbitant prices. Think of it as if you dialed a 1-900 number over and over and over.

"They'll just say, 'Hey we just broke into this phone system. Let's just dial for dollars until somebody figures it out.' In some cases, they won't figure it out for a long time," Colburn said.

The DelVecchios say they told Cox Communications they shouldn't have to pay anything because they were victims. As a result, Cox Communications sent them a letter saying it would settle for $14,000. But $14,000 would break this small business.

"It was actually a red flag when I originally got the paperwork because it said, 'Fill this paperwork out so we can settle the account,' and I'm thinking, settle? What do you mean settle?" Tori DelVecchio said.

The DelVecchios got a hold of 3 On Your Side for help, and we contacted Cox Communications which looked into the matter at my request.

In an email, a spokesman told us, "It is shameful when criminals use technology to take advantage of small business owners."

Cox also reached out to the DelVecchios at 3 On Your Side's request and resolved the issue.

According to the to the DelVecchios, Cox Communications agreed to eliminate much of the bill.

That's a relief for these small business owners who say they couldn't have done it without 3 On Your Side.

"It's a lot of stress," Dave DelVecchio said. "This has been killing us the last few months being worried about this."

If you own a small business, technology experts say one way to keep from becoming a victim like this is eliminate access to international calls. Call your phone carrier and tell them to put a block on international calls; that way, you significantly decrease the chances of being bilked.