3OYS: 'Dialing for dollars' targets business owners

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

TEMPE, Ariz -- 3 On Your Side has addressed this issue before, but it appears that "dialing for dollars" is a widespread problem affecting all kinds of business owners, small and large.

Sherry Peterson and her husband own an insurance business.

"We call all over the United States. We do business in all 50 states, and basically Barbados and London are basically the places that we call," Peterson said.

They provide liability insurance to more than 2,000 swim clubs nationwide and overseas. Typically, their monthly phone bill is less than $1,000, which is deducted and paid automatically through one of their business credit cards.

However, Peterson says she and her company have been fighting one particular phone bill for six months now.

“I got a $9,700 phone bill in April of 2014," she said.

That outrageous phone bill was for calls made to Gambia, a country well known for fraudulent phone charges.

Peterson added, "We never asked for calls to be made to Gambia, Africa or by cellphone."

Peterson's insurance business uses a company called Telesphere for its phone service. She says she has to call Telesphere once a year and request that the communications company lift a block made on all international calls because she does make calls to London and Barbados. This year was no different when she signed a document lifting the block.

"We really weren't concerned about having to sign," Peterson said. "They said there was a risk, but we had no choice; we have to call Barbados to do business."   

Turns out it was a risk because hackers tapped into Peterson's business line as soon as the block was lifted and placed nearly 1,000 calls to Gambia. The calls were made through a cellphone using some sophisticated software.

"We have never used a cellular phone and (made calls) to Gambia, Africa," Peterson said.

3 On Your Side reached out to Telesphere, which told us in an email: "All $9,996.89 of the fraudulent calls in this case were made during a single overnight period by a criminal hacker, who gained access to the customer's voicemail box as a result of a very weak password established by the customer."
 
Telesphere went on to say that this was the risk Peterson and her business took for lifting the ban on international calls. And although it appreciates 3 On Your Side's involvement, Telesphere said it wouldn't reduce the amount owed.

"It's frustrating," Peterson said.

She disputed the charge through her credit card, but according to Telesphere, the credit card company ruled in the phone carrier's favor, meaning Peterson and her small business are responsible for the charges.

"It won't put us out of business, but it certainly is not a comfortable place to be," she said.
  
Peterson says she has changed phone carriers and is disappointed Telesphere wouldn't adjust the fraudulent charges. With her new carrier, she has to put in a special code before making international calls, which will prevent this from happening again.