7 On Your Side: New Jersey non-profit hit with $181,000 bogus phone bill

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Nina Pineda looks into a voicemail scam that almost cost a local day care thousands of dollars

It's a huge multi-billion dollar fraud. That's the amount Verizon says phone service hacking costs phone companies and its customers each year.

The scam hit home for a New Jersey non-profit, whose bogus bill threatened to put them out of business.

While Catiana Celentano is instructing the pre-schoolers at her Scotch Plains, New Jersey Language and Enrichment Center in Italian, her husband Guy is in the next room getting agita.

He's on the phone with his phone carrier, Verizon, trying to figure how his tiny non-profit with only two phone lines got charged for $181,000 worth of phone calls.
Celentano says it continued to happen because Verizon never gave them a voicemail PIN, or blocked international calls as he requested when Verizon first reported fraud. But now a month later he still can't get answers.

"So no one can tell me if we don't owe $181,674," says Celentano.

Verizon told us, generally, the scheme works like this: scammers hack into your phone system and use it as a hopping off point to rack up huge overseas phone bills in order to get paid for the minutes in that foreign country, by posing as the middleman-or phony carrier patching through the calls.

Catiana Celentano, the school's co-founder, says this bill would put them out of business.
So we contacted Verizon. It couldn't comment on individual accounts. But within 2 business days, a rep said "arrivederci" to the school's bogus bill, sending an email saying the school is not responsible for the 181K.

It also gave at least 2 free months of service to them - free of charge.

Verizon tells us they caught the fraud fast, limiting the amount paid out to the scammers.

Some big takeaways, whether you're a business or a residential customer:

--Change the default password on your voicemail system.

--Choose a complex password, at least 8 digits long.

--Check your recorded greeting regularly to make sure it hasn't been changed.

--And, if you don't use it, consider blocking international calls. And remember check your bills for fraudulent charges every month.

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