The Department of Justice is taking AT&T to court over accusations the telecom giant defrauded a government program to provide telephone communications for people with hearing impairments.
The government reimburses telecom companies that provide Internet Protocol Relay systems, which allow people with hearing impairments to type phone messages over the Internet.
Officials say AT&T, fearing that the loss of the revenue, knowingly allowed ineligible people to use the system, then billed the government for "millions of dollars." To reduce fraud, companies are required to verify users, but the lawsuit accuses AT&T of failing to do so.
"Taxpayers must not bear the cost of abuses of the Telecommunications Relay system," U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania David Hickton said in a statement. "Those who misuse funds intended to benefit the hearing- and speech-impaired must be held accountable."
For its part, AT&T says it it was following Federal Communications Commission rules and isn't responsible for abuse of the system.
"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," AT&T spokesman Marty Richter said in a statement.
The DOJ complaint joins a lawsuit originally brought under whistle-blower laws by a former employee in an AT&T call center.
Over the years, the system has been abused, often by people in Nigeria who use the system to buy goods with stolen credit cards, according to the complaint.