Thursday, July 12, 2012

Hello, Central, get me Somalia. (Just what were those geniuses at AT&T thinking?)

Q. What telecom giant makes Verizon look good?


So one must conclude after reading about a local company that AT&T was suing for $1.15 million over a rash of phone calls fraudulently placed through their phone system to Somalia.

Here’s a quick synopsis of what happened to Michael Smith, the beleaguered owner of Todd Tool, a small company in Ipswich, Massachusetts, that supplies tools and abrasives and all sorts of shop floor type stuff. And is just the sort of company you’d be rooting for, even if AT&T hadn’t been doing some crazy breathing down their neck.

Anyway, three years ago some malefactors – presumably Somalian malefactors – hacked into Todd Tool’s phone system and started placing a lot of calls to Somalia. As in $260K worth of Hi Mom’s and What’s happenin’ dude’s.

Verizon, Todd Tool’s service provider, had the systems in place that could cannily notice something aberrant happening up in Ipswich. At least once the aberrant behavior hit a quarter of a million-plus.

Verizon shut down Todd Tool’s international calling service and cancelled the bill, but the criminals were able to use the company’s phones to reach AT&T’s international calling service through a domestic phone number. Over a six-day period, the criminals placed $892,000 worth of phone calls through AT&T to the east African nation of Somalia. Todd Tool’s typical monthly phone bill is $700, Smith said. (Source:

Rather than admitting that they should have had the safeguards in place to keep this from happening (at least after it had reached the $260K threshold that had set off an alert at Verizon) and/or recognizing that a 14-person outfit in Ipswich, Massachusetts, that sells collets and helical inserts – whatever they are – is really unlikely to have spent six days making nearly a million dollars worth of call to Somalia – AT&T decided to sue to get “their” money.

Todd Tool counter-sued.

After a spate of publicity on this, AT&T has blinked

“We’re sympathetic to the situation and under these circumstances we’ve decided to not pursue the claims,” the company said in a statement.

Now, wouldn’t you think that there was somebody, anybody, at AT&T who could have figured out a long while ago that, even if “legally” Todd Tools were responsible for having a hackable phone system (which I doubt):

  1. Todd Tools had clearly not made the calls. (What? Someone in Somalia needed a lot of helical inserts and collets? Do pirates use them?)
  2. AT&T is far better able to withstand a “loss” of $892,000 (plus interest) than a 14-person company in Ipswich, Massachusetts.
  3. Not to mention that the “loss” was no doubt the bogus retail cost of those calls, rather than the actual cost to AT&T, which was probably closer to $89.20. So going after a small company for that full amount – even if Todd Tool were responsible – seems downright ludicrous.
  4. If AT&T comes after the little guy on this they are going to look like a bunch of ridiculous, rapacious a-holes.

Seriously, is there no one at AT&T who’s looking at these types of situation and figuring out how to turn a lose-lose into a win-win, which is what Verizon did by forgiving the bill. Okay, maybe they took a little loss, but that is balanced out by the win aspect of not revealing themselves to be ridiculous, rapacious a-holes. Unlike Ma Bell, there. (Go, little RBOC.)

Makes me wish I had my career to do over again.

Forget being Maureen Dowd. Give me a job as the person who gets asked whether something is going to make the company look really, really, really stupid.

In this case, the answer would have been clear.

”The only reason they blinked is their brand is more important than this money,” said Smith.

Yep, and they should have thought of that before they tarnished the old brand.

Meanwhile, I think that AT&T could take a page out of Todd Tool’s playbook.


Our mission is to improve our customers' productivity and reduce their costs through timely, error-free service and innovative quality products. Our continuous effort to achieve this mission will result in very successful customers and will allow us to perpetuate a profitable business.

Okay, maybe AT&T was miffed because Todd Tool is a Verizon customer and not an AT&T customer. But shouldn’t they have been thinking customer here? Rather than throwing a roadblock on Todd Tool’s path to perpetuating a profitable business.


As a financially stable, computer literate supplier, Todd Tool has been partnered with many customers who have embarked on a proactive relationship with us. The success of the partnership is centered our willingness and ability to service the specific needs of our customers. Our advantage: we conform to your needs!

Might not AT&T have considered conforming to Todd Tool’s needs here? (Which, incidentally, since it would have kept them from looking like ridiculous, rapacious a-holes, would have actually coincided nicely with their own needs here?)


Part of our goal is to improve our customers' profitability.

Which would have been a nice thought on AT&T’s part. Rather than to try to screw Todd Tool over for over a million bucks – that’s a lot of simoleons -  when even the ridiculous, rapacious a-holes at credit card companies don’t hold you responsible for someone using your number to ship a couple of 56” Sony flat screen TV’s to, say, Somalia.

Maybe, rather than going after Todd Tool for the money, AT&T should have gone after Verizon. After all, it was their phone system that got jacked.

Yes, suing Verizon.

That would have been much more like it.

A nice little mother and child reunion…

Anyway, I’m delighted for Michael Smith that AT&T backed down after what I’m sure was plentiful distraction (and legal fees).

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