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Utah police: Jail calls scheme defrauded CenturyLink of $200K

Published March 1, 2013 1:01 am

Crime • Two Davis County inmates made collect calls and billed other people, police say.
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Prosecutors have charged seven men and women for billing other people for two Davis County jail inmates' collect calls for more than three years.

The seven were charged Friday in 2nd District Court with identity fraud, communications fraud and a pattern of unlawful activity, all felonies. Five of defendants used other people's personal information to open CenturyLink accounts so that the two jail inmates could make collect calls and bill the victims, said Clearfield Police Sgt. Kyle Jeffries on Friday.

Jeffries estimates that based on the victims they know of — investigators are still working with CenturyLink to find out how many there were — the phone company ended up losing at least $200,000.

"This was a huge, huge fraud ring," said Davis County Sheriff's Sgt. Susan Poulsen.

With the alleged scheme in place, the inmate would call one of the new phone accounts, and that account would be billed, but the call would forward to a friend or relative, according to the charges. This went on from October 2009 to January, and each victim's bill was as much as $5,000, Poulsen said, adding that the people whose names were on the accounts never received bills.

CenturyLink would eventually shut down the unpaid accounts, but the defendants would just set up others, Poulsen said. Collect calls from the jail are expensive, beginning at likely a few dollars for the first few minutes and then several dollars more for each minute after that, Poulsen estimated.

Since the defendants made sure the bills were mailed to addresses different than the victims', such as P.O. boxes, the victims didn't know they'd been targeted until they tried to buy something on credit or take out a loan, and then learned that their credit scores had been affected, Poulsen said.

CenturyLink is such a big company, the individual unpaid bills were mostly ignored until victims started coming forward a few months ago, Jeffries noted.

Both of the inmates charged in the scheme have since been relocated to prison for unrelated crimes.

mmcfall@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mikeypanda