PHONE BILLS HAVE WRONG NUMBER$
By Neil Graves
NEW YORK - And you thought your little $89 telephone bill was a bit on the high side.
Some residents of Harlem say they are being billed thousands of dollars for calls they never made to Pakistan, India, Kuwait and other exotic locales - one was socked for $15,000.
Instead of getting to the source of the theft-of-service problem, the phone companies have treated the residents like suspects, Sen. Charles Schumer said yesterday.
He charged the companies are shaking down people for partial payments on calls they never made.
"The companies have refused to do anything," Schumer (D-N.Y.) said during a curbside press conference on West 131st Street, home to several customers who believe their numbers have been stolen or lines tapped.
"People are treated with disregard and disrespect. This is a new low even for companies like AT&T, Sprint and MCI," said Schumer.
Schumer called on the companies to "not only solve the problem but to fix it immediately."
Residents claim they have been told by repairmen that their calls are being "stolen" but no action has been taken.
Adilah Abdul-Jabbaar, 31, said her bill has soared to $15,331 since November 2001. No fewer than nine long-distance companies, some she had never heard of - such as Vartec and USBI - want her to pay up.
Several said they feel like the accused. During one call for help, Abdul-Jabbaar said a fraud investigator with Verizon made a big deal of her Arabic-sounding name.
"Are you trying to tell me I'm part of bin Laden's terrorists?" the Harlem fashion designer challenged.
Retiree Claude Rauls said his average bill is $18 but he's been slapped with a $3,000 charge so far.
"I said I don't know anyone in Kuwait and I don't want to know," Rauls, 66, complained. "This has been upsetting me. I don't make that many long-distance calls."
The Harlem residents say they are considering hiring a lawyer to fend off the phone companies' bill collectors.
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