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Many Verizon customers angry, afraid after numbers published

June 03, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- A mistake by Verizon that led to the printing of about 12,500 unlisted or nonpublished telephone numbers and corresponding addresses in a telephone book has prompted fear and anger in some of those affected.

One woman, who asked that her name not be used because she feared for her safety, said she began to cry when she learned that her unlisted number and address were printed in the recently released 2008-09 Washington County Phone Book.

Two years ago, the woman said, she was beaten and her throat was slashed by a man who tried to rape her before the attack was thwarted by a third party.

"It put me back into living in fear again," the woman said. "They know where I live. It's not like I can pack up and move."

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In March, Verizon inadvertently sold the numbers to Ogden Directory Inc. for publication in the phone book, said Harry Mitchell, Verizon's director of media relations.

The phone books were in the process of being distributed by the post office, but Ogden officials last week asked that distribution be halted after the problem was discovered.

Mitchell said Verizon regrets the mistake.

The company has said it will change the numbers of those affected at no charge and will waive for one year the $1.89 monthly fee to have an unlisted or nonpublished number.

"Changing the numbers is no good," the woman said. "Our addresses were given out ... Now I'm back where I started. It's a horrible thing to live through ... (Verizon) put a lot of people in bad situations. I'm not the only one."

Another woman said the biggest problem would be the hassle of changing her number with banks and credit card companies.

Members of law enforcement who had unlisted and nonpublished numbers for security reasons were affected by Verizon's mistake, as well.

Wayne Hose, a Hagerstown Police Department patrol officer and president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3373, said he represents about 70 officers in the Tri-State area.

Union officials met with an attorney on Monday to determine whether the affected members could take legal action against Verizon, he said.

"We're very, very disappointed with Verizon," Hose said. "This is totally outrageous."

Hose said the publication of the phone numbers can be rectified by Verizon providing new numbers, but the damage caused by publishing addresses is irreversible.

"The bell's been rung," he said. "It's hard to unring it."

He suggested one thing Verizon could do would be to pay to install security systems in the homes of those affected by the mistake.

Mitchell would not comment on whether Verizon would pay for alarm systems or about possible lawsuits that might be filed against Verizon as a result of the numbers and addresses being published.

In addition to Verizon customers, information about unlisted and nonpublished clients of AT&T could have been included in the phone book, Mitchell said.

"Verizon has agreements with other local phone providers that require us to include listings for their customers in the directory listings we provide directory publishers," Mitchell wrote in an e-mail. "So, if a customer of one of these providers had a nonpublished number, their number could have been published in this directory."

Terri Czarsky, an attorney for the Maryland Office of People's Counsel, an independent state agency that represents Maryland's residential utility consumers, said there aren't many laws that regulate mistakes of this nature.

"This happens, and it happens a lot," Czarsky said.

One possible step would be for customers to get their cases on record by writing letters of complaint to Verizon and the Maryland Public Service Commission, she said.

The Public Service Commission did not return two telephone calls seeking comment on Monday.




Difference between unlisted and nonpublished telephone numbers:

· An unlisted number would not appear in any print directory but would be in the directory-assistance database.

· A nonpublished number would not appear in either a print directory or a directory-assistance database.

Contact information for Verizon and the Maryland Public Service Commission:

Verizon-Maryland

1 E. Pratt St.

Baltimore, MD 21202

301-954-6260

Maryland Public Service Commission

William D. Schaefer Tower

6 St. Paul St., 15th floor

Baltimore, MD 21202

800-492-0474

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