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14,000 directories returned in recall effort

September 20, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- In a recall of Washington County phone directories with unlisted numbers, about 14,000 were returned, although some residents sent back the wrong one, according to figures provided Friday.

It's unclear, though, what percentage that number is of the total directories distributed.

Ogden Directories printed 90,000 copies of its 2008-09 Washington County EZ To Use Big Book.

About half of those books were being distributed when the error was discovered, said Julie Kruger, a sales manager for Ogden Directories. Some books were pulled back from post offices and some were still on delivery trucks, so there's no way to know how many books reached customers, she said.

Using information Verizon was legally required to supply, Ogden published the directory and distributed it in Washington County and parts of Franklin County, Pa.

The Maryland Public Service Commission called Verizon representatives to Baltimore for a public meeting June 5, five days after a Herald-Mail story revealed the problem. Verizon blamed a computer malfunction.

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More than three months later, the PSC hasn't taken action against Verizon for letting unlisted and nonpublished numbers and addresses of about 11,000 customers be published.

In written filings, the Maryland Office of People's Counsel, an advocate for residential utility customers, has called for a more formal PSC hearing on possible violations of the law by Verizon.

Verizon has countered that releasing the information, which was publicly available elsewhere, wasn't illegal and that the PSC has no authority to impose sanctions.

Verizon has until Sept. 26 to respond to the People's Counsel's latest arguments.

The phone company has promised to credit affected customers $25 each and let them change their phone numbers at no cost. It also said it would pay up to $1,000 for security systems for people whose safety might be in danger because their information was published, but it has declined to reveal how many people it approved for those payments.

Verizon promised a $5 gift card to each person who returned the original Ogden directory in a prepaid envelope. The operation was portrayed as a recycling effort, with proceeds going to a charity, and the unlisted numbers weren't mentioned.

It was not clear on Friday if the charity, Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused (CASA) in Hagerstown, had received any money yet.

Kruger said Verizon told her 14,261 books were collected through the recall. However, 3,110 of those were the wrong book -- a mix of Ogden directories and others, Kruger said.

By e-mail, Verizon spokeswoman Sandra Arnette answered some questions from a reporter this week, but not others. She did not acknowledge repeated requests to talk by phone.

The deadline to return directories and be eligible for a gift card was extended from July 30 to Aug. 31 because of a delay in mailing many of the prepaid envelopes to customers.

Arnette wrote in an e-mail that she didn't know how many gift cards have been given out.

"Some people declined to receive gift cards asking that the $5 be included in our donation to CASA," she wrote.

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