February 7, 1995 in Idaho

Boy Blamed For Rash Of Calls To Sex Lines 17-Year-Old Charged $15,000 Worth Of Calls To Residents In Hayden Area

By The Spokesman-Review
 

A teenager with a penchant for calling a phone sex line is responsible for the costly charges that have appeared on numerous North Idaho phone bills, GTE officials said Monday.

The 17-year-old boy, who lives in the Spirit Lake area, charged $15,000 worth of 900 phone line calls to about 50 Hayden-area residents, said GTE and Kootenai County sheriff’s officials.

GTE would not release information on how the youth was able to make the phone calls and bill them to other people. But Bob Wayt, a spokesman for the phone company, said the teen did not break into the homes to do it.

The news was of little relief to Lynn Hopkins, who was billed for more than $500 in calls to the phone sex line.

“I just don’t know what you do to protect yourself,” Hopkins said. “If a kid could figure it out, who else is out there?”

Telephone officials admit even a block to prevent calls to 900 numbers would not have stopped the teen.

GTE and the Idaho attorney general’s office launched an investigation in January after numerous customers complained of the costly 900 numbers mysteriously appearing on their phone bills.

All of the customers had phone numbers that began with 772 and most of the calls lasted 17 to 18 minutes at $4.99 per minute.

All of the customers’ bills also came from a billing contractor called Long Distance Billing Co. which was billing for a Florida company called North Star Communication.

The attorney general’s office and Idaho Public Utilities Commission launched an investigation into the two companies.

But on Monday, GTE officials announced that a teenager had admitted making the calls to 900 phone lines between mid-September and late November.

“We do not want to do or say anything that would help potential copycats in any way,” Wayt said, explaining why GTE would not release details on how the crime was committed.

Officials at the attorney general’s office would not comment on where that discovery leaves their investigation. Neither their office nor GTE would comment on whether North Star Communication or Long Distance Billing Co. still are under scrutiny.

Hayden phone customers complained they got the run-around from the two companies. Hopkins said Long Distance Billing kept insisting she had made the phone calls.

Both Long Distance and North Star have maintained their innocence.

“In a lot of ways, we are more of a victim,” said John Carter, a spokesman for Long Distance Billing. “Right now we’re the ones that are out the money.”

Carter said his company has not yet decided what it will do about the bills.

GTE has removed the long distance charges from their customers’ phone bills and turned the case over to the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department.

Only one citizen has officially reported the phone theft to the department. A Hayden man told investigators that someone had billed his 92-year-old mother for $87 in calls to the phone sex line.

Detectives have sent the case to the Kootenai County prosecutor for possible petty theft charges against the youth, said Lt. Ben Wolfinger.

Meanwhile GTE officials say customers need to check their phone bills carefully each month to make sure no unusual charges appear.

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