Verizon 'error' makes unlisted numbers public

June 04, 2008|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Sun reporter

Verizon Communications Inc. mistakenly provided 12,500 unlisted or nonpublished phone numbers to the publisher of a just-released phone book in Washington County, the company said yesterday.

The Maryland Public Service Commission, which regulates public utilities and first heard about the error late Monday, has asked Verizon to appear before the commissioners at a hearing tomorrow to explain how the private information was released.

"As far as we're concerned, this was totally unacceptable," said LaWanda Edwards, a spokeswoman for the PSC. "This goes to a bigger issue as it relates to public safety."

The PSC will review a range of possible actions that could include a fine, she said.

Verizon attributed the mistake, first reported yesterday by Hagerstown's The Herald-Mail, to a "process error" and said it was attempting to find solutions for customers whose names and addresses inadvertently ended up in the 2008-2009 EZ to Use Big Book, published by Ogden Directory Inc.

Verizon has offered to change the customers' phone numbers and waive the fees for an unpublished number, which is not available in the print directory or through directory assistance, or unlisted, which means not in the printed directory.

"From our standpoint, having even one of these nonpublished numbers [appear] is not good," said Harry Mitchell, Verizon director of media relations for the Mid-Atlantic region. "We accept responsibility for it. We apologize to customers whose nonlisted and nonpublished numbers were listed. We're reaching out to the customers and are working with them to address their concerns."

The error has alarmed people in the Hagerstown area, including crime victims and police officers, who typically keep their names and addresses out of public directories.

Calls have come in to the Hagerstown Police Department from worried residents, said Wayne Hose, a Hagerstown police officer and president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3373.

"These people have unlisted, unpublished numbers for a reason, and they've just given out the information to people who've been stalking them or committed crimes," Hose said. "People might have to relocate. Someone needs to step up and take responsibility for that."

Many of the 70 Hagerstown police officers represented by the union local also wanted their information kept private, he said.

"It goes without saying, we've arrested a lot of bad people," he said.

Hose said changing phone numbers might be a solution for some, "but your address is out there. Short of relocating, I don't know what other remedies they can come up with."

Mitchell said he did not know whether errors involving as many phone numbers had occurred in the past. But, he said, "We're taking measures to ensure it doesn't happen again."

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