A pay phone operator is guilty of exploiting how companies pay for their toll-free numbers by using robotic crank calls to ring in $4 million dollars in fraudulent fees, 50 cents at a time.
Businessman Nicolaos Kantartzis, 62, pleaded guilty in federal court in Greenbelt, Md., Tuesday to programming his pay phones to make repeated phantom calls to toll-free numbers belonging to companies and the government. Such calls are free to legitimate users, but the owner of the toll-free number ultimately pays the pay phone owner. As a result, Kantartzis got a fee each time his phones rang the numbers, even if no one was on the other end of the line.
The scheme spanned six years and 8 million bogus calls, authorities said.
Kantartzis has owned a pay-phone company since 1995 and controlled at least 165 phones in Washington and nearby Maryland, according to court documents. Starting in January 2005, he used a computer at his home in Bethesda to program the phones to place calls to toll-free numbers for government agencies, companies including Dell and multiple airlines, the documents say.
The documents don't say how Kantartzis was caught, but U.S. Attorney's Office spokesperson Vickie LeDuc said that an investigation by the General Services Administration and the FBI led to the charges. Kantartzis declined to comment when reached by telephone on Monday.
Kantartzis's already repaid the government the cost of the fraud, his lawyer said.