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Phone hacker puts Hinsdale church on hook for huge bill

(MCT) — It's fair to say that the Rev. Edward Searl was surprised — and not pleasantly so — when his church received its phone bill for November.

It was for $27,020.

"We were amazed. We're still somewhat befuddled by it," said Searl, who is minister at the 300-member Unitarian Church of Hinsdale.

During one weekend in November thousands of calls to Libya somehow were made from the church's phone lines.

"By the looks of it, they were continually making two-minute calls," Searl said. "The list goes on and on."

Because it was unusual activity, ATandT noticed the fraudulent phone calls made on Nov. 13 and Nov. 14 while they were taking place and blocked them, Searl said. But not until the caller racked up thousands of dollars in costs for the international calls.

"They invaded our phone system," said Searl. "They were able to access our outgoing phone lines. It jammed our phone lines, totally."

He said the calls were made while the church office was closed.

The church has been in negotiations with ATandT, which has agreed to eliminate a percentage of the money owed, Searl said. He declined to say how much a percentage, but said the church currently is still on the hook for a substantial bill. He said the negotiations are continuing.

Searl said ATandT advised the church to make a report to local police, which it did on March 22.

Hinsdale police Deputy Chief Mark Wodka said this type of apparent fraud of a phone system is unusual.

"It's unclear if it was a person or a machine making the calls," said Wodka, who added that police are uncertain if the alleged fraud is in their jurisdiction.

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