'This Line Has Been Restricted...'
The automated caller hung up.
That was the message I received on my answering machine on Aug. 17 at 11:09 a.m. Didn't take it seriously. I am a Verizon customer in good standing -- or so I thought. I have four accounts: two local/long distance and two wireless family plans. I pay my bills on time. Roughly $214 a month, which translates into $2,500 annually. And I'm possibly a good candidate for their FiOS TV service when it arrives in my neighborhood, which would probably translate into another couple of thousands, when one considers I would probably switch to DSL as well in some quadruple bypass package (video, broadband access, landline, wireless).
Wednesday morning (Aug. 22) at 10:07 a.m., I contacted the High Toll department. A High Toller answered the phone and asked for my name, mailing address as it appears on the billing statement and mother's maiden name. I provided the information.
"Didn't you receive my last $54 payment?" I queried.
"What is your account number, sir?" she asked. I told her that I didn't have it handy. "What is this about? I asked.
"Did you recently call South Korea?"
"Did you call numerous times?"
"Three, to be exact."
"It is unusual for you to be calling South Korea. We have not noticed any prior calls to that country on your account, sir."
And so I thought this was my indoctrination into the Bush Administration's new surveillance Protect America Act -- the one that allows the tapping without warrants of telephone calls and e-mail routed through the U.S. Must admit I was nervous. I didn't think that explaining to a South Korean media consultant, new media policies and advertising applications in the televisual realm in the U.S., was a breach of intelligence vital to the security of my fellow Americans.
By post, Thursday Aug. 23, an officious letter, dated Aug. 17, from Verizon arrives:
"Account Number: xxxxxxx (to protect my identity) Service Number: (left blank)
Dear Verizon customer
In an effort to protect customers, Verizon investigates and quickly attempts to notify customers of any unusual usage on their Verizon accounts. This usage may include invoiced or unbilled long distance charges. We have noticed unusual usage on your account, but have been unable to contact you by phone to verify the validity of the charges.
Your service has been interrupted as a security measure...."