Staff Editorial: Felonious phone calls

An inestimable number of students have employed fraudulent means to place what could amount to hundreds of thousands – perhaps even millions – of dollars worth of telephone calls mostly from residence hall rooms. Through their actions, these students have violated federal laws and should be held accountable. The University, though, must accept responsibility for allowing what appears to be one of the largest fraud rings on this or any campus to continue for as many as two years or even longer.

Obviously the immensity of this theft defies description, but the mechanics of the scheme are somewhat more discernable. Someone discovered a “personal security code” – a six-digit billing code for long-distance phone calls placed from on-campus phones – that apparently was unassigned yet still activated. After discovering this mechanism for `free’ calls, students shared the code with their friends in an effort to avoid the outrageous prices – as much as 23 cents a minute – GW charges for long-distance service.

Administrators still do not know how many students eventually obtained and used the code, but responsibility for the enormous charges amassed ultimately rests with the students who did. They should be charged and made to pay restitution for their theft. But a University that cautions students against complacency in securing their personal belongings and safety has failed to follow its own advice. Almost two years of repeated calls to expensive locales, many as far away as Asia, failed to trigger any investigation. GW is now liable for the huge phone bills racked up by its students, but these charges were only possible through the negligence of those officials supposedly monitoring University communications.

After the dust settles, GW officials must disclose how much money was lost to maintain their credibility and be accountable to those students who did not engage in criminal behavior and are footing the bill for their miscreant peers. All students who decided to break the law – no matter their excuse – must be forced to reimburse the University, and the amount eventually recovered should also be disclosed.

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