The University Police Department is investigating a large-scale case of phone fraud for what students called “a free phone code” used to charge long-distance calls to the University, UPD Director Dolores Stafford said.
More than 100 students are under investigation, but that list could grow significantly larger, Stafford said.
Investigators are working with Telecommunications Department officials to trace calls students placed on campus. Stafford said she expects to identify 95 percent or more of the violators, who will be referred to Student Judicial Services.
The personal security code, 813056, used to make calls from on-campus locations no longer works, but has been used “a lot,” Stafford said. UPD officials do not know how the code got out or how long it has been in use. Stafford said she has not started adding up the amount of money charged to the University.
Many students say they have used the code for almost two years, but investigations did not begin until about a month ago. Stafford said UPD was alerted to the problem through an anonymous tip.
One sophomore who is currently being investigated said almost every person he knew at the Hall on Virginia Avenue last year used the code. He said he used the code because he thought GW long distance was too expensive. Another student turned him in and an investigator asked him for names of other students who had used the code.
“It’s pretty much free reign,” said another student who used the code, who said he “heard about it through the grapevine.”
Students who lived in the HOVA, Thurston and Mitchell halls and residence halls at the Mount Vernon Campus last year said the code was widely used in their residence halls. Some students said they frequently called places as far as Asia.
“It was like this big craze, everyone knew the University code,” said sophomore Lindsey Weisser, who lived in Thurston last year.
A Thurston resident, who said she stopping using the code when it stopped working before winter break, said she is entitled to the free calls she made.
“If we could go to a school this expensive we should get something more out of it than Fall Fest,” the freshman said.
Riverside residents, who use phone lines for internet access instead of the University’s ethernet, said most students used the code to connect to the Web.
“When the University isn’t checking up on their books, bad things happen,” one resident said.
Students who used the code said they did not know where it came from, but speculated that it was a loophole in the system because no one ever got caught.
The process for tracking the phones that used the code is time-consuming, according to Telecommunications Manager Chris Megill – making a long investigation likely.
Using the code would likely fall under non-academic dishonesty, which usually carries a punishment of disciplinary probation, SJS Manager David Pine said. Students charged with disciplinary probation “don’t have to do anything, they don’t have to pay anything, they just have to not do anything or not get caught doing anything.”
Some students who used the code said they blame the University for a flawed phone system and doubt GW will catch most users.
“It’s their fault,” one Thurston resident said. “What are they going to do?”
For now Stafford said she encourages students who have used the code to come forward.
“I am certain there will be some sort of restitution,” Stafford said. “If students know they have used it, it would be in their interest to come forward before they are called by us. SJS will look upon them in a favorable manner.”
Pine said that he has never dealt with a case involving such a large number of students, which could stretch the service’s resources thin. Megill said he is unaware of any phone fraud cases this large in GW’s history.
Although many students know about the phone code, some said they decided not to use it.
“I don’t use it myself because it’s immoral and because I’d be afraid that they would trace my phone,” said freshman David Waterman, who found out about the code from a friend when he visited the campus last year.
Stafford said UPD is looking into the possibility of similar codes in use on campus. Students who have information should contact Inspector Ross Trimarchi at 994-0035.
-Tim Donnelly contributed to this report.