September 30, 2014

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Brunswick Schools battles bill collector

BRUNSWICK — The phone calls went out to every parent with a child in Brunswick Schools.

“I’m calling to let you know our central office phone lines and our voicemail system is being locked up by a foreign company,” Superintendent Mike Mayell said in the automated message Friday morning. “We informed them that we are a school district and their response was, ‘We don’t care.’ “

The call prompted some parents to contact the police and The Gazette.

“What’s going on at Brunswick city schools? Just got an announcement that their phones were hijacked by foreign entity,” wrote one parent in an email to The Gazette.

For anyone expecting to be told that the incident was part of a high-tech cyber attack on the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure, the rest of this story will be a letdown.

Instead of nefarious foreign hackers, the culprit was a bill-collector based overseas who was robo-dialing the Brunswick Schools’ central office phone number, blocking other calls from coming in, according to police.

The calls started coming in Thursday and continued into Friday.

According to a Brunswick police report filed Thursday, a school employee reported arranging with a collections agency to pay off a bill in installments, but that the agency continued to call the employee’s work number at the school.

A police spokesman said that the bill collector called the district, asked to be transferred to the employee and refused to take no for an answer.

The bill collector began calling the district repeatedly, tying up the phone and voicemail system.

Mayell said he hadn’t heard the police’s explanation of what was behind the calls. He just wanted them to stop.

In his phone message to parents, Mayell said a report was filed with the Federal Trade Commission and with the FBI.

“We’re trying to resolve it as quickly as possible,” he said.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.