St. Peters, MO-- The sound of a ringing phone is normally a good thing for Melissa Bream, owner of Remax Stars Real Estate Company.
"The phone is everything and your phone number is everything," she said. But when all seven lines at her office started ringing constantly one Saturday in March, it turned out trouble was on the other end.
"Our phones were hacked into by an outside person," said Bream. "Most of the calls were made to Guinea and Somalia."
Bream says nobody in her office has any reason to call those countries. But that didn't stop the bills from rolling in. She was hit with charges from Sprint, a long distance company called Var Tec, more than $14,000 in fees from Charter Communications and more than $500,000 from AT&T.
"I was flabbergasted and shocked," said Bream.
She doesn't have an account with any of those companies except Charter. So she challenged the charges and started doing research. She found she's not the only small business to be victimized. According to the Salem News, a company near Boston had a similar situation in 2009 that also involved outrageous charges from AT&T. Those charges were eventually forgiven.
A spokesman for A Better Answer, the company that installed Bream's phone system, says it's impossible to hack. He says there's no way the volume of calls charged to Bream could get through her system and that this is a network problem.
AT&T seems to agree.
"They actually told me that they know we did not make those phone calls," said Bream.
The company sent NewsChannel 5 a statement that reads: "We are working with the business and plan to remove any charges resulting from the fraudulent calls on our network."
On Thursday Bream got an email from AT&T saying the charges were reversed. Soon after, an employee got a similar call from Charter Communications.
Click here for consumer tips from The Federal Communications Commission on how to avoid falling victim to one of these scams.