A series of bizarre messages sent to customers of a Reseda telephone answering company combined with unexplained technological breakdowns have caused nearly 100 subscribers to drop the service, according to an official of the firm.
Subscribers of Communication Interlink Co., predominantly actors and actresses, have received conflicting messages during the past week from several people claiming to be in charge of the company. One message tells customers not to pay their August bills; another says to disregard all communications from CIC unless they are in writing, and yet another names CIC's competitors and tells subscribers to make up their own minds about switching services.
Also, telephone lines have been constantly busy, making it difficult for some customers to pick up their messages.
"My livelihood is dependent on getting my calls right away," said Georgia Conner, an actress. "Producers and directors don't understand if I call back three days later because my answering service wasn't working."
Conner said she is switching to another automated service. Such services, including CIC, use computers to record messages. A subscriber generally retrieves a taped message by calling his phone number and typing in a private access or "pass" code from a touch-tone phone anywhere in the world to an "electronic mailbox." Some subscribers also have beepers that alert them the instant a message has been left in their mailboxes.
Stanford Lau, an entertainment industry lawyer who has several accounts with CIC, said he had to call a staff meeting Wednesday to discuss his firm's problems with the answering service because his 30 employees were constantly being "beeped," only to find the conflicting messages. Lau said he is giving the company until the end of the week to resolve its problems, or else he will switch companies.
The owner of the company, Gloria Christy, 60, said she hopes to have the problem resolved by Monday when a team of computer specialists arrives. Christy estimates that about 100 of the company's 500 subscribers have dropped the service "since someone began messing around with the computer system last week."
Who, if anyone, is tampering with the company's computer depends upon which version of the story is being told. But it's clear from the record of messages left in subscribers' mailboxes this week that something out of the ordinary is happening.
The series of messages began Monday at 11:30 p.m. with a message from "Michael, the manager" that said, "This is to alert you we have been having computer problems . . . you must change your pass code." The next day phone lines were flooded with customers who needed assistance in changing their codes, according to CIC employees.
Subscribers received another message Tuesday from "Scott" and "Gloria, the owner" that said, "This is to warn you that Michael was fired last week and is still able to enter the system and has been sabotaging the system." The message advised customers to disregard any messages except those that came through the mail, but not to be alarmed.
Later that evening, subscribers received another message from "Michael" saying that "a professional hacker is in the system and he has broken the security. They call themselves Scott and Gloria. I have no idea who they are . . . . " The speaker went on to say that "we want to compensate you for this terrible inconvenience . . . August is a free month. Disregard all bills until the second week in September."
The message went on to name CIC's competitors and to say that customers must "make their own decision" about switching services.
"At this point, I had to ask, will the real CIC please stand up," said Marco Watkins, 30, a magician who has an account with the company. Watkins said he wants to switch answering services but is afraid to because his resume and an ad in California Talent Guide list his number with CIC.
Accuses Former Manager
Christy, CIC's owner, said she believes her former manager, Michael Berge, 38, may be responsible for leaving the messages and tying up phone lines. She said Berge quit July 9 after a dispute over a proposed contract. The contract would have given Berge only 40% of CIC's net profit instead of a partnership in the company, Christy said.
Berge, who calls himself a part-owner of the company, said he has consulted an attorney about bringing legal action against Christy for breach of an oral contract promising him a share in the business. Berge said he built the business from scratch a year ago. He said CIC "has to flounder if she is to realize how important I am. However, this doesn't mean I intended it to flounder."
Berge attributed the busy phone lines to technical problems and said he believes one of the actors using the service imitated his voice and left messages in his name.