Opinion

Simbox fraud back in earnest?

Lately, every single call I get from abroad shows on my phone as a local call, a phenomenpon that used to be a common occurrence.

It went away for a while but now the SIM box fraudsters are back in business, and this time, it appears to be with a vengeance.

A friend just called me from Italy and a local number showed up on my phone.

As if that was not enough, he complained that lately when they call Ghana, the call goes to either UK or India, and sometimes they hear the sounds of people having sex on the phone.

My friend is worried that this will create problems for people who make calls from abroad to their spouses in Ghana.

It is worrying that after the implementation of the fraud management system by KelniGVG, SIM Box Fraud is rather scaling up in this manner.

I remember in the midst of the argument in the past, over who is managing telecoms fraud, one of the allegations was that the very private companies contracted to do the job, were themselves involved in sim boxing because of the money in there. So it was easy for them to clamp down on some fraudsters because they had always known the fraudster were and they only expose them when it is convenient for them. Those were the allegations.

So my question is, could it be that the people behind KelniGVG know who and where the fraudsters are, but because they are getting paid now, they are quiet until when it is convenient?

I ask this question because I can’t understand why at a time when KelniGVG and telcos claim they work with partners abroad to make 100s or 1000s of calls daily into the country to detect fraud SIMs, we are rather experiencing more SIM Box fraud at this level.

So was the investment into fraud management and the gains touted by government really what the situation on the ground is?

I thought we were winning the fight against those fraudsters; apparently not.

We were told that one of the main causes is bad SIM registration activation so government announced that SIM re-registration was to begin in January 2020 and by June 2020, all improperly registered SIMs would have been deactivated.

The SIM re-registration was supposed to be based on the Ghana Card, but later changed to other verifiable national IDs.

A key feature of the whole process, we were told, was a common verification platform to be established by telecoms regulator, the National Communications Authority (NCA).

As we speak today, February 19, 2020, the NCA is yet to establish the common verification platform to even be tested by telcos before implementation.

Meanwhile, telcos are still registering and activating SIM cards, using unverifiable IDs presented by customers, bringing us back to square one after the nation had spent several millions of dollars to do a failed SIM registration in 2011, which didn’t cure SIM boxing.

The question therefore remains whether the SIM re-registration has started or not, and if not what will happen to the SIM cards being registered now without the IDs being verified?

How come SIM box fraud is still on so strongly even after the regulator, government and the players claim they have found a fix in the Common Monitoring Platform?

I humbly submit that the argument that the minimum 19 cents per minute of calls coming into Ghana, compared to the cheaper local call rates, which create an arbitrage, remains the sole motivator for SIM Box fraudsters.

We can do any and everything from setting a fraud management system to doing SIM re-registration, if we don’t bridge an arbitrage, the motivation will still be there.

Again, if we don’t get the common ID verification system in place to ensure that the SIM re-registration is done proper, we will end at Cos90.

It is also worth pointing out that telcos have pointed out that the January to June deadline for SIM re-registration, less weekend days and holidays, come to a little over 150 days, which is woefully inadequate to re-register the millions of SIMs on their respective networks.

So does it look like we we will win this SIM box fraud war, or some people in high places are benefitting so they will keep pretending to fight  it when it fact they are not.

The telcos too are pretenders sometimes because they have evidence to show that some of their workers are complicit in some of these fraudulent activities and yet we are yet to hear one telco, one telco name and shame a worker for fraud.

They are quick to lay off agents who are not their staff, but when it comes to the insiders, they pretend they are non-existent, in spite of the overwhelming evidence.

I have personally reported a number suspected fraud to telcos, where the evidence point to an insider. What the telcos do is to keep you out of the loop without telling you what became of your report to them.

You will contact them a million times after the report and they will keep ignoring you until you get fed up and stop. They police even made similar complaints against the telcos recently. Once the evidence point to an insider, the telcos start playing games with the police.

We can’t win against the fraudsters if we don’t get SIM re-registration right, don’t remove the arbitrage between inbound international call and local call rates and if the telcos keep pretending all tjeir staff are saints who just dropped from heaven.

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