Two persons who described themselves as students have been arrested at their hideout at Dome Pillar Two in Accra for allegedly diverting international phone calls.
Through the illegal operation, the suspects were said to have raked in an estimated $836,000.
The government and the telecommunication operators are said to have lost about $50 million revenue through such illegal activities since October 2010.
The suspects, identified as Evans Agbenyo and Georgia Vera Mensah, are said to have been operating for six months in a three-bedroom apartment with some electronic equipment installed in one of the bedrooms.
Two persons suspected to be the brains behind the illegal operation, identified as Christopher Jojo Ewusie and John Owusu are currently on the run.
Briefing journalists in Accra yesterday, the Director-General of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), Commissioner of Police, Mr Prosper Kwame Agblor, said the suspects were arrested on August 26, 2014 by a task force comprising officials of the National Communications Authority (NCA), Telecoms Chamber and Ghana Police Service.
Electronic devices retrieved from the hideout of the suspects included 55 different routers, three laptops, two switches and a voice gateway.
According to the CID Director-General, 1,006 used SIM cards were retrieved from the suspects. These included 308 Vodafone; 150 Airtel; 283 Glo, 257 MTN and eight Tigo SIM cards.
The task force also recovered 954 unused SIM cards of the five telecommunication operators and 100 unused MTN and Glo recharge cards.
Suspects arrested so far
Between October 2010 and August 2014, SIM box fraud cases recorded are 13, resulting in the arrest of 17 suspects made up of Ghanaians and foreign nationals.
One of the kingpins, an Italian arrested in connection with SIM box fraud, has been sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, while the other cases are pending before the courts.
‘We are calling on the public to volunteer information to enable the police deal expeditiously with such nation wreckers,’ Mr Agblor said.
Commenting on the incident, the Minister of Communications, Dr Edward Kofi Omane Boamah, said international telephone traffic, which stood at 100 million minutes per month, had reduced to 60 million minutes a month as a result of the illegal operation of the SIM box fraudsters.
Since the fraudsters employed illegal routes to bring international traffic into the country, they avoid passing through the registered international gateway, Dr Boamah said ‘they do not pay relevant fees and taxes and divert revenue from the telcos to their private accounts and those of their collaborators, both inside and outside the country.’
He urged telecommunication companies to ‘do a lot more in terms of ensuring sanctity in the registration of SIM cards. You know your clients and know those who buy in bulk. That is why we are pushing for the re-registration of all SIM cards,’ he added.
How they operate
A SIM box fraud is a setup in which fraudsters install SIM boxes with multiple low-cost prepaid SIM cards.
With the help of a device which can accommodate between four and 50,000 SIM cards, the illegal operators are able to convert international calls transmitted through the Internet to make it appear as if the call is a local one. This way, the fraudsters bypass all international interconnection charges.
The impact of SIM boxing is that the operators lose significant revenue on those calls, which also affects call quality.
Individuals who receive international calls through local numbers are encouraged to send the number preceeded by the words ‘SIM box’ through a text message to the short code 419 on all networks.
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