Bad SIMs shoring up Telcos subscriber base


The number of SIM cards detected as being used for fraud on all five GSM networks in Ghana between January 2013 and September 4, 2014 shows that most of the telcos in the country may be counting bad SIM cards to shore up their subscriber base.

There is a daily industry report which captures call by pass lines (SIM box fraud) detected every day, and that report shows that over the period in question, a total of 140,333 of such lines were detected across all five GSM networks. This is more than Expresso Ghana’s 127,000 plus customers. The overall monthly average was 6,683.

All of those cards have since been deactivated, but the trend in their discovery indicates there may be even more of such bad SIMs telcos are still counting as genuine subscribers.

The report showed Glo had the highest number of SIM box numbers detected on its network, followed by Vodafone, MTN, Airtel and Tigo in that order.

Expresso had no call bypass incidents at all, arguably because it is a CDMA network, and it does not even issue SIMs in all cases.

As the figure would show, even though Tigo is the third largest operator by subscribers in the country, and has some of the most affordable default tariffs on the market (which is a big attraction for SIM box fraudsters), the telco has managed to ward off fraudsters significantly.

On the contrary, the networks with the highest default tariffs in the country, and have over the period been in the media as having led arrests of SIM box fraudsters in parts of the country, have some of the highest call bypass incidents on their networks, which experts say, is either a sign of lack of vigilance or deliberate negligence on their part.

 
Tigo
The daily call bypass lines detection report showed that between January and December 2013, the industry anti-fraud team comprising of personnel from the National Communication Authority (NCA), the Police Criminal Investigations Department (CID) and the telcos detected 1,204 call bypass lines on Tigo, which is the lowest for that year, compared with Glo’s 37,259, Vodafone’s 7,079, MTN’s 4,581 and Airtel’s 3,472.

Meanwhile over the same period, Tigo recorded some 351,753 additional subscribers to its network. This means the fraudulent lines detected was 0.34% of the additional subscribers.

From January to June 2014, Tigo had 2,223 call bypass lines detected on its network, which is still the lowest number of detections on a single network over the period. In that same period Tigo lost some 24,010 subscribers, part of which were those bad SIMs detected and deactivated.

Meanwhile, 831 were detected on Tigo in July 2014 alone, 779 in August and between September 1 and 4, 2014, 106 were detected.

So overall, from January 2013 to September 4, 2014 Tigo recorded 5,143 fraudulent SIMs, which is by far the lowest so far. The highest number of detections on Tigo in a month was 831 in July 2014. The lowest was in one, in January 2013. The average per month is 245.

 
Glo is worst
Glo was the all-time worst attraction for SIM box fraudsters as a whopping 37,259 call bypass lines were detected on that network from January to December 2013. But within that same period, 151,756 SIM cards churned or went inactive on Glo. Those may have included the bad SIMs detected and deactivated.

Between January and June 2014 alone, Glo has had 12,247 bad SIM detected on its network, and it again lost some 98,861 subscribers over that period. In July alone, 1,562 bad SIMs were detected on Glo and in August it 1,150 more were detected. Meanwhile, 99 bad SIMs were detected between September 1 and 4, 2014.

Overall detections on Glo from January 2013 to September 4, 2014 is therefore 52,317, which is the worst of all-time, and it showed a monthly average of 2,491.

 
Vodafone
Vodafone had 7,079 detected call bypass lines, which is 2.36% of the 300,254 subscribers it gained by year end 2013.

Like MTN, Vodafone also had the highest number of bad SIMs detected in August 2014, when it recorded 10,414. That is the all-time highest number of bad SIMs detected on any network in a month.

Meanwhile, from January to June 2014 Vodafone had some 25,985 bad SIMs detected, represented 6% of the 433,286 new subscribers it gained over the period.

Between September 1 and 4, 2014, some 1,333 were detected on Vodafone, which is the highest in four days. Meanwhile, Vodafone has the highest default per minute tariff of 15Gp among the GSM players.

Overall, between January 2013 and September 4, 2014, some 50,382 were detected on Vodafone. That brings the average per month to 2,399, which is more than what was detected on Tigo for the whole of 2013 and for H1 2014.

 
MTN
Meanwhile, in the whole of 2013, market leader MTN had 4,581 detected fraudulent lines, which is only 0.43% of the 1,071,756 additional subscribers it got over the period.

MTN saw some 8,511 SIM detected in fraud between January and June 2104, which is 3,297 more than what was detected on Tigo for 18 months. That accounted for 1.8% of the 470,160 subs MTN gained over the period.

Meanwhile, in July 2014 alone, 3,888 bad SIMs were detected on MTN, and MTN saw its worse number of detections in August, which is 5,420 bad SIMs. Between September 1 and 4, 2014, only 41 cards were detected on MTN.

So overall, from January 2013 to September 4, 2014, there have been 22,444 bad SIMs detected on MTN. Its highest in a month so far was in August 2014 and the lowest was 123 in May 2013. The average per month is 1,069.

 
Airtel
Airtel also had 3,472 detected SIM box numbers between January and December 2013, which is 2.84% of its additional subscribers of 122,215 over the same period.

But between January and June 2014, it saw 2,763 bad SIMs, which is 4.5% of the 61,871 it gained over the period. Meanwhile, In July alone it recorded 1,846 bad SIMs and 1,752 in August; and between September 1 and 4 it saw 214 bad SIMs.

The overall bad SIMs on Airtel from January 2013 to September 4, 2014 was 10,047, and the average per month is 478.

So the total number of bad SIMs detected across all five GSM networks from January 2013 to September 4, 2014 was 140,333, more than Expresso total customers of a little over 127,000. The overall monthly average was 6,683. All of those cards have since been deactivated.

But as the figures show that the eight month period between January 1 and September 4, 2014, things got worse as more call bypass lines were detected on all networks within that period than there were for the whole of 2013.

 
Undetected bad SIMs
It is important to note the foregoing bad SIMs are only the detected ones. The increasing trend in the monthly detections is an indication, according to industry fraud management experts, that there are many more bad SIMs out there and they are being captured by the respective telcos as revenue generating numbers (RGN) or genuine subscribers.

So it is still not clear how many more bad SIMs the telcos are counting and would counting as part of their genuine subscriber base.

An executive of Vodafone said, at a meeting with senior journalists recently, that “when you deactivate 1,000 cards the fraudsters bring 1,000 more to replace them so the way forward is to prevent SIM boxing and not to react to it.”

 
Media Propaganda
Flashback: SIM boxes on display after recent bust led by MTN

Some telcos have been leading the arrests of SIM box fraudsters in the country. But quite often when those arrests are made, most of the SIMs found are SIMs belonging to telcos other than to the one that led the bust.

Industry fraud experts interpret that to mean that the telcos purposely lead the anti-fraud team to arrest people using other telcos SIMs to defraud them (the telco that led the bust) but they fail to lead a bust on fraudsters using their SIMs to defraud other telcos.

“That is a diversionary tactics,” the fraud management expert said.

When MTN led a bust on SIM box fraudsters at Dome Pillar 2 recently, most of the cards found in that bust were Vodafone cards, and MTN made publicity capital out of it. They issued a press released to say they led the bust. Meanwhile, when Vodafone led two arrests last year, most of the cards found were Airtel cards and Vodafone also made publicity capital out of that arrest.

But now Vodafone and MTN’s networks are part of the top three for most call bypass incidents, while incidents on Airtel are dropping and Tigo has had the lowest number of incidents for more than a year but had not made any publicity capital out of it.

Security Expert Dr. Isaac Amo-Antwi has reportedly been advising telcos to stop the propaganda with the SIM box fraud and focus on dealing with how fraudsters get large chunk of SIM cards, usually in a series, registered and or issued without proper registration in their names, rather than waiting for the crime to be committed only for them to make a bust and do “needless propaganda” with it.

All the telcos claim they have very robust systems of checking and detecting call bypass on their own, but that as it is now, they are still counting some bad SIMs among their subscribers and only time will tell how many those bad cards are.

SIM box fraud or call bypass is a system in which a syndicate of fraudsters in Ghana and abroad work together to route phone calls coming from overseas through the internet VoIP – voice over internet protocol) instead of through the approved international gateways of the telcos. The fraudsters then terminate the calls in Ghana through SIM boxes fitted with local SIMs to make it look like the overseas called are local calls.

By so doing, the pay the telcos only the local call rates, which is now averaging 9Gp and they get to keep and share huge margins charged in dollars overseas.

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