The Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) has revealed that over 750,000 individual numbers across the nation made up of about 31 number ranges were used for fraud.
Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umaru Danbatta, named the type of fraud being perpetrated as SIM boxing and call masking.
Several companies have also been sanctioned for their involvement in the scheme.
He said, “SIM boxing or Interconnect Bypass Fraud (IBF) is one of the most prevalent frauds in the telecom industry today and it is estimated to be costing the industry $3bn in lost revenue.”
Call masking, he said, was a phenomenon whereby an international call is masked to appear as a local call on any GSM network in Nigeria while SIM Boxing on the other hand refers to electronic boxes or devices with multiple SIMs that have the capacity to terminate calls at local interconnect rates.
According the EVC, SIM Boxing was observed to have started at the time the Commission decided to review international termination rates from N 3.90/ min. to N24.40/ min. for international inbound traffic which provided an opportunity for technology manipulators to terminate calls at N 3. 90/ min. and cart away the difference thereby cutting the revenue meant for the Operators and by implication the government.
A SIM box has capacity to receive and transmit calls undetected.
NCC barred those 750,000 numbers which belonged to Vezeti Communications Services Limited, Voix Networks Limited, Mobitel Limited, Peace Global Satellite Communications Limited, ABG Communications Limited, Vodacom Business Africa (Nigeria) Limited, Swift Telephone Networks Limited, QVODA Telecoms Limited, Wireless Telecoms Limited and Emcatel Networks Limited.
The Commission found that some of them were terminating millions of minutes, whereas they only had very few active customers.
A second stage of investigation by NCC focused on the Mobile Network Operators and other persons involved in SIM-Boxing.
NCC had in 2018 introduced a new technology which nipped in the bud, menace of call masking and call refiling.
The Commission has however sanctioned telecom clearing houses and network providers implicated in the high incidence of call-masking, call-refiling and SIM-Boxing.
NCC conducted an investigation process which included collaboration with the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) and the Department of State Services.
Among the various ranges of sanctions were the suspension of the Interconnect Clearinghouse License issued to Medallion Communications Limited for a period of 90 days, in the first instance; Issuance of a strong warning to Interconnect Clearinghouse Nigeria Limited; disconnection of Information Connectivity Solutions Limited (ICSL) and Solid Interconnectivity Services Limited from all networks, until they regularize their operations.
Others were: Issuance of letters to Exchange Telecoms Limited, NiconnX Limited and Breeze Micro Limited, cautioning them against engaging in the fraudulent practice; and barring of over 750,000 numbers assigned to several Private Network Links (PNL) and Local Exchange Operator (LEO) licensees, which number ranges were found to have been utilized for the practice.
The Commission said the sanctioned entities were found to be directly and indirectly complicit in several infractions, including, covertly allowing organisations with expired licences to transit calls, failure to undertake due diligence on parties seeking to interconnect, deliberately turning a blind eye to masking infractions by interconnect partners, and using a licence issued to another organisation to bring-in and terminate international calls which were masked as local calls to other operators.