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General News of Friday, 16 March 2012

Source: myjoyonline

Telcos to be held responsible for SIM Box fraud

The National Communications Authority (NCA) has made it clear that if it discovers any illegally acquired SIM cards being used for SIM Box fraud, the respective telecom operators would be held responsible and made to pay for it.

On March 3, 2012 telecom operators deactivated more than 1.5 million unregistered and invalidly registered inactive SIM cards as a measure to, among other things, stem SIM-based unlawful activities, including SIM box fraud.

Director of Regulatory Administration at the NCA, Joshua Peprah said that SIM registration was one of the main measures to track SIM Box fraudsters and so after the deactivation of unregistered SIMs, the operators are expected to keep records of only legally registered SIMs with the identities of the owners.

“If we discover that any SIM card has been used in a SIM box, we will go to the concerned operator to give us the identity of the owner of that number – if we discover that the SIM was illegally acquired then that operator would have to pay government its portion of the expected revenue from the international call terminated through that SIM,” he said.

He was speaking to journalists who had gone to visit the NCA as part of a four-day training workshop organised by Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) with support from MTN to improve telecoms reporting in Ghana.

SIM Box fraud is a system by which some unscrupulous persons re-route international calls coming to Ghana through some boxes in which they have inserted local SIM cards, and they terminate the calls using those SIM cards, to make the call appear as a local call.

So, for instance, often times an international call appears as a 0266XXXXXX number, meaning the SIM Box fraudster is terminating the call through an Airtel SIM card.

By doing so the fraudsters pay local rates to Airtel, after their cohorts abroad have collected the international rates from the telecom companies which originated the call overseas.

SIM Box fraud is denies the state millions of dollars in taxes and also denies telcos even bigger revenue. In 2009 alone, SIM box denied Ghana government an estimated US$5.8 million in taxes per month, and at the global level it denied the telecom industry some US$150 million in 2010.

Government therefore passed the Electronic Communication Amendment Act, Act 786, 2009, which fixed the tariff for inbound international call at 19 cents (33Gp) per minutes, out of which 6 cents is for government and 13 cents goes to the telecom operators.

Some telcos have argued that the 19 cents fixed rate is rather encouraging SIM Box fraud because it is high, compared to the lowest flat local call tariff, which is currently 8.4Gp, so the fraudsters are able to make lots of money even if they charge less than 19 cents and terminate the call at only 8.4Gp.

The telcos therefore argue that reducing international call rates to the level of domestic call rates will automatically drive out SIM box fraudsters like it has in other countries like Nigeria.

But Mr. Peprah said while 19 cents may be an attraction for SIM box fraudsters, the NCA cannot reduce international call rates to the level of domestic call rates just because of the bad guys, adding that the good guys like the telcos in Ghana are now getting an assured 13 cents per minute of international call, and government is also getting an assured 6 cents for national development.

“Through dynamic regulation the country’s telecom industry has grown and become very attractive and huge international traffic is coming in everyday and the country has the right to benefit from that – we are not going to sacrifice that benefit just because some bad guys are stealing from us,” he said.

He noted that since the implementation of the fixed rate, both government and the telcos have raked in millions of dollars, which would have been lost to SIM Box fraudsters, and to persons who also route calls through VOIP (voice over internet protocol) and pay only about 5 cents to telecom operators in Ghana.

“Last year alone we raised almost US$60 million for the state through the fixed rate, and that is why we are firm on the demand for all telcos to keep a record of registered SIM cards so we can trace fraudsters, otherwise the telcos would have to pay the 6 cents if we discover their SIMs in SIM boxes,” he said.

He said it is difficult meeting World Bank requirements to get a loan of US$60 million, so that was good money for Ghana, which the country would not have to pay back at all, much more with interest.

Mr. Peprah said the latest trends indicate the SIM box fraud is going down in Ghana, and the fraudsters are getting busted and some are leaving the shores of the country because the NCA and the telcos have put systems in place to track and flush them out.

“At the end of the day there will still be SIM boxing but we are working to reduce it to the barest minimum so country Ghana can benefit,” he said.