Sim Box Fraud: The Control Mechanisms


A SIM box fraud is a setup in which fraudsters install SIM boxes with multiple low-cost prepaid SIM cards. The fraudster then can terminate international calls through local phone numbers in the respective country to make it appear as if the call is a local call. This way fraudsters bypass all international interconnect charges. It has become a very important area of cybercrime in the telecommunications sector in Ghana.

In our previous article entitled article “SIM Box Fraud in Ghana: The way forward”, we discussed about the nature of SIM Box fraud, how it works, its effects, and some control mechanisms in Ghana. In this article, we continue with the last section of the previous article- “SIM Box Fraud Control Mechanism” We first discuss the effects of SIM Box fraud. Next, we discuss briefly about how some African countries have mitigated this type of fraud. We conclude by proposing some mitigation strategies.

Effects of SIM Box Fraud

Subscriber Identification Modules (SIM) box fraud is a set up where fraudsters team up with international entities to route international calls through the internet, using voice over internet protocol (VOIP) and terminate those calls through a local phone number in Ghana to make it appear as if the call is local.

This allows the box operator to bypass international rates to fraudulently undercut the prices charged by Mobile Network Operators (MNO) and evade the surtax charged by the government. This act denies telecommunications and government from benefiting from international phone calls.  Besides loss of revenue, SIM Box operators cause degradation of call quality  which prevents them from meeting service level agreements for mobile hubbing traffic. Ghana, in 2016, made attempt to detect and track SIM Box fraudsters.

We believe the tracking and detection activities only deter fraudsters, but it does not eradicate the problem. Administrative and technical controls must be implemented in Ghana to thwart SIM Box operations.

Some African Countries’ Perspectives

Elsewhere in Africa, mobile operators have traditionally suffered from SIM Box fraud activities over the years, but they have successfully mitigated the risk. Countries like Senegal, Uganda, South Sudan and Kenya have implemented several measures to restrain people from engaging in the act using policies.

According to the Rwanda Utility Regulatory Authority (RURA), the country has experienced less fraud than its neighboring countries because it has a fraud management system within its International Gateway Traffic Verification System. Nigeria reduced this activity by implementing relatively less international call rate as compared to other African countries in the sub-region. The low international call rate has made SIM Box acts unfavorable for fraudsters to operate because criminals will not have high profit margins as it is in Ghana.

The huge difference in the local call termination rates compared with the international termination rates has created a loophole which has lead to the loss of millions of dollars from the mobile network operators in Africa.

The way forward in Ghana                                                                                                              

Authorities in Ghana recently made attempt to work with Afriwave to investigate fraudulent bulk SIM registration.By July 2016, about 300,000 SIM cards used in SIM Box fraud have been detected and deactivated in the first six months of test operations of Afriwave Telecom.

It was reported that strategies are being implemented to include Geo-location solution which will expose the location of the equipment and their operators for confiscation and prosecution. The network operators were mandated to block all SIM card identified to be involved in SIM Box fraud activities, but these operators mostly do not block this fraud SIMs in real time or near time.

We believe these mechanisms cannot prevent SIM Box operations in Ghana because they can only detect or track fraud activities. The solution must not be just tracking, blocking SIM cards and arresting the culprit. Both administrative and technical measures must be put in place to stop the act or make it less attractive.

The only plan that could probably stop  or prevent SIM Box fraud in Ghana is to create an environment where the criminal will feel uncomfortable to operate. Since it is practically impossible and economically unwise to reduce the call rate for the international traffic penetration, government must implement measures to either reduce the crime rate or eradicate it entirely.

The sale of pre- paid SIM cards contributes to operation of SIM Box activities. We recommend that National Communication Authority (NCA) put measures in place to reduce the sale of pre-paid SIM cards by Ghana’s mobile telecommunication companies. NCA must sanction any network operator whose SIM is used for perpetrating crime without proper profiling.

NCA must speed of the implementation of is in the process of SIM registration. Additionally, network operators need to implement an intelligent software or hardware system that can detect and report multiple name registration for onwards investigations.

NCA must task the ICH implementers to provide enhanced bypassed traffic detection and location-aware system. This system has the capability to identify fraudulent VoIP calls (in real-time) and provides the GPS coordinates for the exact location of the SIM Box.  The proposed intelligent solution could be software or hardware device programmed to intelligently detect cases in real-time and then enforce immediate blocking of the SIMs detected.

Real-time information of any suspicious or potentially fraudulent activity can be instantly identified and brought under control so that financial losses are avoided. Further, there must be automation of fraud detection process, implementation of organizational standards, customized policies, rules, and thresholds (with fraud management system) which is built around NCA’s specific needs and operational requirement.Government must ensure that the law enforcement agencies, NCA, Network operators and ICH collaborate to affect an arrest of the perpetrators in near real time. These measures, when implemented appropriately, have the tendency of providing a lasting solution to the SIM Box fraud in Ghana.

>>>The author is an ICT Expert and a member of the Institute of ICT Professionals, Ghana. For comments, contact author: [email protected]Mobile: +233244305305.

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