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Fraud continues as pre-registered SIMs easily available

  • Published at 02:37 am May 19th, 2018
  • Last updated at 01:51 am May 20th, 2018
Photo: Bigstock

The biometric registration of mobile phone numbers was introduced to track criminals and militants. However, its effectiveness is now being questioned as pre-registered SIM cards are flooding the market and is available to everyone. This is the first part of a three-part series

Unscrupulous SIM card vendors are bypassing government efforts to biometrically register all mobile phone users by activating unauthorized SIMs and selling them to people who wish to remain under the state’s radar.

Such “active” SIM cards do not require the submission of a picture, a National Identification Card (NID) number or fingerprints, and are readily available to all those who are prepared to pay a slightly higher price.

Mustafa Jabbar, the government minister for post, telecommunications and information technology, said he has received many complaints regarding the illicit practice since biometric SIM registration began.

“We are trying to figure out a solution for this, and I have already spoken to BTRC to be wary of the issue,” he said. “We will try our best to put an end to such fraud.”

The process for biometrically registering SIMs became on effective on December 16, 2015 to reduce crimes committed using mobile phones.

However, law enforcement officials have conceded that the proliferation of fraudulent SIMs has limited the success of the initiative, as those wishing to use cell phones for nefarious activities continue to do so.

In many cases of crimes involving mobile phones, tracing the SIM led to a person who is not even remotely connected to the crime, and who was unaware that someone was using a SIM registered in their name.

This reporter found a group that sells thousands of “active SIMs,” and, through a reliable source, purchased one Grameenphone, one Airtel, and one registered Robi SIM.

Upon investigation of the Call Details Record (CDR) of those SIMs, it was found that the Grameenphone card was registered to Shanti Biswas, from the Ghatbhog area of Khulna’s Rupsha upazila.

“A local shopkeeper took my fingerprints multiple times when I purchased a SIM card, despite the fact that I only bought one SIM,” Shanti Biswas said.

In addition, the Airtel SIM was registered in the name of an individual from Raipura upazila of Narsingdi, while the Robi SIM belonged to a man from Hekmatpur village of Tangail’s Deldua upazila.

The Dhaka Tribune decided not to publish the names of these SIM owners as they could not be contacted directly.

How the fraudulent SIMs are being made

Investigations have found that an influential group creates and sells pre-registered SIMs after acquiring the cards mainly in three ways.

The first method involves getting legal distributors of SIM cards to become involved with creating such SIMs by offering them money or deals to fulfil their sales quotas.

These organizations then take the fingerprints of a buyer and retain a copy of their NIDs in order to register several SIM cards under their names, later selling them for a higher price.

“The main culprits are dishonest retailers who get people to provide their fingerprints multiple times under the ruse of technical glitches,” Association of Mobile and Telecom Operators of Bangladesh (AMTOB) Secretary General Nurul Kabir said.

“We are very strict about such matters and have already cancelled the licenses of a number of such retailers. We are trying to pinpoint the perpetrators, and soon this will be reduced even further.”

Another method is to con low-income groups living on the periphery of Dhaka and other major cities by giving them attractive offers such as free SIMs or other gifts in order to get them to provide their biometric details. The details are then used to register multiple SIMs in their names, which are then sold at inflated prices.

Sources say the third method involves unscrupulous members of mobile phone operators who provide corporate SIMs registered under the names of non-existent businesses and organizations without any background checks.

“We have found proof that alongside employees of SIM distribution companies, even certain officials of mobile phone operators are involved,” Additional Deputy Commissioner of the detective branch of DMP, Mahmud Naser Johnny, said. “These criminals would sell pre-registered SIMs for anywhere between Tk500 to Tk10,000 depending on the buyer.”

Mahmud Naser Johnny is investigating a case which arose from a February 2017 detective branch raid in the Farmgate and Indira Road areas of Dhaka, which led to the arrest of officials and employees of Robi’s SIM distribution company and the confiscation of 100 pre-registered Robi SIM cards.

One of the detained sales representatives, Al Amin, said he used to go around several locations in Savar and Manikganj with SIM registration equipment, taking multiple fingerprints for each sale and selling the extra SIMs to fraudulent organizations in Farmgate.

The Farmgate-Paltan syndicate

Investigative sources affiliated with the case have said Farmgate and Paltan are the biggest hubs of such organizations, with its members selling pre-registered SIM cards and supplying them all over the country under the guise of selling mobile phone accessories.

The largest shipments of such SIMs are supplied to the greater Chittagong region, with a large number going to the recently-arrived Rohingyas.

Investigative sources said a man called Alauddin Mridha, who works out of a shop called Sunny Mobile in Farmgate’s Farmview Supermarket, is the “kingpin” of the racket.

Other higher-up members of the group are Shahidul Islam Shahid of Shefa Mobile in the same establishment; Rokonuzzaman of Mobile Park, a shop situated in the Boro Bazar Market opposite Farmgate’s Ananda Cinema Hall; and Liaqat Ali, who is based in the Paltan area.

When this reporter contacted Alauddin, Rokonuzzaman and Liaqat under false pretences on Friday, they said that they were ready to supply the required SIMs.

A source working for this organization wishing to remain anonymous said the racket remains “extremely careful and wary”, refusing to acknowledge their illicit wares to anyone without prior acquaintance or references.

Only after a thorough verification do they sell the pre-registered SIMs.

This article was first published on banglatribune.com

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