FG loses $3bn to call masking and SIM boxing, says NCC

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Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has disclosed that the sector loses about $3billion in revenue occasioned by call masking/refiling and SIM boxing.

Prof. Garba Umar Danbatta, executive vice chairman of the Commission, said that “SIM boxing or Interconnect By-pass Fraud (IBF) is one of the most prevalent frauds in the telecom industry today and it is estimated to be costing the industry $3 billion in lost revenue,” Danbatta disclosed.

Themed “Overcoming the Challenges of Call Masking/Refiling: Task Ahead for the Telecoms Industry”, Danbatta stated that the topic of the meeting was carefully chosen to brainstorm on the menace of call masking/refining and SIM boxing, their dangers to the industry and how the menace can be curbed.

Danbatta who was represented by represented by Felicia Onwuegbuchulam, director, consumer affairs at t the 85th Edition of the Telecom Consumer Parliament (TCP) in Lagos, said that call masking is a worrisome development that constitutes serious challenges not only to the telecoms industry, but also poses serious security threats to the entire country.

The EVC went further to explain that “Call masking/refiling basically happens when an international call is terminated in Nigeria as a local number and the perpetrators have ulterior motive of profiting from price differentials between international and local calls.”

Further Danbatta said “As a commission, we have discovered that call masking is being perpetrated with small movable devices called SIM boxes, which are electronic boxes loaded with SIM numbers.

“A SIM box has capacity to receive and transmit calls undetected.

“However, the challenge is that these SIM boxes are never type-approved by the commission, a clear indication that they are being used illegally in the country.”

Speaking on the origin of Call Masking Danbatta said “Our findings have shown that masking of calls with another number, especially international calls, start trending since September 2016 when NCC reviewed and implemented the termination rate for international inbound traffic from N3.90/min to N24.40/min.

“So what is happening is a clear indication that some unscrupulous elements want to continue to fraudulently profit from the earlier lopsidedness in the International Termination Rate (ITR) which we had before the 2016 review.”

Danbatta said that as part of zero tolerance for ‘communications fraud’ in the market and the determination of the commission to stamp out the practice in the industry, the NCC in collaboration with different stakeholders and security agencies, held series of meetings which led to the suspension of six indicted interconnect exchange licensees in February, 2018.

“Not only did the commission suspend the indicted licensees, the regulator also barred about 750,000 numbers assigned to 13 operators from the national network.

“These numbers were suspected of being used for masking and NCC took a hard uncompromising stance to withdraw their use,” Danbatta stated.

Although he said despite these regulatory actions, masking of calls has persisted as telecoms consumers continue to express outrage over call masking much as security agencies constantly put pressures on the Commission to find lasting solutions to the menace.

Danbatta said, specifically, concerns have been expressed on several occasions by the office of the National Security Adviser, the National Intelligence Agency, Department of State Services (DSS) as well as Committees of the House of Representatives.

He said based on the attendant security and economic implications as well as anti-competition dimension of call masking in the telecoms industry, “We advise consumers to be patriotic enough to report call masking case to the NCC.

“Such feedback will go a long way in assisting the commission to investigate the call masking cases reported, identify the perpetrators and subsequently take appropriate regulatory measures towards curbing the call masking menace.

“As a responsible tell communications regulatory agency, I am happy to inform you that the NCC is actively taking concrete steps towards addressing the issue of call masking, call refilling and SIM boxing.

“In the meantime, some of the measures being taken by the commission include, working on issuance of Direction to MNOs to explore every technical means not to allow their networks to be used for call masking and SMS boxing activities.

“Creating awareness on call masking through different social platforms and via our various outreach programmes to educate consumers and encourage them to report cases experienced call masking to the commission for investigation and necessary enforcement actions, among other measures.

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