The Liberia Telecommunications Authority ‘s Anti-Fraud Unit uncovered the largest illegal SIM Box network operation late Thursday and with the help of the Justice Ministry took possession of close to 3,000 unregistered active SIM Cards used to facilitate grey routing.
Acting Chairperson and Commissioner of Licensing and Regulations, B. Anthony McCritty, serving his first term at the LTA said, “This is a great day for the LTA, and this is a great day for the telecom sector and despite the challenges we are facing now with Ebola, this is a great day for Liberia. We want to send a message to fraudsters that Liberia’s spectrum will not be abused. We will pursue violators to the highest extent of the law and continue to be vigilant.”
If you have ever received an international call that appears on your cell phone as a local number you have been a recipient of an illegally routed call. It is called Grey Routing — a route that is legal for one country or the party on one end, but illegal on the alternative end.
This practice is one on a sharp national increase, robbing the telecommunications sector of hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. Fraudsters use a SIM Box which is about the size of a DVD player to house unregistered SIM Cards connected to their network. Incoming international calls are then diverted from the designated GSM Service Provider and government signal routing points to illegal SIM Box terminals making international calls appear as local.
The LTA sting operation has been long in the planning. Agents detected signals from the Broad Street location, opposite the old Education Ministry months ago through LTA’s SIM Box Detector equipment. A warrant to search the premise and seize the equipment used in the fraudulent operation had to be channeled through the Justice Ministry in the form of a petition providing evidence of LTA’s findings. Records of SIM Box activity through data from the detector were submitted to support the petition. With enough evidence submitted to the Justice Ministry the courts approved the petition, issued a warrant, assigned a sheriff, and the LTA Anti Fraud Team moved in.
The location kjis the Uptown Building near the Corner of Broad and Mechlin Streets. An iron door on the second floor where the signals were coming from prevented entry to the actual apartment. No one answered the knocks to serve the warrant and after several hours of waiting the LTA had to once again seek court clearance to break through the iron door with the help of welders. This took a couple of hours.
Once inside, LTA Agents and the court Sheriff came face to face with the largest SIM Box operation in the history of the LTA.
The apartment was totally empty except for the equipment used to execute Grey Routing elaborately set up across a table and in full operation. No one was in the apartment at the time of the raid so there were no arrests. Neighbors living in the building say they seldom see anyone coming or going out of the apartment. It is unclear who owns or leases the premise.
The equipment seized will remain in police custody pending further investigation. All the Sim Cards seized were from the Lonestar Service Provider.
The LTA will of course launch a detailed investigation into how much the sector loss due to the illegal operation of the SIM Cards employed in the use of the SIM box. The minutes accrued on each card will be tallied through the system and converted to a monetary value. This will take some time. LTA’s International Gateway Monitoring System Director Richardson Ndorbor said his team were patient and executed well, “ we like to do our best to keep our operations successful in curtailing telecom fraud, this discovery and seizure of equipment is a strong message to fraudsters, it took us some time but it was well worth the wait.”
Last year over USD$400,000.00 was lost in the sector due to one SIM Box operation and a total of three separate cases are pending in the courts for possible prosecution on charges of Economic Sabotage.