16 December 2013

Liberia: LTA Catches SIM Box Fraudsters

Government law enforcement authorities arrested a young Lebanese, Novafone Supervisor on Friday at his home in Congo Town and seized SIM Box equipment capable of defrauding the government of millions of dollars in tariffs by illegally rerouting incoming international calls and disguising their origin to appear as local calls.

Law enforcement authorities were alerted and a search warrant issued after the Liberia Telecommunications Authority submitted evidence of the illegal activity unearthed by its new SIM Box Detector equipment.

The detection equipment, which is no bigger than an iPad, is capable of multiple tasks related to searching and exactly locating SIM Box activity. During the arrest of the Novafone Supervisor, only referred to as Hassan, 188 SIM Cards were found attached to the SIM Box equipment.

When interrogated, Hassan implicated the former CEO of Novafone, Chady Salim, in the scheme. Prior to Hassan's arrest, Salim had resigned from Novafone and has left the country.

LTA Acting Chairperson Angelique Weeks said, "This is another example of LTA's ongoing efforts in the fight to thwart criminal activities that deny government of much needed revenues from the telecom sector."

The LTA was able to acquire the SIM Box Detector through Global Voice Group (GVG), which is under contract with the LTA to assist with the International Gateway Management program launched in February 2012.

Commenting on the important role that technology plays in the LTA's ability to effectively execute its regulatory mandate, Acting Chairperson Angelique Weeks disclosed that "for several years now, the LTA has been trying to acquire spectrum monitoring and management equipment, which will be used to locate unauthorized users of Liberia's scarce spectrum (radiofrequency) resource.

In addition to not being licensed by the LTA, such unauthorized persons or entities are neither paying the Ministry of Finance nor the LTA for the use of this valuable but scarce national resource. The LTA boss said, "Although the LTA has made significant progress toward realizing this strategic goal, its efforts have been stalled over the past several months by the Ministry of Finance's delays in providing the LTA with a signed copy of its 2013/2014 Budget, which was approved by the National Budget Committee through the Ministry of Finance prior to being submitted as an addendum to the National Budget, which has long since been signed into Law."

The LTA's International Gateway Monitoring and Management System (IGMS) is a 24-hour real-time traffic monitoring configuration that captures the behavior of all incoming international calls, reflecting their routing into Liberia, the time of the calls, the duration, the calling number, the called number, etc. However, the content of conversations are not monitored nor captured. Between December 2 and December 8 the IGMS identified 233 fraudulent numbers routed through the Novafone System totaling 9,982.78 minutes. By extrapolation, this would be approximately 40,000 minutes a month.

Although the LTA with assistance of law enforcement officers has previously confiscated illegal SIM Boxes, this is the first time such identification and subsequent confiscation has been facilitated by the new detection equipment that pinpoints the location of illegal SIM Boxes.

When contacted on the arrest, a spokesperson of Novafone, Rebbeca Mckitterick confirmed the arrest of Hassan last Friday.

Mckitterick said the company was not in favor of Hassan's action and noted that Novafone will assist government through the LTA and the Liberia National Police (LNP) to press charges against Hassan because his action has caused the company lots of money.

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