The Liberia Telecommunications Authority or LTA's Anti Fraud Unit uncovered the largest illegal SIM Box network operation late Thursday, July 31 and with the help of the Justice Ministry took possession of close to 3,000 unregistered active SIM Cards used to facilitate Grey Routing.
A statement issued in Monrovia quotes Acting LTA Chairperson and Commissioner of Licensing and Regulations, B. Anthony McCritty as saying, "This is a great day for the LTA; 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."
According to the statement, the acting LTA boss, who is serving his first term at the institution, furthered that "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."
The LTA warned that international call appearing on cell phone as a local number is an illegally routed call known as Grey Routing. This practice, according to the LTA, is on a sharp national increase, robbing the telecommunication 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 monitored signal routing points to illegal SIM Box terminals, making international calls appear as local.
But the LTA says agents detected signals from the Broad Street location, opposite the old Education Ministry weeks ago through LTA's SIM Box Detector equipment and 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, and LTA says 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 building is 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," said the LTA.
Once inside, LTA said 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 connected to a small laptop.
However, LTA says 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.
It says the minutes accrued on each card will be tallied through the system and converted to a monetary value. 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 courts for possible prosecution on charges of Economic Sabotage.