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Monday, March 19, 2018

Nigeria: Wielding hammer on call masking fraud

A few weeks back, the Nigerian Communications Commission wielded its hammer on regulation of the industry to fall on those licensees allegedly accused of call-masking, call-refiling and SIM-boxing. REMMY NWEKE writes that though a new dawn in the fight against ‘telecom’ corruption, there is need to shun politically motivated regulations in the sector.
Outline:
Finally, it came to pass that the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) rested the hammer on some telecommunications licensees for the alleged three-count charge, namely call-masking, call-refiling and SIM-Boxing.

The hammer, ITRealms gathered, came as the Commission equally barred over 750,000 numbers assigned to Private Network Links (PNL) and Local Exchange Operator (LEO) licensees, found to be aiding and abating this unwholesome practice.

Call masking:
ITRealms gathered from experts, for instance that call-masking could be defined as ensuring user’s privacy, thus protecting private information on calls and texts as it does not expose the user’s permanent number.

Hence, masked phone numbers are a common pattern to anonymize communication between multiple parties and hide participant phone numbers. Instead of dialing directly from phone to phone, users communicate via a third ('proxy') phone number that forwards a call to the eventual destination.

Just as Freshworks.com experts, say that ‘Call Masking’ is facilitating the use of your global number to use your local number. Their counterparts at Twilio.com, said, “Masked calling is a technique used in ecommerce to protect buyers' and sellers' personal phone numbers private. The same technique can also allow the parties to send SMS to each other without revealing their personal phone numbers.

Whereas, experts at InContact.com explained that in the phone workspace, Mask could be clicked to turn red, followed by a Masking timer which appears to let the operator know a given call is being masked.

At this point the 'No Caller Identification' ITRealms gathered is conspicuously displayed on the operator’s screen. And when the masking is no longer needed, reclick on the Masking button, so that the Mask button returns to normalcy, thereby removing the usual Max insertable white nose into the call recording.

Call Refiling:
On the other hand, Call-refiling has been defined as tweaking of calls originating on one network but carried by another at some point between source and destination. Refiling is a form of interconnect fraud in which one carrier tampers with CID (caller-ID) or Automatic Number Identification (ANI) data to falsify the number from which a call originated before handing the call off to a competitor, thus a phone fraud, according to open sourced encyclopedia, Wikipedia.org. Even as Automatic number identification (ANI) is a feature of a telecommunications network for automatically determining the origination telephone number on toll calls for billing purposes.

What is SIM-Boxing:
Equally important in this case as fingered by NCC as part of the reasons for resting the hammer on some licensees, is the SIM-Boxing, which experts say is also known as SIM bank and described as a device used as part of a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) gateway installation. Wikipedia.org further explained that SIM-Boxing contains a number of SIM cards, which are linked to the gateway but housed and stored separately from it.

Sanctioned:
The Director, Public Affairs Department of NCC, Mr. Tony Ojobo, confirmed these sanctions to ITRealms, penultimate Tuesday, saying they were recently inundated with complaints from service providers and consumers regarding the high incidence of call-masking, call-refiling and SIM-Boxing, hence they have to take action. He went on to define the practice complained of as “disguising international calls as local calls in order to profit from price differentials between international and local calls. Apart from the resultant loss of revenue by service providers, the practice some also has negative security implications.”

Following a painstaking investigation process which included collaboration with the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) and the Department of State Services, Ojobo said, the Commission decided to impose a range of sanctions on licensees involved in the fraudulent practices, leading to the suspension of the Interconnect Clearinghouse License issued to Medallion Communications Limited for a period of 90 (ninety) days from Tuesday, February 27, 2018, in the first instance; Issuance of a strong warning to Interconnect Clearinghouse Nigeria Limited; Disconnection of Information Connectivity Solutions Limited (ICSL) and Solid Interconnectivity Services Limited from all networks, until they regularize their operations.

Ojobo additionally disclosed that NCC issued letters of caution to three other licensees, namely the Exchange Telecoms Limited, NiconnX Limited and Breeze Micro Limited, warning them against engaging in the fraudulent practice, whereas, barring over 750,000 numbers assigned to several Private Network Links (PNL) and Local Exchange Operator (LEO) licensees, which number ranges were found to have been utilized for the practice.

The sanctioned entities, NCC spokesman said were found to be directly and indirectly complicit in several infractions, including covertly allowing organisations with expired licenses to transit calls, failure to undertake due diligence on parties seeking to interconnect, deliberately turning a blind eye to masking infractions by interconnect partners, and using a licence issued to another organisation to bring-in and terminate international calls which were masked as local calls to other operators.

750,000 barred:
On the barring of numbers, Ojobo had reiterated that over 750,000 individual numbers across the nation, made up of about 31 number ranges have been barred, namely Vezeti Communications Services Limited, Voix Networks Limited, Mobitel Limited, Peace Global Satellite Communications Limited, ABG Communications Limited, Vodacom Business Africa (Nigeria) Limited, Swift Telephone Networks Limited, QVODA Telecoms Limited, Wireless Telecoms Limited and Emcatel Networks Limited.

As said by NCC, culprits were found to be terminating millions of minutes, whereas they only have very few active customers; “The Commission is pleased to note that the incidence of call masking has significantly reduced since it commenced a multi-faceted approach to address the menace,” Ojobo said. Insisting that the actions so far taken by NCC, were just the first stage of the exercise, stressing that the second stage which has now commenced, will focus on the Mobile Network Operators and other persons involved in SIM-Boxing.

Revoking of license:
“The aim of the Commission is to completely stamp out the fraudulent practice in the overall interest of all Nigerians. Accordingly, every service provider that has been sanctioned still has an opportunity to correct the identified anomalies and satisfy the Commission that it should be allowed to continue to operate in Nigeria.

 “The Commission reserves the right to revoke the licence of such service providers where they fail to take the necessary corrective measures,” NCC declared.

Conclusion:
Although,  a school of thought in the industry actually wondered what NCC should be doing if their licensees are to take over regulation or examination of licensees whose mandate from the Commission have expired, though the issue of due diligence was where they were nailed despite some ambiguity around whose responsibility that is.

Above all, the resting of hammer on some NCC licensees is not unprecedented as its clearly stated in their licensing agreement as well as the National Communication Act of 2003, section 37 subsection 1 & 2 as well as the entire aspect of license conditions from Section 34 through 38, among others.


Whilst appealing to all stakeholders to be alive to their responsibilities so as to avoid politically motivated regulations of the nation’s telecommunications sector, Nigeria will be better for it.

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