MTN Ghana has stated that it lost over $9 million to SIM box fraudsters between March and October this year.
A highly-placed source at MTN said the amount represented revenue for 70.48 million minutes of calls from overseas meant for MTN numbers but were fraudulently routed through SIM boxes and made to appear on the MTN network as local calls.
The source, who pleaded anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the information, noted that for the $9 million MTN lost, government also lost over $4 million in taxes.
“So the total loss was more than $13 million,” the source said.
The source explained that prior to March, MTN received about 50 percent of all international inbound calls to the country, but direct international calls to MTN dropped by a whopping 15.7 million from 49.18 million in March, 2011, to 33.48 million in October, 2011.
It said most of the millions of calls were terminated on MTN as local calls through SIM boxes containing the SIM cards of ‘less vigilant’ telecom operators in Ghana, particularly Airtel.
When SIM boxing started in Ghana, all four GSM operators, particularly Vodafone and Airtel, were vulnerable; but in recent times, MTN, Vodafone and Tigo numbers have virtually disappeared from the SIM boxing activity.
Airtel numbers continue to be used massively by SIM box fraudsters to terminate inbound international traffic.
Figures from the National Communication Authority (NCA) indicate that in September, 2011 alone, it detected 5,454 SIMS being used for SIM boxing, out of which only 21 (0.39 percent) were Vodafone SIM cards, 64 (1.2 percent) were MTN and Tigo SIMs combined, and the remaining 5,369 (98.44 percent) were Airtel SIM cards.
Vodafone said it saved GH¢6.1million in revenue in the first six months of 2011 from interconnect fraud and had suffered actual revenue losses of GH¢257,000 over the period.
“Since the big arrest last month, Vodafone SIM card usage in SIM boxes has reduced by 93 percent,” the company said.
A source at MTN said for the 70.48 million minutes that MTN lost to SIM boxing, the local network through whose SIM the calls were routed as a local call, benefitted.
Airtel charges 8.4Gp per minute of call, so if international traffic meant for MTN is routed through Airtel numbers by SIM box fraudsters, to terminate those 70.48 minutes of international calls, Airtel would have made some GH¢5,920,320 and paid MTN 5Gp per minute, which comes to GH¢3,524,000. Airtel keeps the remaining GH¢2,396,320 of money that should have gone directly to MTN.
The inbound international call rate has been fixed at 19 cents (31Gp) per minute, so 70.48 million minutes of calls lost comes to over GH¢21.8 billion, which could have gone to MTN.
But the source said beyond the money being lost, it was also making it difficult for customers to call back when they missed calls from relatives, friends and business partners abroad, because the number that appeared on their phone was usually an Airtel number and not the original overseas number that made the call.
When reached for comment, the Revenue Assurance Manager at Airtel Ghana, Nixon Wampamba, said Airtel was attractive to SIM box fraudsters because of the affordability of their tariffs.
“Since we launched our 8-8 flat tariffs, the SIM box fraudsters have gravitated to Airtel, so maybe if any telecom operator beats our rates, then they may also have the SIM box fraudster gravitating towards them,” he said.
On the issue of making money that should have gone to other networks, Mr. Wampamba, though agreed to that, pointed out that Airtel did not set up the SIM box fraudsters.
“So it would be unfair to hold Airtel responsible for their activities,” he said, adding that Airtel was also losing up to about $300,000 a month to SIM box fraudsters.
He pointed out that in locations where SIM box fraudsters operated, Airtel’s customers suffered congestion and were not able to make calls, registering revenue losses and image implications for Airtel. That could be a reason why Airtel was slapped with the highest congestion charge of GH¢350,000 by the NCA.
Mr. Wampamba said the point about Airtel not being vigilant enough was also not correct because the NCA had done an audit of Airtel’s SIM box fraud combat system and it (NCA) was very happy, adding that the Minister of Communication had also commended Airtel for its efforts at combating SIM boxing.
“We use the same methods the NCA uses to detect SIM box numbers and we deactivate them as and when we find them. It is true that our SIMs still remain the most attractive to fraudsters due to affordability, but I can tell you that over time, the NCA’s detection of Airtel numbers in SIM boxes has reduced from about 500 a day to 100 day – a clear sign that we are winning against the fraudsters gradually,” he said.
Mr. Wampamba assured the public that Airtel would start communicating to the public more on what it was doing to combat SIM box fraud to allay people’s fears and anxieties.
Source: Adom News