Cracking down on the SIM box fraud, the Central Crime Branch (CCB) arrested a gang of six that had set up two illegal telephone exchanges in Bengaluru, officials said.
The fraud made international calls look like local calls, depriving telcos of precious revenue. Four suspects were arrested from Bengaluru and two from Kerala in separate cases.
The CCB seized 17 SIM boxes, two Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunk call devices, nine Primary Rate Interface (PRI) devices, five laptops, two desktops, nine mobile phones, six routers and 205 BSNL SIM cards from the gang.
The arrested suspects are Ravichandra, a Bengalurean; and Subair, Manu M M, Ismail Abdulla, Jouhar Shareef and Shahir, Gulf returnees from Ernakulam and Malappuram.
Police described Subair and Ismail as the masterminds. While Ravichandra, Subair and Manu were arrested in a case registered on May 18, the rest were apprehended following a complaint from the Ministry of Communications Department for Telecommunications Security Verticals.
According to officials, the illegal telephone exchange had caused a loss to the department besides posing a national security threat.
The fraud had been going on for the last one-and-a-half years and was marketed to Indian expats looking to make cheap phone calls from the Gulf. The calls are one-ways. The receiver cannot call back.
“The gang converted international calls landing in India and procured pre-activated SIM cards in bulk,” city police chief C H Pratap Reddy said.
Around 400 SIM cards were plugged into 16 SIM boxes and 8,000 hours of talk time was converted into local calls. In a PRI line, around 30 numbers were plugged and 720 hours of talk time was converted, he added.
The CCB will investigate how these SIM cards were issued and what procedure was followed by the telecom service provider to check the credentials of customers who procured the SIP trunk call and other devices. He vowed action against anyone who had helped the gang.
The SIP trunk call devices are usually procured by call centres. The gang claimed to use them in a call centre while procuring them.
Ravichandra lent his documents to his long-friend time Subair to set up a company called Icon Tours and Travels in Mahadevapura. He was told the documents would be used for a call centre and was paid Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 a month. He claimed to be unaware of the fraud.
Manu, a software engineer, provided technical support to get the data of Indian expats who regularly make phone calls to family members in India. Shareef used his technical expertise to set up and maintain the exchange. Shahir supplied the instruments.
The Chikkasandra exchange was set up in a rented house while the one in Mahadevapura was opened in the office of Icon Tours and Travels. SIM cards procured from Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal were plugged into the SIM boxes.
What is a SIM box fraud?
A SIM box is used for Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) gateway installation. A SIM box has hundreds of SIM cards plugged into it and helps reroute a call through VoIP (internet calling). A SIM box can be manipulated to make international calls look like local calls.
Once terminated, a VoIP call is further generated to the destination phone with the number appearing to be a local one. This means investigating agencies cannot trace the details of the original call, such as the number or the country code. Criminals often use these illegal exchanges to make extortion calls. The telecom industry loses billions of dollars every year because fraudsters pocket the operator fees. The gang earned about Re 1 for each call conversion.
Threat calls to political functionary
In March, miscreants sitting in West Asia used three phone numbers through the Mahadevapura exchange to make threat calls to Chandrahasa M, 24, a political party worker from Puttur, Dakshina Kannada, according to police.