Mumbai, 18 March 2023
Fraudsters have devised a new way to cheat mobile network companies by using a device called a sim box to not only make international calls appear as local calls but also to engage in fraud and smishing scams.
The use of sim boxes has been recognized by the telecom industry as an emerging threat to law enforcement.
In Ahmedabad, four instances of sim box usage were identified by city police and the Department of Telecom (DoT).
In September 2020, two young men were apprehended on the Sabarmati riverfront with a portable sim box that did not require a leased line. They had installed it on their scooter and were making spam calls.
A sim box is a voice over internet protocol (VoIP) gateway that can accommodate 20 to 500 sim card slots. It enables operators to circumvent international rates imposed by mobile network operators by converting international VoIP calls to local GSM calls.
A police officer explained that if a call from London is routed through a sim box, the Gujarat CLI code starting with ‘98250…’ would appear instead of a UK code starting with ‘+44’. Sim boxes can only be detected when customers report the numbers.
Law enforcement officials believe that incentive schemes offered by service providers to mobile sim card dealers to meet their monthly sales targets are a major reason why pre-activated sim cards are being dumped among phone scammers.
Scammers use phishing, smishing (SMS phishing), and vishing (voice phishing) to contact individuals and obtain information or bank credentials, leading to identity fraud. Phishing uses an email with links to collect information, while smishing employs an SMS text sent to the phone.
Sim boxes can route thousands of international calls daily, and they are difficult to trace. They can also broadcast numerous SMSes at once.
A senior CID crime official stated that criminals also use the device to replace the international mobile equipment identity (IMEI) numbers of handsets with temporary numbers.
Sumit Mishra, DoT’s director for Gujarat LSA, urged the public to report such numbers on their helpline at 1800 11 0420, saying that they have come across three major instances in Gujarat where sim boxes were employed. The fraud detection unit of telecom service providers tracks sim cards that make more outgoing than incoming calls. Most of these fraudulent numbers remain stationary, indicating a sim box in use. Once the mobile tower is located, the police conduct a raid on the location where the illegal exchange has been set up.
Sim Box Scam Cases
In August 2021, the Gujarat Police arrested a man for operating a Sim Box that was being used to route international calls through local numbers. The man had installed the device in a rented apartment and was using pre-activated SIM cards to make and receive calls.
In June 2021, the Uttar Pradesh Police arrested three men for running a Sim Box racket that had been operating for over a year. The men had installed multiple Sim Boxes in different locations and were using them to route international calls through local numbers, bypassing the high call rates charged by telecom operators.
In January 2021, the Maharashtra Cyber Police arrested a man for operating a Sim Box that was being used to send bulk SMS messages. The man had purchased pre-activated SIM cards and was using them to send thousands of messages per day to promote fraudulent investment schemes.
In December 2020, the Kerala Police arrested a man for operating a Sim Box that was being used to route international calls through local numbers. The man had installed the device in a rented apartment and was using it to make and receive calls using pre-activated SIM cards.
In October 2019, the Madhya Pradesh Police arrested two men for running a Sim Box racket. The men had installed multiple Sim Boxes in different locations and were using them to route international calls through local numbers, bypassing the high call rates charged by telecom operators.
In July 2019, the Rajasthan Police arrested three men for operating a Sim Box that was being used to route international calls through local numbers. The men had installed the device in a rented apartment and were using pre-activated SIM cards to make and receive calls.
In May 2019, the Delhi Police arrested a man for operating a Sim Box that was being used to route international calls through local numbers. The man had installed the device in his home and was using pre-activated SIM cards to make and receive calls.
In February 2019, the West Bengal Police arrested three men for running a Sim Box racket. The men had installed multiple Sim Boxes in different locations and were using them to route international calls through local numbers, bypassing the high call rates charged by telecom operators.
In September 2018, the Hyderabad Police arrested six people for operating a Sim Box that was being used to route international calls through local numbers. The group had set up the Sim Box in a rented house and were using pre-activated SIM cards to make and receive calls.
In April 2018, the Maharashtra Police arrested two people for running a Sim Box racket. The duo had installed multiple Sim Boxes in different locations and were using them to route international calls through local numbers, bypassing the high call rates charged by telecom operators.
In March 2017, the Delhi Police arrested five people for operating a Sim Box that was being used to route international calls through local numbers. The group had set up the Sim Box in a rented apartment and were using pre-activated SIM cards to make and receive calls.
In February 2016, the Uttar Pradesh Police arrested four people for running a Sim Box racket. The group had set up the Sim Box in a rented house and were using pre-activated SIM cards to make and receive calls.
Threat To Citizens
In case of smishing or wishing attacks, people may end up sharing sensitive information with scammers that can lead to financial losses, identity theft, or fraud.
Call quality: The use of sim boxes can lead to a reduction in call quality, including poor audio quality, dropped calls, and latency issues, which can lead to poor customer experiences.
Compromised personal information: Victims of Sim Box scams unknowingly provide sensitive personal information, such as bank account details, to scammers. This information can then be used to carry out further fraudulent activities, leading to greater financial loss and potential legal trouble.
Devices infection: Sim box scams can also be used to distribute malware or ransomware, which can infect people’s devices and cause data loss, financial loss, or other damages.
Financial loss: The Sim Box scam leads to financial loss for individuals, as scammers may use the information obtained from victims to make unauthorized transactions or steal money from their accounts. Financial losses can be there due to fraudulent unauthorized charges on their phone bills.
Genuine Devices Blocking: The use of fake or temporary IMEI numbers can lead to the blocking of genuine devices, which can affect their ability to connect to the network and cause inconvenience to the users.
Harassment and nuisance calls: The use of Sim Box technology can result in nuisance calls, harassment, and other unwanted communications to citizens. It can also lead to scams and frauds that can cause psychological distress and financial loss.
Identity theft: The use of pre-activated SIM cards obtained through illegal means can also lead to identity theft or fraud. Scammers use the information obtained from victims during Sim Box scams to carry out identity theft, including opening new accounts, applying for loans or credit cards, and obtaining government benefits.
Identity Theft: The Sim Box scam can also lead to identity theft as scammers can obtain personal information and bank credentials through phishing and smishing scams.
Legal trouble: People who are unknowingly involved in Sim Box scams may face legal trouble, as the use of pre-activated SIM cards is illegal in India. Individuals may be prosecuted for participating in such scams, even if they are not aware of the scammer’s activities.
Misuse of personal information: Use of personal information for illegal activities like spamming, marketing, and other forms of unsolicited communication.
Poor service: Poor quality of service due to the overloading of networks with large volumes of international calls through the Sim Box. Increased risk of mobile network congestion and call drops, as sim boxes can route thousands of international calls at once, leading to network overload.
Spams: Sim box scams can be used to generate large volumes of automated messages, including spam messages and fraudulent messages, which can be overwhelming and disruptive to people’s daily lives.
Threat To Nation
Economic Impact: The Sim Box scam can have a significant economic impact on the country as it can lead to a decline in foreign investment, decrease in tourism, and loss of employment opportunities. Sim Box fraudsters evade international call termination charges, which results in revenue losses for the government. The fraudsters can make millions of illegal international calls by routing them through the sim box, resulting in a loss of revenue for the government. Sim Box operators cause a significant loss of revenue to the government and legitimate telecom operators by bypassing international call termination charges and using unlicensed VoIP gateways. Sim Box fraudsters engage in illegal activities that harm legitimate businesses, resulting in a negative impact on the economy. Sim Box scams have a detrimental impact on the telecom industry. The fraudsters use the network infrastructure of the telecom companies without paying the required fees, which can lead to network congestion and other network-related problems.
Loss of personal data: Scammers using Sim Box technology may engage in identity theft or obtain sensitive information from unsuspecting victims. This can result in a loss of personal data and other valuable information, which can be misused for criminal activities.
Money laundering: The illegal profits earned by Sim Box operators can be used for money laundering activities, thus increasing the risk of economic crimes.
National security: Since Sim Box fraudsters can easily bypass international call restrictions, it poses a significant threat to national security and can be exploited by terrorist organizations and rouge country to plan and execute their operations.
Network Congestion: The illegal use of Sim Boxes can cause network congestion, leading to poor call quality and slow internet speeds for legitimate users.
Reputation damage: Sim Box scams can tarnish the reputation of the country on the international stage, as it can be seen as a hub for illegal activities such as money laundering and terrorism. It can damage the country’s reputation as a reliable and trustworthy business destination. Sim Box fraud can cause significant reputational damage to the government and telecom industry if not addressed effectively. This can lead to a loss of trust among consumers and investors, affecting the overall growth and development of the industry.
Social engineering attacks: Scammers using Sim Box technology can carry out social engineering attacks like phishing, smishing, and vishing to steal personal and financial information from unsuspecting victims.
Terrorism Financing: The use of Sim Boxes for illegal activities can also lead to terrorism financing as the scammers can use the profits from the scam to fund terrorist activities and by providing untraceable channels for transferring money.
Undermining rule of law: The Sim Box scam undermines the rule of law and erodes public trust in law enforcement agencies. It also weakens the regulatory system and creates a sense of lawlessness in society.
Sim Box Scam Prevention
To prevent Sim Box scams, individuals can take the following precautions:
Avoid downloading and installing apps from unknown sources, and only download apps from trusted app stores such as Google Play or the Apple App Store.
Avoid using pre-activated SIM cards or purchasing SIM cards from unauthorized dealers.
Be careful when installing software updates or new apps on your mobile phone, as some may contain malware that can compromise your device’s security.
Be cautious of any unsolicited job offers that promise high salaries for work that involves using your personal phone number or SIM card.
Be cautious of unknown or unsolicited calls, especially from international numbers.
Be wary of any unsolicited emails or messages asking you to click on links or download attachments, as these could be phishing or smishing attempts.
By following these additional tips, you can further enhance your protection against Sim Box scams and other types of mobile-based fraud.
By taking these precautions, individuals can reduce their risk of falling victim to Sim Box scams and other types of phone-based fraud.
Check your mobile phone bills carefully and regularly to detect any unusual or unauthorized charges to your service provider.
Consider using a password manager app to generate and store strong, unique passwords for your online accounts.
Don’t share any personal or financial information over the phone, email, or SMS, even if the request appears to be from a legitimate source.
Don’t respond to messages or calls from unknown or suspicious numbers, and avoid giving out personal information over the phone.
Enable two-factor authentication on your mobile phone account to protect against unauthorized access.
Keep your mobile phone and its software updated with the latest security patches and updates.
Report any suspicious or fraudulent activity to the Department of Telecom (DoT) helpline at 1800 11 0420.
Stay informed about the latest scams and frauds by following updates from trusted sources such as the government, law enforcement agencies, and reputable news outlets.
Use a caller ID app that can help identify and block incoming spam calls.
Use a mobile security app that can detect and block fraudulent calls and messages.
Use a reputable and verified VoIP provider for international calls instead of relying on unknown or unverified sources.
Use a virtual private network (VPN) when using public Wi-Fi networks to protect your data from potential eavesdropping and interception.
Use anti-phishing and anti-virus software on your mobile devices to protect against phishing, smishing, and other forms of identity fraud.
Use strong and unique passwords for all your online accounts, and avoid using the same password across multiple accounts.
By following these tips, you can further reduce your risk of falling victim to Sim Box scams and other types of mobile-based fraud.