Beware: South Africans are falling victim to cellphone porting scam

06 January 2020 - 12:58
By Iavan Pijoos
Arthur Goldstuck, a commentator on ICT and mobile communications, has blamed service providers for not having measures in place for a security issue which was raised years ago.
Image: 123RF/Nonwarit Pruetisirirot Arthur Goldstuck, a commentator on ICT and mobile communications, has blamed service providers for not having measures in place for a security issue which was raised years ago.

Service providers have been blasted for not having proper security measures in place to protect the identities of their clients.

This after several cellphone users from different service providers fell victim to identity theft in a number-porting scam.

The online crime sees fraudsters transfer clients' cellphone numbers from their  network service provider to another without the clients' knowledge.

In one instance, an MTN user received a SMS on Saturday afternoon confirming that a porting request was being processed on his cellphone number.

“The port request has been received and is now being processed,” the message from the service provider read.

When phoning MTN to report the matter, the call centre told him the porting department was open only on weekdays.

On Monday morning he was lucky. He was informed that the porting request had been declined because he was on contract.

A Cell C user was not so fortunate.

Nonkululeko Njilo told TimesLIVE she received an SMS on Sunday evening that an application to port her number was successful.

Her number was ported to MTN without her authorisation.

On Monday morning, scammers were sending her contacts messages requesting R1,500.

“Hi, I just lost my bank card may you please e-wallet R1,500. I will repay you tomorrow,” the messages read.

The scammers asked that the money be sent to Spar or Pep Stores.

Arthur Goldstuck, a commentator on ICT and mobile communications, has blamed the service providers for not having measures in place for a security issue he said was raised a few years ago.

“It is clear that this has been going on for several years and it shows that the service providers are not making enough of an effort to impose standards on how SIM swaps happen.

“The real issue there is they have designed their systems to look after their own interest and not the interest of their customers,” he said.

It was the responsibility of service providers to protect their clients, Goldstuck said.

“It is ironic that they make it very difficult to port, yet they enable fraudulent porting activity by not having the correct checks and balances.

“There is every obstacle placed in the way of moving away from them, and there is very little in the way of protection. The obstacles are not to protect the customer, but rather to try to delay their porting as much as possible,” the founder of World Wide Worx said.

He said in most instances the transactions were “an inside job”.

Bryan Turner, data analyst at World Wide Worx, said it was relatively easy to port SIM cards without proper identification.

“All one really needs to do is go to a network provider and purchase a new SIM [card] from them and provide that the other number be ported.

“When you set up a new SIM [card] they just ask for Rica [Act] details. It varies. From store to store there is a different set of rules.

“Some stores will prevent you from doing a porting without any form of identification and others won’t,” Turner said.

He warned consumers to contact their service providers immediately should their phone's network go down.

Questions have been sent to service providers but no response had been received by the time of publication.

The SA Banking Risk Information Centre (Sabric) warned previously that through fraudulent SIM swaps, criminals could take control of people's cellphone numbers using stolen personal information.

“The criminal then accesses one of your messaging platforms and poses as you. Your contacts receive a tragic story from 'you' requesting money for a fabricated emergency. Your contacts think it is you, have empathy and transfer money making use of bank or the retail sectors transaction facilities,” it stated.

WARNING SIGNS OF THE NUMBER PORTING SCAM

Standard Bank warns its customers of the number porting scam on its website.

“Number porting often happens after fraudsters have received your online banking login details through a vishing call or phishing e-mail. During porting, some network service providers may send you an SMS confirming that your number’s been transferred to another service provider. If you ignore the SMS, the fraudster can complete the porting and gain access to your phone calls, SMSes, OTPs and other notifications they can use to defraud you.”

Standard Bank said people can identify it when they no longer receive calls or messages; you don’t receive the OTP you requested, even when trying a second time; and your cellphone suddenly has no signal in a regular network area.

To prevent becoming a victim of a SIM swap or a victim of the scam, Sabric recommends:

VICTIM OF THE SIM SWAP:

Check for signal loss on your cellphone, as this could indicate that you have been the victim of a SIM swap. Should you lose signal, contact your mobile network operator immediately. Activate international cellphone roaming when travelling. Always inform your bank when travelling abroad. Never share your geolocation on social media platforms. Don’t click on unsolicited links. Ensure that you install the latest security updates on all your devices.

VICTIM OF THE SCAM:

Never act on text messages requesting that funds be transferred to someone purporting to be one of your contacts, due to an “emergency”. If you are requested to transfer money via a bank or retail sector facilities, make direct contact with your friend, family member or acquaintance to verify that the request came from them. In addition, contact their family member who is allegedly having a crisis and confirm whether they have requested assistance. In the event that telephonic contact is made, pay attention to any changes in the voice or communication style to assist you to identify if the person is an impostor.