Menace of scams through fake sims in Pakistan

Published: 05:35 PM, 16 Sep, 2022
Menace of scams through fake sims in Pakistan
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Faisal Sheikh, 33, was having breakfast at home when he received a call from a man identifying himself as his maternal uncle, Mohammad Sadiq. He asked for money because his wife had been hospitalized and was at high risk. Could Sheikh send Rs 50,000 through Easypaisa on the same number that called him?

Wanting to help his uncle Mr Faisal sent the money in three instalments. He was shocked to learn later that he had been scammed. Every year, thousands of Pakistanis fall prey to slick-talking scammers who make emotional pleas for money.

The scammers across the country loot the public by sending fake messages, emails, WhatsApp messages and phone calls. They arm themselves with personal information about the families, i.e. names of siblings, fathers, uncles, and others, as a way to sound more convincing.

New Techniques and methods of Financial Frauds have put the investigation agencies and relevant departments i.e Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA) and Federal Investigation Authority (FIA) into new trouble as they are accusing each other of failure to stop these scams at a time when scammers are coming up with new methods.

For instance, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) teams recovered a number of silicon thumb impressions from fraudulent groups during raids meaning that these scammers are using new techniques for registering sim cards. They make silicon thumb impressions and use genuine thumb impressions from innocent people by giving them free mobile SIM cards. They then make silicon thumb impressions to use in their scam.

In April 2022, the FIA arrested a group involved in fraudulent activities by issuing mobile phone SIMs using fake biometric verification, which were likely to be used for fraudulent activities.

Another report” revealed that more than 23,000 cases regarding financial crimes were reported in 2021. FIA recovered more than 60,000 fake activated SIMs, 6,700 Silicon thumb impressions and 3,000 Silicon sheets from different parts of the country.

In 2021, 427 FIRs (First Information Reports) were registered and 388 criminals were also arrested.

Faisal explained how he was taken in by the scammer posing to be his maternal uncle.

During the Corona pandemic, Faisal Sheikh was jobless, and he had no resources, but that call disturbed all of Faisal’s family. He was sitting at home with empty pockets, but upon that call of his "uncle", Faisal got a loan from neighbours, friends and other acquaintances and sent money to him. However, later he came to know that it was a fraudster who made him a fool and stole his money.

Faisal was facing a double problem, on the one hand, he was worried about that fraudster robbed fifty thousand rupees from him, on the other hand, he was worried how will he repay the loan to those from whom he took it and sent it to him.

Faisal said, "When I called at that number, it was switched off. Upon that he contacted the concerned mobile phone company's franchise and requested them to provide him details of that number but they refused to provide the desired records."

Faisal continued the hunt for the fraudster. He succeeded to get the CDR (Call Detail Record) of that mobile number with the help of his cousin who was in the police department. That SIM card was registered to a person resident of Nankana Sahib, a district in central Punjab, but they were deeply disappointed to see that the concerned person was a mentally disabled person and was not a mobile phone user.

A similar incident happened to 63-year-old Nasir Abbas, a retired police constable. He was at his home when he received a call on his mobile from an unknown number. The caller introduced himself as his nephew Imran who was moaning and crying with pain. The caller on the other end requested Nasir, "Uncle, please save me.”

The caller on the other told Nasir that he was in Faisalabad where police arrested him with narcotics and now they are making a case against him. He also requested Nasir Abbas not to tell at his home, then he gave the phone to another person who introduced himself as Assistant Sub Inspector Police.

Nasir Abbas noted that the person on the other end demanded a bribe of 10,000 rupees from him in exchange of his nephew’s release on the same number through a mobile wallet account. Nasir Abbas transferred the said money, but after that the person on the other end demanded more amount, which got Nasir suspicious and he asked the person on other end to give the phone to his "nephew". Nasir Abbas asked his “nephew” to tell him the name of his aunt. On that question person on the other end got confused and dropped call, after that Nasir Abbas realized that he became a fool and someone got money from him fraudulently.

These scams are not limited to financial crimes but are also used to carry out heinous crimes by using fake sim cards of the different telecommunication networks.

Another victim is Muhammad Faisal, 43, a resident of Mohallah Peerwala, Jhang is a businessman and his story is very terrible. A few years back in summer, he was sleeping on the rooftop when someone knocked on the door at midnight. His father opened the door. There were some policemen in uniform who asked him to call outside Faisal. Policemen told his father, that they have an arrest warrant for Faisal in a kidnapping case.

Faisal told: “When I came out from home, the investigation officer told me, they are from Shera Kot Police Station Lahore and investigating a kidnapping case of a 13-years old boy, who has been kidnapped from Lahore Chuhang Area. Police Officer told me, kidnappers demanded ransom money from his parents and the number which was used for this crime was registered in the name of him.”

This was very scary for him and he became afraid to hear about the kidnapping for ransom. He was quite surprised, how a SIM card could be registered in his name without his consent.

After 4 days of his detention, a local politician of Jhang intervened and on that Faisal got released from the police station on bail, but these four days were very tough for him and his family too.

PTA reluctance

For getting a reaction from Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), this scribe visited PTA Headquarters in Islamabad, where Mr Khurram Mehran Director Media initially made a promise to provide all relevant records with detailed data, facts and figures but despite the commitment and many calls he didn’t respond. Mr Mehran is reluctant to share his version regarding mobile SIMs, even though he left a voice note, in which he stated he sent our questions to the relevant department and after getting a response from them he will be able to answer the questions, but he didn’t respond yet.

NADRA says data fully secure

Mr Faiq Ali Deputy Director Media NADRA said: "NADRA database is quite secure and safe, people who are working with it are also honest, loyal and professional. All the information in the NADRA database is the deposit of the Pakistanis, which cannot be shared with anyone under any circumstances".

Upon a question, he said, "The family tree of any customer can't be shared with any third person unless requested from customer’s registered mobile number or the personal appearance of."

However, when questioned, "how mobile wallet accounts can be activated without NADRA verification?", he said: "He has no idea in this regard, but NADRA provided Verisys (Verification System) to all regular banks, which helps them to verify the customer's credentials."

He also told, “Mobile SIM card registration procedure is going to be changed soon and we are working on it with the help of PTA.

FIA measures

Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) is the law enforcement agency, that deals with online fraud cases and electronic and virtual crime cases.

We approached FIA headquarters in Islamabad for their version regarding action against online fraudsters, but they were not bothering to provide their version. After that, we also visited FIA Cyber Crime Office in Lahore and tried to approach the Deputy Director Cyber Crime circle Mr Waqas Saeed, but he was unavailable in the office and didn’t pick up the call too.

However, Mr Imran Assistant Director of FIA Cybercrime who was available in the office told that FIA takes action against all Cyber Crimes, he said, making spam calls and offering prizes and other activities related to cybercrimes.

He said, "Franchisors of mobile phone companies should follow Pakistan Telecommunication Authority's SOPs for sale and registration of new mobile SIM Cards."

He also warned people, "Never to fall prey to those who offer you free SIM Cards in streets, markets or by the roadside, because they can steal your personal data under the pretext of giving free SIM."

Mr Imran denied giving data from the previous year, but he said, “FIA registered cases against fraudsters under PECA Act’s section 3, 4 of unauthorized access to private system or account.”

IT expert says only insider help can lead to data breach

Is that possible for any of the scammers to hack and theft data from the National Database record? Muhammad Aslam, 43, an IT expert working with a multinational company said, “the mechanism of Institutions is secure and credible but some individuals associated with these institutions could be involved in these criminal activities and they share sensitive data with criminals who are involved in these crimes.”

“Mobile Companies data is selling in the market, even in nearest past a scam regarding Facebook user’s data being sold on the dark web was also highlighted on International Media, that never means that security systems of companies are insecure, the companies security system is secure, however, some individuals could be involved in these criminal activities and they can share data with irrelevant persons.”

“Data access to an IT expert and users of the data resources should be checked on a regular basis.”

Stamp Making Expert

To find out the process, how scammers make fake thumbprints, we contacted Muhammad Ramzan-39, a rubber stamp maker in the Jhang district in Punjab.

Muhammad Ramazan said, "Generally, we make seals using nylon sheet, they print text on the tracing paper from the computer and place it on nylon sheet, then pass it through sunlight or strong light to emboss these print on nylon sheet."

Ramzan further added, "The process we use to make stamps on a nylon sheet is exactly the same process that scammers use to make fake fingerprints, the only difference is that the make stamp makers use nylon sheet while scammers make it on silicone.”

Mazhar Abbas

The writer is a seasoned journalist who has worked with different news channels & vewspaper and is currently working as Assignment Editor at 24News.