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UCC, Airtel Unearth ‘Huge’ International Calls Scam

UCC spokesperson Pamela Ankunda together with the head of legal services Abudu Salaamu Waisswa address journalists on Wednesday.

An uncharacteristic call from the United Kingdom to a Ugandan Airtel subscriber was recently intercepted and probed by the telecom company.

The call was unusual because on the receiver’s handset, case it indicated a local dialing code yet the caller was abroad and their phone was not on roaming.

According to Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) head of legal services, Abudu Salamu Waisswa, officials from Airtel reported to the telecommunications regulator and also alerted the police.

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“We laid traps where Airtel would be signaled whenever such a call was made leading us to some of the culprits,” Waisswa told journalists on Wednesday.

Accordingly, 6 suspects have so far been arrested from Masanafu, a Kampala suburb and are detained at Wandegeya police station.

How it Happens

According to officials from UCC, telecom companies have in the past reported reduction in revenue especially from international calls and were always working around the clock to find out what the real cause could be.

It was of recent that one of the reasons behind the reduction in revenue was pinpointed as a fraud that took them a long time to detect.

The head of the legal team at UCC says that using an equipment known as a Sim Box, fraudsters use technology to encrypt and terminate international and local calls.

“A number of Sim cards are inserted into the box and through technology, enabled to get into the telecom company’s operator system to allow illegal termination of calls, “Waisswa told journalists.

UCC says when someone from abroad makes a call, the fraudsters using the sim box then intercept the call and divert it to originate from a local number.

“A call from UK will appear on a receiver’s handset as if it’s from within the country. The receiver will realize that the caller is using a local number with a Uganda dialing code.”

The legal team at UCC says the fraudsters encrypt systems to bypass the systems of the local telecom companies for the latter to lose revenue.

As such, the money in form of charges for the international calls would be diverted to the accounts of fraudsters and the local receiving telecoms don’t get any revenue.

Who is Behind it?

UCC says investigations have revealed that the people behind this scam are in most cases employees of telecom companies and highly trained IT experts.

“It is an insider job done by a group of people both in the telecom companies and others outside,” Waisswa said.

He added that the culprits are positioned locally and internationally but work together in a racket.

Waisswa explained that these IT experts purchase the sim box technology for normal use, and encrypt it to enable it intercept calls.

On how long it has taken, the UCC official said no one can determine because it is done secretly.

“It is a sophisticated crime and done secretly but we have tasked cybercrime experts to start investigations into it, “Wasswa said.

According to the legal officer, this international fraud experienced by various countries around the globe has led to loss of huge sums of revenue to both governments and telecom companies to these fraudsters.

He urged members of the public to report any suspicious calls to their telecom operators and the regulator for redress.

He said that the 6 people whose names they couldn’t reveal would be charged in court over electronic fraud and illegal operation of telecommunication system contrary to the Computer Misuse act.

The UCC legal officer said that the offence carries a maximum penalty of 10 years.

Efforts to reach out to officials from Airtel Uganda proved futile as the Public Relations Officer was still in a meeting.

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