Inundated by complaints from subscribers who have lost millions of naira to fraudsters who use mobile numbers and short codes to empty unsuspecting Nigerians’ bank accounts, the Nigerian Communications Commission is to establish whether Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) are culpable through an ongoing investigation. While the frauds are perpetrated on bank accounts, they are usually initiated through phone calls and text messages and the most prevalent, SIM swap.
Aside complaints from subscribers, cyber security experts have also blamed telecommunications operators for the prevalence of SIM swap fraud in the country, arguing that such fraud could be possible with an insider in the network operator of the subscriber that is targeted. Subscribers are also complaining over network operators’ refusal to block numbers being used by the fraudsters, even when such numbers are reported to them (the network operators).
While the operators have absolved themselves of any blame with the defence that they are not banks that keep people’s money, the telecom regulators said they cannot claim innocence until the ongoing investigation is concluded. Speaking at the 4th Quarter meeting of Industry Consumer Advisory Forum (ICAF), a body advising the telecom regulators on all consumer issues, NCC’s Director of Consumer Affairs Bureau, Mrs Felicia Onwuegbuchulam, said the regulator would soon establish the telecom operators are culpable or not. “We have received a lot of complaints on how fraudsters are using mobile numbers to remove money from their bank accounts. Though the money is not in their custody, we are not exonerating the telecom operators until we conclude our investigations. We believe there may be a connivance of telecom staff in all these crimes. Why should a subscriber’s line go off at the time fraud is about to be committed on their accounts?” she queried.
Onwuegbuchulam said to arrive at a holistic solution to the issue of frauds, the Commission has scheduled a meeting with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and all security agencies in the country. The meeting, which she said would be holding next year January, would focus on ways of collaborations between the two regulatory bodies and the security agencies to stem the tide of rising cyber frauds to which many innocent Nigerians have lost millions of naira.
Earlier, the representative of all the telecom operators at the ICAF meeting and Executive Secretary of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Mr Gbolahan Awonuga, said the telcos have nothing to do with the frauds because they are not banks that keep money. “We have no business with bank frauds, they are only using our infrastructure” he said. Awonuga, however, advised banks to start running a 24/7 customer care like the telcos so that people can call them to stop fraudulent activities on their account anytime they suspect such act.
Meanwhile, Chairman of ICAF, Prince Igho Majemite, urged the telecom operators to join the fight against cyber frauds by blocking numbers reported to have been used to perpetrate frauds on their networks. By doing this, he said the operators would help in reducing the crime.
ICAF was initiated by the NCC in February 2009 for the protection and promotion of the interest of Consumers including persons with Special Needs and the Elderly (Challenged Group) pursuant to the 2003 Act of Parliament establishing the NCC and the Commission’s centric posture and in order to ensure non- discriminatory service delivery as well as acceptable Quality of Experience (QoE) by consumers of ICT products and services.
The Objective of ICAF as an Advisory Group is to make recommendations to NCC regarding the interests and concerns of Consumers of ICT products and services; to advice on protection from unfair practices as well as submit memoranda on and facilitate the review of the Consumer Code of Practice Regulations.