Sim card fraud: Telecoms to roll out biometric tech

About two weeks ago, Ernest Nsanzineza, a resident of Rutsiro District was a victim of fraud when strangers swapped his wife's phone number and somehow found their way into her mobile banking application. They stole Rwf2.5 million from her bank account.

Having found out and made alarm to the relevant institutions, the bank accounts of the hackers were blocked. One of the fraudsters was arrested and more investigations are going on.

Nsanzineza is not exactly sure how the crooks managed to gain access to the bank account, but in an interview with The New Times, he appealed for tighter safety measures in the sim swapping process in order to avoid such occurrences.

How can it happen

Someone can wonder how someone swaps a sim card that does not belong to him or her. However, this hard as it sounds can happen.

In conversation with telecommunications companies, The New Times established that there can be flaws in the sim registration and swapping processes due to the fact that some agents are not diligent in asking for clients’ identity card.

“In the past, people would swap and there weren’t agents who were very diligent in getting the ID cards. But we have had a very extensive exercise where we ensure that our agents always have to ask for the IDs from the people who are swapping so that they don’t just get any other person’s number,” said Teta Mpyisi, the Senior Brand and Sponsorship Manager at MTN.

By the end of the year, she said, MTN expects to have launched biometric technology for sim swap and registration.

“We are actually working on something and by the end of this year we should have launched it already.  Sim swaps and registration will be going the biometric route,” she said.

Biometrics are automated methods of recognising a person based on a physiological or behavioural characteristic.

Among the common features measured are face, fingerprints, hand geometry.

The move, she said, is inspired by the need for more safety in registration and swapping, as well as easing the processes as clients will not be required to use the traditional pen and paper to register since the process will be done on the company’s online platform.

“This is one of the routes that we are going to ensure—of course safety number one; but it is also an easier way for them (clients) to get onto our platform and register and do swap (online) instead of having to fill forms, showing IDs or bringing photocopies,” she said.

Airtel Rwanda said it is also planning to go biometric, and is awaiting approval from the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA).

"Issues regarding registration and swapping are a major concern for Airtel. We work closely with law enforcement orders to assist the best way possible customers who have been victims of those crimes as well as prevent these crimes from happening in the future" said Gisele Umugwaneza, Regulatory Head at Airtel Rwanda.

“Airtel is planning to roll out the biometric in sim card registration as soon as RURA gives a green light," she added.

In July 2017, RURA released a law on the regulation of sim card registration.

It established a sub-committee in charge of studying the incorporation of the biometric system into sim card registration.

The sub-committee is figuring out which systems will be the best fit for mobile operators and customers; for instance if it should be devices for sales agents, or applications to be downloaded.

Biometric technology continues to evolve, and societies are finding more ways to integrate it in the everyday lives of citizens.

Today, among other things, biometric data gives governments opportunity to recognise their citizens, and opens access to a multitude of services, such as social benefits, medical care or financial services.

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