Beware SIM card swop scam

Date: 07 Jan 2008
Fraudsters have found a way to access bank accountsthrough victims' cellphones. Clayton Barnes reports A Western Cape man was defrauded of more than R100 000 shortly before Christmas after he fell victim to a Joburg syndicate that illegally swopped his cellphone SIM card so that they could access his bank account. Barry Greyvenstein, from Grootbrak River in George, said he realised that something was amiss when he received a call from Absa Bank on the evening of Friday December 7 informing him of irregular activity on his bank account. But when he checked his phone, there was no signal - and he had become the latest victim of a new type of fraud, which earlier resulted in fraudsters plundering R90 000 from the bank account of a Cape Town NGO. This week Greyvenstein, who mainly uses internet and cellphone banking for transactions, said he was "blown out of my boots" when he realised that MTN had performed a SIM card swop on his number without his knowledge or consent. "Absa Bank called me [on his landline] after 9pm on December 7 to ask if I knew about the irregular activity on my bank account," said Greyvenstein. "I was completely shocked. They asked if I had my cellphone and asked if I'd received the transaction messages. "But when I fetched my cellphone, I realised it was dead and someone had performed a SIM swop." Greyvenstein said he then contacted his cellphone service provider, who told him a SIM card swop was performed at one of their outlets in central Joburg at about 4pm. "I was so angry and still am," he said. "It's criminal for them to do a SIM card swop on my number, which I purchased from them, without my consent or even contacting me. How do they do these swops? I'm sure they should ask for some identification before it is done." MTN, he added, had still not given him an explanation for what had occurred. "It's into the new year and MTN is yet to get back to me with an explanation. Every time I call them, they send me from pillar to post in their customer help centre. It's just unacceptable. "If they hadn't done the SIM swop, I wouldn't have been defrauded." Greyvenstein said that when a relative's phone was stolen a few years ago, the service provider had insisted on proper ID and other information, and approval of the SIM swop took two or three days. But according to the records in his case, Greyvenstein said, it took the scammers "about an hour to do everything." A survey by the Saturday Star found that most service providers charge R140 for SIM card swops for both contract and pre-paid numbers. The only details needed was a copy of the applicant's ID book, the number they wanted to use and the money. Greyvenstein said that after requesting a full statement of transactions from Absa, the statement showed that 23 beneficiary accounts were opened on his personal bank account within four hours of the SIM swop being approved. "An amount of R4 100 was paid into each of the 23 beneficiaries' accounts on that same night, and that's when Absa picked it up and contacted me," he said. Greyvenstein did not want to go into further details about his negotiations with the bank, but it is understood that he has received a full refund. MTN South Africa spokesperson Ntombi Mhangwani said the service provider regretted Greyvenstein's loss of funds and that all such incidents were being investigated by MTN's fraud department, together with the National Prosecuting Authority. "We view this as a serious offence and are taking all steps necessary to ensure that such scams never happen again," said Mhangwani. "MTN SA is constantly reviewing its systems to ensure that customer details are protected from such fraudulent activities. "In this case, the fraudsters already had enough information on the victim to defraud him. "The perception exists that this fraud is as a result of MTN's processes failing when, in fact, the victim is partially to blame for not protecting sensitive information such as bank account numbers and passwords." Mhangwani added that MTN dealt with the service outlet and accepted that the dealer representative authenticated the subscriber, but in light of the rise in fraudulent activities using SIM swops, this process might need to change. MTN was also in the process of implementing an auto SMS function to inform the subscriber that a SIM swop has been requested prior to proceeding with the transaction, to allow the subscriber time to contact the company in the event that they did not request the swop. By Clayton Barnes The Saturday Star 01/01/08e1