With 1.17bn (billion) subscribers, India has emerged as the second-largest telecom ecosystem in the world. In addition to communication, Indians use mobile devices for banking, entertainment, e-learning, healthcare, and government services. However, the unchecked growth with minimum user verification has led to a sharp rise in cyberfrauds using mobile phones. To protect users from fraud such as identity theft, forged know-your-customer (KYC) details, theft of mobile devices, and banking frauds, the Union government has launched a new portal, Sanchar Saathi (https://sancharsaathi.gov.in). Through this portal, the government claims to have identified 4mn (million) fraudulent mobile connections, of which 3.66mn have been disconnected. While the move is welcome, do not expect it to result in fewer spam or fraud calls. The reasons are plenty; we will discuss them later in this article.
Sanchar Saathi Aims To Help Find Bogus SIMs, Lost Mobiles
Sanchar Saathi, launched by the department of telecommunications (DoT), allows users to know the mobile connections issued in their name, disconnect the connections that they do not require, block or trace lost mobile phones and check the genuineness of a device while buying a new or old mobile phone. It has two modules—central equipment identity registry (CEIR) and telecom analytics for fraud management and consumer protection (TAFCOP).
module facilitates the tracing of lost or stolen mobile devices and also blocks the device across all telecom operators' networks. This means, once it is reported, the mobile device cannot be used on any network across India. If anyone tries to use the blocked mobile phone, its traceability is generated. Once a mobile phone is found, it may be unblocked on the portal for regular use by the owner.
allows a mobile subscriber to check the number of mobile connections in his or her name. You can report the mobile connection/s, which are either not required or not taken by you. Once a mobile number is reported as 'this is not my number' or 'not required', it gets flagged for re-verification by the telecom service-provider.
While the TAFCOP module is relatively easy, the CEIR requires certain documents and reports before you can submit a request to block a lost or stolen mobile. Before submitting the request, the user must file a complaint and obtain an acknowledgement from the police.
The user must also obtain a duplicate SIM card for the lost number and get it activated by the telecom operator. This is essential because you will need to provide this as CEIR, and it will send a one-time passcode (OTP) on the mobile number which you would require while submitting the request for blocking the international mobile equipment identity (IMEI) of your lost or stolen mobile device.
You also need to upload a copy of the police report and your identity proof while submitting the request to CEIR. After submission, you would receive a request ID that can be used to track the request and unblock the IMEI in the future.
After successfully submitting the blocking request, the user's lost or stolen mobile phone is blocked within 24 hours. After the phone has been blocked, it cannot be used on any network across India; however, it does not prevent the police from tracking the lost or stolen phone.
As I mentioned, TAFCOP is relatively simple and does not require much effort. You can log in on the portal using your mobile number, and OTP received. The screen displays mobile numbers issued in your name. You can check the option 'this is not my number' or 'not required' against the mobile number that is not yours, and you want to report. Click the 'report' button to submit the request.
This reported number is flagged for re-verification to confirm the identity of the existing subscriber with the records available with the service-provider. Outgoing calls on the flagged mobile SIM would be suspended within 30 days, while incoming would be suspended within 45 days. The mobile connection which fails in re-verification will be disconnected within 60 days.
To detect and disconnect mobile numbers obtained through fake or forged documents, the DoT has developed ASTR (artificial intelligence and facial recognition powered solution for telecom SIM subscriber verification). ASTR uses various techniques of facial recognition and data analytics. In the first phase, an analysis of more than 8.7mn mobile connections was carried out using ASTR. For processing such a massive amount of data, DoT used the Param-Sidhhi supercomputer.
It detected multiple cases where one photograph was used to obtain hundreds of connections. Out of the 8.7mn connections analysed, 4.09mn suspected mobile connections were detected. After due verification, 3.66mn mobile numbers were disconnected. Nearly 40,123 points of sales (PoS) involved in selling such mobile connections have been blacklisted by the service-providers, and more than 150 first information reports (FIRs) have been lodged across India.
These initiatives by the DoT are 'better late than never'. However, do not be under the impression that you will get a reprieve from unsolicited commercial communication (UCC), spam calls, and messages or calls from fraudsters.
The main reason is that obtaining a new SIM still remains relatively easy. Especially with a copy of an Aadhaar, and a photo, you can easily buy a SIM from any roadside stall. All agents and telecom companies 100% believe in any copy of Aadhaar, and seldom is there any verification of the information. This is because telecom operators are more interested in boosting sales numbers every month than 'wasting time and resources' on due KYC verification. In the Mewat region, some truck drivers are found buying SIMs in bulk and selling it to fraudsters
Just last week, Meta, the owner of WhatsApp, took action against the growing menace of international scam calls in India after the Union government took cognisance of the issue and announced sending a notice to the platform.
"Our new enforcement will reduce the current calling rate by at least 50%, and we expect to be able to control the current incidence effectively. We will continue to work relentlessly towards ensuring a safe experience for our users," a company spokesperson says in a statement.
While the DoT's Sanchar Saathi initiative is mainly related to mobile numbers, we wish it would also pay attention to fraudsters' increasing use of landlines and IVRs.
How To Report Cyber Fraud?
Do report cybercrimes to the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal http://cybercrime.gov.in
or call the toll-free National Helpline number, 1930. To follow on social media: Twitter (@Cyberdost), Facebook (CyberDostI4C), Instagram (cyberdostl4C), Telegram (cyberdosti4c).
If the fraud is related to your bank account, you need to immediately send an email to the official email ID of your branch (you can find it on the bank's website or your passbook) with a copy to the bank's customer care. Even if you have called the official number for customer care, you must still send an email describing your conversation with the bank executive, along with the time, date, and duration of the call. This will be helpful if you face a liability issue with the bank.