In order to ensure security and protect consumers of telecoms services, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has continued to robustly engage various stakeholders in the country towards curbing the dangers posed by cases of pre-registered and improperly-registered subscriber identity module (SIM) cards being use to commit crime in the country.
A pre-registered SIM card is a fraudulently-activated or improperly-registered SIM card, whose registration runs foul of the regulatory requirements stipulated by the NCC. Users of such SIM cards do so either out of ignorance or with a deliberate intent to commit crime.
While the commission has developed the Telephone Subscribers Registration Guidelines 2011 and stringent SIM replacement procedures to protect telecoms consumers, the sale, purchase and use of pre-registered SIM cards are still being witnessed in some corridors across the country.
Therefore, the NCC’s move to curb the trend, which constitutes grave dangers to individuals and potential threats to national security, has necessitated the continuous stakeholder engagements in the industry and collaborations with other agencies of government.
Apart from constant enforcement activities carried out by the commission’s Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement (CME) team, which has resulted in securing convictions against more than 200 individuals arrested for indulging in sale of pre-registered SIM cards, NCC has, so far, partnered a number of government agencies/organisations with a view to ridding the economy of this scourge.
Such government agencies include the Office of National Security Adviser (ONSA), the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Nigeria Police Force, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), the judiciary, mobile network operators (MNOs)and telecom consumers, among others. This is in addition to ongoing consumer awareness programmes across the six geo-political zones of the country to sensitise the consumers on dangers of patronising pre-registered SIM cards.
According to the commission, due to fraudulently-activated SIM cards, many genuine subscribers have become victims of armed robbery, kidnappings and financial crimes or SIM swap fraud, requiring concerted efforts to address the menace.
To date, the NCC has had several meetings and sensitisation workshops with different stakeholder groups across the industry at different points in time. Flowing from these consultations and the extensive activities of the NCC, the Commission has issued several directions to the MNOs and imposed various sanctions on them at different times.
For instance, following several reports on the preponderance of pre-registered and improperly-registered SIM cards in the market and several challenges raised by the security agencies on difficulties in tracking criminals using improperly-registered SIM cards, the commission met with all relevant stakeholders in 2017 to set up an inter-agency Task Force to address the menace.
In September 2018, the NCC coordinated a meeting to bring MNOs and the NSCDC together to help drive enforcement against agents involved in the release of fully-activated SIM cards from the MNOs side. This engagement and others have produced key resolutions all aimed at sanitising the industry of pre-registered SIM cards.
Stringent SIM replacement procedures
As a proactive measure, the Commission had, at as 2017, came up with a SIM replacement guideline, which makes the process of replacing lost, stolen or damaged SIM cards more stringent in order to protect telecommunications consumers.
While speaking recently on reason for such stringent conditions, the executive vice chairman of the commission, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, explained that, before replacing a SIM card, consumers are required to identify themselves properly through court affidavit, national identification card (or other valid IDs) and SIM pack, among other requirements, saying this is to ensure that telecom subscribers are well protected from being victims of SIM swap fraud.
According to him, at times, a subscriber might be having issues with his or her phone number, thinking that it is a network issue.
“Unfortunately, by the time the subscriber discovers what is happening, money would have been fraudulently taken out of his or her bank account. SIM swap or replacement has a lot of issues attached to it because, often times, a lot of people who are not theowners of some numbers do SIM swap at various customer centres of the service providers,” he said.
Danbatta stated that there have been cases of fraudulent activities done on people’s bank accounts as a result of SIM swap and the victims often complain to the NCC, expecting it would compensate them.
“To stop this SIM swap fraud, the commission, in 2017, developed guidelines on SIM replacement, which sets water-tight rules for telecoms consumers to replace their SIM card when there is a need for it.”
While noting that the regulatory body has observed that consumers often frown at being asked to bring court affidavit, national identification card (or other valid IDs), and SIM pack, among other requirements, Danbatta explained that the likelihood of subscribers thinking that network providers are putting them through stress to have their SIM replaced is also possible.
“But what telecoms consumers should know is that they must appreciate the fact that information being required from them is to establish that anybody coming for SIM swap proves that the number requested to be swapped belongs to him/her. In this case, we enjoin consumers to immediately report to their respective banks to block their accounts or place a notice ‘no withdrawal’ on such account linked to the stoen, damaged or lost SIM cards,” Danbatta said.