CCB busts international call fraud ring from illegal telephone exchanges in Bangalore

To combat SIM card fraud, the Central Crime Branch (CCB) arrested a gang of six people who had set up two illegal telephone exchanges in Bangalore, officials said.

The fraud made international calls look like local calls, depriving telecom operators of valuable revenue. Four suspects were arrested in Bengaluru and two in Kerala in separate cases.

CCB seized 17 SIM boxes, two Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) long distance calling devices, nine Primary Rate Interface (PRI) devices, five laptops, two desktop computers, nine mobile phones, six routers and 205 gang BSNL SIM cards.

The suspects arrested are Ravichandra, a Bengalurian; and Subair, Manu MM, Ismail Abdulla, Jouhar Shareef and Shahir, returnees from Ernakulam Gulf and Malappuram.

Police described Subair and Ismail as the masterminds. While Ravichandra, Subair and Manu were arrested in a case filed on May 18, the others were apprehended following a complaint from the Department of Vertical Telecommunications of the Ministry of Communications.

Officials said the illegal telephone exchange had caused a loss to the department in addition to posing a threat to national security.

The fraud had been going on for a year and a half and was aimed at Indian expats looking to make cheap phone calls from the Gulf. Calls are one-way. The recipient cannot call back.

“The gang converted international calls coming into India and bought pre-activated SIM cards in bulk,” said city police chief CH Pratap Reddy.

Around 400 SIM cards were inserted into 16 SIM boxes and 8,000 hours of conversation were converted into local calls. In a PRI line, about 30 numbers were connected and 720 hours of talk time were converted, he added.

The CCB will investigate how these SIM cards were issued and the procedure followed by the telecommunications service provider to verify the credentials of customers who purchased the SIP trunk call and other devices. He swore to act against anyone who helped the gang.

SIP trunk call devices are generally purchased by call centers. The gang claimed to use them in a call center while procuring them.

Ravichandra lent his documents to his longtime friend Subair to set up a company called Icon Tours and Travels in Mahadevapura. He was told that the documents would be used for a call center and he was paid Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 per month. He claimed to be unaware of the fraud.

Manu, a software engineer, provided technical assistance in obtaining data from Indian expats who regularly make phone calls to family members in India. Shareef used their technical expertise to set up and maintain the exchange. Shahir provided the instruments.

The Chikkasandra Fellowship was set up in a rented house while the Mahadevapura Fellowship was opened in the offices of Icon Tours and Travels. SIM cards purchased in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal were plugged into the SIM boxes.

What is SIM box fraud?

A SIM box is used for the installation of the Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) gateway. A SIM box contains hundreds of SIM cards and helps to redirect a call via VoIP (internet calls). A SIM box can be manipulated to make international calls look like local calls.

Once completed, a VoIP call is then generated to the destination phone, with the number appearing to be a local number. This means that investigative agencies cannot trace the details of the original call, such as the number or country code. Criminals often use these illegal exchanges to make extortion calls. The telecommunications industry loses billions of dollars every year because fraudsters pocket carrier fees. The gang earned about 1 Re for each call conversion.

Threatening calls to a political official

In March, seated miscreants in West Asia used three phone numbers through Mahadevapura Central to threaten Chandrahasa M, 24, a member of Puttur’s political party, Dakshina Kannada, according to police.