21 lakh SIM cards in use have fake proof: DoT

Several lakh mobile phone numbers likely to be disconnected soon if their credentials cannot be verified; if used to engage in suspicious activities or online fraud, handsets will also be disabled, says DoT 

March 19, 2024 08:42 pm | Updated March 20, 2024 10:50 am IST - CHENNAI

An alert has been sent to Bharti Airtel Ltd., Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd., Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd., Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. and Vodafone Idea Ltd.

An alert has been sent to Bharti Airtel Ltd., Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd., Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd., Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. and Vodafone Idea Ltd.

At least 21 lakh SIM cards have been activated using fake proof of identity or proof of address documents, according to analysis carried out by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT). In an alert sent to Bharti Airtel, MTNL, BSNL, Reliance Jio, and Vodafone Idea, the DoT provided a list of suspicious subscribers and called for an urgent re-verification of their documents, and disconnection of those found to be bogus.

Also Read | Probe intensified into fake SIM cards racket in Andhra Pradesh

A fresh pan-India analysis of 114 crore mobile phone connections by the DoT’s Artificial Intelligence & Digital Intelligence Unit (AI&DIU) has shown that invalid, non-existent, fake, or forged documents were used to support applications to activate at least 21 lakh SIM issued by various telecom service providers. A majority of these numbers are suspected to be in use for committing various types of cyber crimes or online frauds. 

Too many connections

The AI&DIU investigators found that in 1.92 crore cases, an individual had subscribed for too many mobile connections, crossing the permitted limit of nine SIM cards across service providers across the country. This included connections that were “erroneously” categorised as individual instead of bulk connections by the service provider. In some of the cases, gibberish data was provided in the proof of identity or proof of address sections of the subscriber database records.

Also Read |Majority of SIM cards activated with fake identities procured from other States

The nationwide analysis of SIM cards was taken up as part of the Sanchar Saathi, a citizen-centric initiative that empowers citizens to know the mobile connections issued in their name and seek disconnection of any SIM card that they that not applied for or that they no longer required.

“It is of utmost importance to show correct and validated data to the citizens when they use ‘Sanchar Saathi’ portal. In this direction, a fresh pan-India analysis of 114 crore mobile connections has revealed the 21.08 lakh invalid/non-existent or fake/forged Pol/PoA documents were used for subscription,” the DoT said in the alert, which called for immediate data cleansing.

Data cleansing

“This is a continuing process of cleansing data by disconnecting SIMs activated with bogus documents. The nationwide analysis will expose connections taken by one individual in multiple locations or through different TSPs. Where an illegal activity such as cyber crime or online fraud is established, we not only disconnect the numbers but disable the handset as well,” Mukesh Mangal, deputy director-general of the AI&DIU, told The Hindu.

Also Read |No more bulk SIM cards as government steps in to curb fraud

He said that the verification and disconnection process was being done by TSPs in strict compliance with the DoT guidelines without encroaching on the privacy of subscribers. 

Asked whether the incidence of cyber crimes had come down after the earlier cleansing exercise, Mr. Mangal said that all SIM cards which were obtained with fake documents and mobile phone handsets and were used to commit crimes had been deactivated. “Unlike before, more number of people are now coming forward to lodge complaints against cyber crimes. Since we are curtailing the mobile phone-based activities of the criminals, the incidence of online frauds would have certainly come down,” he said.

Widespread disconnections expected

There will soon be a big wave of disconnections of SIM cards as the service providers have been given a timeframe to complete the process. The DoT is working in close coordination with law-enforcing agencies during the entire operation. “We have blocked (disabled) 1.8 lakh mobile handsets in recent times,” Mr. Mangal said.

Explained | What are the latest revisions to the process for the sale of SIM cards? 

Tamil Nadu Director-General of Police Shankar Jiwal said that 90% of online fraud crimes were committed by suspects who used SIM cards activated with fake documents. The quantum of money lost by victims due to online fraud has now surpassed multifold the losses caused by conventional crimes, he added.

Criminals will always want to remain cut off at some point so that police will not be able to track them, he said. “Use of SIM cards that have violated the Know Your Customer (KYC) norms are a challenge for investigators because the accused cannot be reached since the user credentials would be fake,” he noted.

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