Grey market phone call rackets unearthed

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, MARCH 17. The Vigilance Telecom Monitoring (VTM) cell of the Department of Telecommunications has unearthed four grey market telephone call rackets in Kerala that were operating in tandem with foreign `calling card companies' to offer cheap calls to India. Such companies use the Internet to transfer international calls to India in order to avoid paying regular international telephone call charges. These racketeers in Kerala are estimated to have caused a loss of over Rs. 2 crores to the Central Government so far. It is suspected that foreign calling card companies to pay their operators in Kerala often use the hawala route.

S. Sivaprakasam, Deputy Director General, VTM Cell-Chennai, told the Hindu that the racketeers had leased Internet broadband lines and numerous telephone connections on legitimate grounds at specific locations. Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) gateways and routers that act as an interface between the Internet and local telephone networks were seized from the exchanges.

On December 13, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) with the help of the Vigilance cell had arrested a man on the charge of running an "illegal exchange" in Kochi. The exchange had 60 telephone lines linked to an Internet broadband line.

"At a time, the exchange could automatically connect 60 incoming international calls to local subscribers.

The exchange that functioned clandestinely from an apartment in Kochi for nearly six months is estimated to have caused a loss of Rs 1.8 crores to the Central Government.

Secret exchange

The CBI booked the accused on charges of cheating and violating the Indian Telegraph Act. He had procured the connections using the "cover of a software company," a CBI official said.

A secret exchange capable of connecting 24 international calls at a time was unearthed in Kozhikode on February 9. A month later, two more such rackets were busted in Aluva. The estimated loss to the Central Government was over Rs. 50 lakhs.

The CBI is investigating four persons in connection with the recent three cases.

The Vigilance unit tracks such illegal operations primarily by monitoring Internet and telephone usage patterns.

Internet broadband lines with abnormally high to and fro traffic, addresses having numerous telephones lines showing only outgoing calls are among the telltale signs, a senior official said.

Such racketeers are increasingly using mobile phone networks too, using the prepaid card facilities to make detection difficult.

They are also adept at masking the identity of the international caller by manipulating the caller line identification system at the local level.

According to Sivaprakasam, the Vigilance cell has asked service providers to monitor the activities and verify the bona fides of bulk users of broadband and telephone lines. The details of telephone subscribers seeking suppression of caller line identification facility are to be forwarded to the authorities.

The Vigilance cell has also recommended the amendment of certain provisions of the Indian Telegraph Act to help the authorities crack down on such illegal operations.

The State police are also to be sensitised on the grey market operations.

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