Sunday , August 14 2022

How SIM Recycling is Endangering Nigerian lives

In September 2018, Mr Banjo Bello bought a new Glo SIM card from an accredited agent. He registered the SIM with all the necessary biometric. Everything went well as expected.

However, few months later he received a call from the northern part of the country.

“I was inside my house when a call came in from a middle aged man informing me that the number I’m using belongs to him and that the number was stolen alongside his phone”.

Bello, who unknown to him bought a recycled SIM number, said he was shocked by the allegation and broke the Glo SIM out of fear of being arrested for an offense he never committed immediately he dropped the call.

SIM card recycling has become a topical issue in recent time and has generated serious concern.

Phone number recycling is the industry term that refers to the event when that deactivated/disconnected number gets reassigned to someone else. Typically, it takes at least 90 days for this reassignment to take place but it can be faster in high-demand area codes.

Recently in a panel session on “Cybersecurity organised by Nigeria Computer Society in Lagos, one of the discussant and Information Security Expert, Mr Adeoluwa Ogunwale from NIBBS called for synergy between banks, telcos and regulators to address lingering issue that surrounds SIM card recycling in Nigeria.

According to him, a subscriber (name withheld) also recently discovered that his abandoned SIM card has been reissued to another subscriber.

He raised the alarm that the new subscriber has allegedly been using the number which was linked to his bank account to withdraw money from his account using the USSD code.

Ogunwale advised subscribers to always inform their banks if there’s any issue on the number linked to their bank account especially when they misplace the number in order to avoid cyber fraud.

Also he noted that there might be need for NCC and Telcos to look into a way to fix the aftermath problems coming after SIM cards recycling.

“NCC may need to review the timeframe attached to SIM recycling,” he concluded.

In a recent media report, Anthony Okolia, a middle aged man was reported to be illegally detained for possessing MTN line he purchased years after it was abandoned by Hanan Buhari, the daughter of Nigeria’s President.

It was discovered that the accused had earlier registered the SIM. Fortunately, he was still in possession of the payment receipt.

Okolia was reportedly detained by the Department of State Security (DSS), for 10 weeks before being released through the effort of his lawyer when Buhari’s daughter refused to present herself.

The incident generated different controversies while some questioned the legality of SIM swap; others expressed worry over unlawful detainment of the accused persons.
There are several other Nigerians who have had similar SIM swap experience but not made their complaints public.

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) campaigned and encouraged mobile phone users to register their SIM cards for the purpose of data capturing and security.

Findings made by Business Remarks revealed that the total number of inactive lines in Nigeria hits 86 million as November 2019.

Industry statistics as recorded by NCC shows that as at the stipulated period, the total number of connected lines in Nigeria was 268,483,898 as against the active lines put at 182,435,340 in this same timeframe. According to the regulator, the total number of inactive phone lines is place at 86,048,558.

Last year December, Adeleke Adewolu, NCC Executive Commissioner on Stakeholder Management (ECSM) attributed illegal SIM swaps as being responsible for the highest cyber threats recorded in the telecom sector.

In the most basic scenario, the new owner of a phone number has access to the former owner thereby providing access to the person’s sensitive information.

Addressing this issue, the Association of Telecommunications Company of Nigeria President (ATCON), Mr Olusola Teniola said there is no stipulated timeframe for SIM recycling in Nigeria.

The time framework for SIM Recycling, according to Teniola is solely dependent on the telecommunications operators which vary from 90 days to a year of inactivity on the card.

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Speaking further with our correspondent, he explained that SIM Recycling is done purely for commercial reasons.

He noted that the numbers are paid for on annual basis to the government by the service providers which give operators the right to reassign or deactivate the cards (numbers) upon non usage.

Contrary to Nigerians belief, Teniola highlighted that phone numbers are not owned by the subscribers or telcos but belong to the government. SIM cards with specified phone numbers are given to subscribers just to access services on the mobile networks platform.

In his words, “because of the cost associated to it and the limited numbers available for the Nigeria population, the telcos at some point have to reassign inactive numbers to new subscribers.

Teniola, however advised subscribers to always communicate with and update their service providers on inactive phone numbers for security reasons.

According to him, the operators cannot know if the numbers are used for other services such as banking, insurance, education, agriculture or other security services.

“There is a responsibility on the consumer side to engage their mobile network operators on the status on their inactive SIM Cards. There has to be a dialogue. The subscribers can make use of the different channels of communications available such as the customer service and experience centres.

In addition, the ATCON boss clearly noted that SIM registration was introduced to mainly identify subscriber using the line and not built for Identity database.

“The issue arising from SIM recycling is because Nigeria has changed the main purpose of SIM registration. SIM registration is just for identifying a name against a number, but now we see that it’s being used for financial transactions like USSD and other verifications”, Teniola explained.

In the same vein the Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Engr Gbenga Adebayo pointed out that the numbers are leased to the operators by NCC, which operators pay annual numbering plan fee on those numbers to the regulator.

Adebayo also stated that the period of dominance for a subscriber number is about 180 days (Six months).

Furthermore, the ALTON Chairman stressed that new subscribers are not accountable for the previous history of the number before it’s recycled.

“So if operators have bloc of numbers allocated to them by the commission, they are meant to be used for commercial purposes. These numbers are scarce resources.

“What is important is for every subscribers have the name registered against a number because it’s activated.

In his words, “If you have a SIM Card that has been taken off the network and we have fulfill our cycle of dominance, recycling it and registering against a new user is our right.

“The records are there for both the old and the new users. When questions around who has what or who did what surface; the timeframe of old allocation and dominance, the timeframe of new allocations will all be provided and made available by the operators.

Agreeing with Teniola, Adebayo said it is important subscribers know that no number is allowed to one forever. Even as an operator, you have to return certain blocks of inactive numbers back to the regulator because they are scarce resources.”

The ALTON Chairman advised users to update their banks and other service providers upon change in numbers or non usage for obvious security reasons.

The Manager, Corporate Affairs and Corporate Relations, MTN Nigeria, Mr Onome Okwah in a telephone conversation with Business Remarks said the firm will deliberate and release an official statement on the issue.
However, as at press time, Business Remarks is yet to receive any statement from MTN.

About Bukola Olanrewaju

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