Call Masking: A Worrisome Trend in Nigeria's Telecommunications Industry

Call Masking: A Worrisome Trend in Nigeria's Telecommunications Industry

Benjamin Enahoro Assay (Delta State Polytechnic, Ogwashi-Uku, Nigeria)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0106-1.ch016


The phenomenon of call masking and other related infractions have assumed frightening dimension in Nigeria. Apart from depriving the government and telecoms companies of huge revenue, the sharp practices also constitute a security threat to the nation. In a bid to curb the menace, the Nigerian Communications Commission, the industry regulator, had to suspend six interconnect exchange licenses in February 2018 and bar 750,000 lines belonging to 13 operators from the national network suspected to have been involved in the criminal act. However, in spite of the measures taken by NCC, the sharp practices have continued unabated. It is against this backdrop that this chapter proffers solutions and recommends ways to nip the infractions in the bud and save the telecoms industry from imminent collapse.
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There is no denying the fact that call masking and refilling, and other related infractions such as SIM Boxing have assumed worrisome dimension in the telecommunications industry in Nigeria. The industry which has posted impressive records in the last few years owing to good regulatory framework and a conducive operating business environment, has come under serious threats of telecoms fraudsters and criminals, who are determined to plunder the gains of the industry for personal interest.

Call masking/refilling is a practice in which callers hide their true numbers when making calls, especially international calls, in order to evade international call rates. A masked call happens when an international call coming into a country is concealed and presented as a local call in order to avoid payment of the correct international termination rate (ITR). For instance, if a number is masked as a local call, the rogue network operator pays N3.90 Local Termination Rate (LTR) instead of the approved N24.40 ITR (Anuforo, 2018; Adepetun, 2019).

Anuforo (2018) has associated the phenomenon of call masking with the following:

  • 1.

    It is powered by Voice APIs, a coding platform where a developer can set up phone number proxies to keep parties from knowing each other’s phone numbers during a call.

  • 2.

    It uses a short-lived phone number for each party, for example (5527, 00245). This allows the caller to communicate seamlessly during a specified time period, with no room for the recipient to speak.

  • 3.

    It is one of the many platforms terrorists use to communicate in an anonymous manner.

  • 4.

    It is used to disguise as a family, especially for fraudulent motives.

  • 5.

    It is a method used to evade the international call rates.

  • 6.

    Call masking amounts to revenue loss for licensed local telecom operators from international calls since they are being disguised as local calls.

SIM Boxing is a process of creating an artificial middle man with a device that alternates call rates. A SIM Box fraud is a practice whereby SIM boxes are installed with multiple prepaid SIM cards. This enables the fraudsters to bring calls through VolP (through internet) and terminate international calls through local phone numbers in the respective country, just to make it appear as a local call, by initiating the call through local SIM installed in the SIM box.

Syed (2014), avers that the SIM box fraudsters mainly use the prepaid SIM, the ownership and address of which is hard to know whereas post-paid SIM are easily traceable because of address verification at the time of connection. The affected stakeholders are the mobile operators, the legal international carriers, and the government.

According to him, there are two major players involved in this activity: (1) the fraudsters inside the terminating country; and (2) the illegitimate international carriers from across the border. The fraudster could be a SIM box operator, a local loop operator or a national carrier license holder. The SIM box fraudster basically sets up everything-the SIM boxes, the connectivity, the manpower, and fresh suppliers of SIMs. The local loop operators, bringing in illegal traffic, may use their switches in place of a SIM box. This makes it look like a local call using their own numbering series to terminate the traffic onto mobile operators. The national carrier may bring in illegal traffic, change the ‘A’ number to fake local loop number for each call and terminate the same onto mobile operators on their national trunks instead of international trunks.

The perpetrators of these telecoms infractions have ulterior motives in tampering with international calls and disguising such calls as local calls because of the profit they hope to make from the price differential between international and local call termination rates (Okonji, 2018; Amanze-Nwachukwu, 2018).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Fraudster: A person who commits fraud, especially in business dealings.

International mobile subscriber identity (IMSI): Is a unique number associated with all Global System for mobile communications (GSM) and Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) network mobile phone users use for identifying a GSM subscriber. Each IMSI number has two parts.

IP Network: An IP network is a communication network that uses internet protocol (IP) to send and receive messages between one or more computers. As one of the most commonly used global networks, an IP network is implemented in internet networks, local area networks (LAN) and enterprise networks.

Interconnection Bandwidth: Is a metric that measure how ready a location or industry is to maximize its interconnection potential.

Interconnection Network: In telecommunications, interconnection is the physical linking of a carrier’s network with equipment or facilities not belonging to that network. The term may refer to a connection between a carrier’s facilities and the equipment belonging to its customer, or to a connection between two (or more) carriers.

Telecom Operator: Is a telephone company that provides telecommunications services such as telephony and data communications access.

OTT: Over the top is a term used to refer to content that distribute streaming media as a standalone product directly to viewers over the internet, bypassing telecommunications, multi-channel television, and broadcast television platforms that traditionally act as a controller or distributor of such content.

SIM Card: Is an integrated circuit that is intended to securely store the international mobile subscriber (IMSI) number and its subscribers on mobile telephony devices (such as mobile phones and computers).

Interconnect Bypass Fraud: Is a new type of fraud that is based on interconnect telecom systems. Interconnect bypass fraud or SIM Box fraud is a growing challenge that network operators around the world are facing.

SIM Box: Is a device used as part of Vo1P gateway installation. It contains a number of SIM cards, which are linked to the gateway but housed and stored separately from it.

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