Telecoms Industry Loses N1.06tn to Call Masking in Two Years

Umar Danbatta
Umar Garba-Danbatta
  •  Regulator bans 750,000 suspected lines

Emma Okonji

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecoms industry regulator, yesterday disclosed that the telecoms industry lost N1.06 trillion ($3 billion) revenue to Call Masking, Call Refiling and SIM Boxing within a space of two years.

The Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, who made the disclosure at the 85th edition of the NCC organised Telecoms Consumer Parliament (TCP), which held in Lagos yesterday, said aside the revenue loss, the situation was posing serious national security threat.

Danbatta, who was represented by the Director, Consumer Affairs Bureau at NCC, Mrs. Felicia Onwuegbuchulam, said the revenue loss started in September 2016 when the NCC reviewed and implemented a new call termination rate for international inbound traffic from N3.90k per minute to N24.40k per minute.

He said the operators involved in call masking and refiling took undue advantage of the hike in international termination call rate to tamper with international calls and terminate them as local calls in order to avoid paying the new rate, thereby defrauding the telecoms industry, trillions of naira within a space of two years.

“So what is happening since 2016 is a clear indication that some unscrupulous elements want to continue to fraudulently profit from the earlier lop-sidedness in the International Termination Rate (ITR), which we had before the 2016 review,” Danbatta said.

Worried by the ugly situation, Danbatta said NCC investigated the fraud and arrested some operators involved in call masking and call refiling.

He said in the process, NCC barred 750,000 lines assigned to 13 operators from the national network. The lines, which were barred this year, were suspected of being used for masking and NCC took a hard and no-compromise stance to withdraw the use of such lines.

Call masking and refiling is basically when an international call ID is tampered with and terminated in Nigeria as a local number, while SIM Boxing is a process of creating an artificial middle man with device that alternates call rates. The perpetrators have ulterior motive of profiting from price differentials between international and local call termination rates.

According to Danbatta, despite regulatory actions, call masking persisted as telecoms consumers continued to express outrage over call masking, even as security agencies constantly put pressures on the Commission to find lasting solution to the menace.

Danbatta said as part of zero tolerance for communications fraud in the market, its determination to stamp out the practice in the industry, the NCC in collaboration with different stakeholders and security agencies held series of meetings, which led to the suspension of six indicted interconnect exchange licensees in February 2018.

In other to completely address the issue, the Director, Legal Services at NCC, Mrs. Yetunde Akiloye, said NCC would continue to monitor the networks and sanction more operators and individuals who are still involved in call masking, call refiling and SIM Boxing.

She said NCC’s earlier interventions had helped to reduce the rate of call masking by 25 per cent and SIM Boxing by 40 per cent.

To curb the ugly trend in call masking and refiling, NCC, therefore, called on telecoms subscribers and the Nigerian populace to report cases of call masking and refiling to a special code: 622.

“The Commission is set to take the bull by the horn towards putting an end to call masking menace in the country. NCC is leveraging different consumer platforms to deepen awareness campaign on call masking and we advise consumers to report the local numbers through which they receive foreign calls as masked calls to the Commission for proper tracking,” Danbatta said.

In her speech, Onwuegbuchulam said the Commission had been inundated with complaints by telecoms consumers and other industry stakeholders on the rising wave of call masking and refiling, which she said, posed security and economic risks.

Some telecoms operators who attended the consumer parliament, condemned call masking and refiling and called on NCC to increase its awareness campaign on eradication of call masking, and impose severe sanctions on all those involved in the act in order to save the telecoms industry that is currently valued at $70 billion.

They also advised subscribers to ensure that they duly and personally register all new SIM cards purchased and to avoid patronising pre-registered SIM cards.