The biometric registration of mobile phone numbers was introduced to track criminals and militants. However, its effectiveness is now being questioned as pre-registered SIM cards are flooding the market and is available to everyone. This is the second part of a three-part series
Criminals are the biggest clients of the organizations that are illegally selling pre-registered mobile SIM cards.
Multiple law enforcement officers have said up to 95% of all criminals are using these pre-registered SIMs, effectively rendering the purpose of biometric registration useless.
“Criminals are using these pre-registered SIMs to commit bKash fraud, extortion, threats, drug deals, smuggling, question paper leaking, and kidnapping,” Assistant Police Commissioner of the Cyber Crime division said.
Upon analyzing the Call Details Record (CDR) of the phone numbers used by criminals, law enforcement typically finds they are registered to someone completely unrelated to the offence or the perpetrator.
This also causes ordinary people to be harassed in the course of case investigations.
In one case involving an alleged extremist, officers from Dhaka’s Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) Unit followed up on a CDR only to find that the SIM was registered to an elderly woman of Chapai Nawabganj.
“The situation has reached a point where it is genuinely difficult to bring criminals to justice because of the activities of these SIM card rackets,” Post, Telecommunications, and Information Technology Minister Mustafa Jabbar said.
“Our telecom companies probably have not been able to identify these syndicates, and we are trying hard to get this matter under control.”
Ten officials from a number of investigative agencies including Dhaka Metropolitan Police Detective Branch (DB), Police Bureau of Investigation (PBI), RAB, and CID have been in correspondence with this reporter for two months, with almost all of them saying that pre-registered SIMs are making any headway into investigations “very difficult”.
In one such case filed with Rampura police station in September 2016, a man called Abu Zafar Manik from Malibagh Chowdhury Para said Tk51,000 had been fraudulently taken from him via the mobile money transfer service bKash.
Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officials found that one of the three numbers linked to the act belonged to Faridpur resident Shudhangshu Kumar Rajbongshi, who said he had bought the SIM from a local shop.
Upon questioning Shudhangshu, CID realised he had absolutely no idea about the offence in question, concluding that the man who registered his SIM at the local shop must have also used his information on at least one other SIM.
“When we investigated this case, we found that the person whose name the SIM was registered under was a simple, poor man who had no idea someone else was using a SIM registered in his name,” Special Superintendent of Police with the Organized Crime unit of CID Mollah Nazrul Islam said.
“We have recently arrested a SIM fraud syndicate from Rangpur.”
In a separate case, the Cyber Crime division of Dhaka’s Counter Terrorism unit investigated a Tk40 lakh bKash scam and found that 38 mobile phone numbers had been used by the criminals, with every number being registered under a different name.
The numbers had all been used from an area in Faridpur, and even the bKash accounts associated with the numbers were registered fraudulently with different information being used for the SIM registration and the bKash account.
This reporter, with the help of an investigative agency, personally searched for two of the 38 numbers and found they were both registered by JK Traders and Distributor under the national ID of the same resident of Gouripur upazila in Mymensingh.
CID blamed the failure to properly verify the two SIM applications, as two different ID photos purporting to be of the same individual had been supplied to the operator, Grameenphone.
This article was first published on banglatribune.com