When your phone is stolen or SIM card damaged, you will need to do a SIM swap to get your line back. You also do SIM swap when you want to upgrade from 3G SIM card to a 4G SIM card.
In any of the cases above, you put a request to your service provider providing the necessary documentations and then they deactivate your old SIM and give you a new one. This can be done within a few hours.
But fraudsters have found ways to swap our SIMs without your knowledge. Because our mobile phones are usually packed full of vital information that include contact lists, photos, emails, Short Message Services (SMSS), passwords, financial details (such as ATM passwords, withdrawal alerts, and one time passwords (OTPs)) cybercriminals use SIM swap techniques to block your SIM card and exchange it with a fake one.
These criminals have developed various ways to carry out their nefarious activities:
When your phone is stolen
The most popular SIM swap fraud occurs when a person loses his or her phone. The cybercriminals use that opportunity to steal credentials, capture OTPs (one-time passwords) sent via SMS and also withdraw money from the victim’s bank account.
The criminals hijack bank accounts by having a password reset sent to the victim’s phone. They have developed techniques to trick bank automated systems when they call customer service for password resets.
When your phone network suddenly disappears
By sending some harmless looking Trojan or malware to your phone, they could get your phone to show no network signal at all. Then they call you, posing as a customer service agent and making you believe that the signal failure you are experiencing is as a result of a problem with your line.
They could get you to give details needed to fix the problem but those details are actually used to pose as you when they approach your service provider to request a SIM swap. After verification, the service provider deactivates the “old SIM” (which happens to be your SIM) and activates a new one for the fraudster. After that, all the details on your phone will be in their possession.
There is another hi-tech method: When the fraudsters call you after shutting down your network, they would not ask for details so that you do not suspect fraud. Using some software, they could ask you to “Please Press 1” on your phone to get the network back. If you do, the network will appear suddenly and then go off again. At this point, your phone has been hacked! And your SIM has been swapped!
They could empty your bank account and be the ones getting the alerts, not you.
So, whenever you get a call like that, just hang up immediately and contact your service provider directly to fix your network problem.
Some victims of this fraud have alleged that telecom staff or insiders working with service providers may be culpable in the act. They wonder why network signals suddenly disappear before the victim’s bank account is wiped out.
A victim’s sad story
In February, Punch newspaper reported the case of a Lagos-based engineer, Omoniyi Johnson, who fell victim of SIM swap fraud. A fraudster had used his personal information to get a SIM swap.
Johnson said over N200,000 was stolen from his bank account before he knew what was happening. He said his phone’s network signal disappeared and the problem persisted even after he rebooted the phone severally.
His words: “Initially, I thought my phone had developed some fault, but after taking it to technician the following day, it was discovered that my SIM card was faulty. On getting to the operators’ customer care centre, I found out that someone else requested for a new SIM with my number and had stolen my savings.”
How to prevent SIM swap fraud
- The moment your phone is stolen, report to your bank immediately, especially if you do online banking with it. Also try to change your email and social media passwords.
- Inform important contacts on your phone because sometimes, the fraudsters call or text your contacts and claim that you are stranded and need help.
- Do not store passwords on your phone.
- If you have a problem with your line, report to the service provider yourself, preferably by going to any of their outlets or service centres near you. You could also try calling customer care.