Multan - It was not just the 668 and 789 SIM verification systems that were cheated by the criminals, the new Biometric Verification System (BVS), started primarily with security situation in mind, has also been greatly exploited, or cheated, to generate countless mobile phone SIMs with fake subscriptions or stolen identity, The Nation has learnt.

The cheaters find their ideal prey in a villager, an illiterate person, a labourer or an elderly woman to activate a SIM in the victim’s name without their knowledge and this fishy business goes on unchecked in rural and some urban areas of Multan like Mill Phatak, Railway Road, Chungi No-9, Mumtazabad, Hazoori Bagh Road, Sooraj Miani, Adda Nawabpur and Adda Bosan as well as other parts of southern Punjab.

A whistle-blower told this scribe that the tricksters have many methods to produce dozens of activated SIMs with fake subscription, code-named “Piece”, on a daily basis. “Most SIMs with fake subscriptions are produced by the retailers doing business in the periphery, but a good number of these SIMs also come directly from the franchises of different operators,” he added.

The swindlers use separate code names for the SIMs of each network as Zong’s SIM is code-named as Choosa, Ufone’s Malta, Jazz’ Tamater, Telenor’s Ta’aweez and Warid’s Arbi, which are sold out to the grey traffickers (illegal exchanges) at different rates between Rs1,800 and Rs5,000.

Giving more details, he said that the sales staff of some franchises, mostly counter staff (Customer Service Representatives/Customer Relations Officers), are also involved in the illegal business that not only bleeds the exchequer (through illegal phone calls) but also puts national security at risk.

Not just them but those who supply SIMs to the retailers in the market (Retail Sales Officers/Delivery Officers) were also involved in this business. “Majority of Business Development Officers/Territory Sales Supervisors of the companies are aware of this issue but they stay silent due to the pressure of their own sales targets,” he claimed.

“The grey traffickers (those who run illegal phone exchanges) mostly have connections with the Retail Sales Officers/Delivery Officers of franchises. They place their orders with the sales staff who daily visit retailers in the morning for SIMs supply and ask their trusted retailers to arrange ‘Pieces’ till the evening,” he revealed. The source said that a retailer gets a SIM from the salesman for free but returns each active fake SIM to the same salesman for Rs1,000.

“The grey traffickers use these SIMs in gateway exchanges for illegal phone calls from abroad (grey traffic), but it’s anybody’s guess why would such SIMs not land with terrorists,” he said.

The terrorists involved in Peshawar tragedy had also acquired five mobile SIMs from Hasilpur, a remote area of southern Punjab, registered in the name of a woman.

Although the people are being tricked in broad daylight, all the three major authorities concerned – Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), mobile phone operators and police –are silent as they claim that the issue is not in their notice.

When contacted, the spokespersons for the mobile operators said that the companies had so far spent over Rs24 billion on different mandatory verification requirements during the last few years to comply with the parameters set by the PTA. “We fully implement and abide by all Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) developed by the PTA for the sale of SIMs. So, there is no discrepancy at our end,” said a spokesman, who preferred not to be named. He said that the biometric machine gave different options after thumb scanning, and the customer could choose the one desired by him/her.

However, the snag is that the retailers never show the machine screen to the customers, leaving the customer with just one option – trust the person sitting on the other side of the counter. The source told this scribe that the swindlers trap the citizens coming to any retailer or franchise in at least four different ways.

In the most common method, a retailer in any remote area like Adda Nawabpur or Adda Bosan persuades villagers to get SIM with Rs50 balance for free. After biometric, the victim is told that his thumb impression does not matches Nadra record and therefore SIM cannot be issued to him while actually the SIM would be registered and activated in victim’s name.

Similarly, people coming to any retailer for SIM verification through biometric are made to place their thumb on the scanner twice. “They tell the customer that first attempt failed due to technical problem and he/she has to get the thumb scanned again. The first attempt is used for verification while the second for getting another SIM activated which is then kept by the retailer,” he added.

Through yet another trick, the retailers or sales staff of franchises trap those coming to get deactivated additional SIMs registered in their name. “The customer is asked to write down the numbers, he/she wants to get shut, on a form and place thumb on the scanner for verification purpose while no thumb scanning is needed for SIM closure,” he revealed, adding that any villager, labourer, old woman or person looking illiterate is an ideal prey in this situation.

The women and widows registered with Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) are also seen as any easy target by the swindlers. “Many mobile retailers are also running BISP payment centres. When women approach them for getting their instalment, they are asked to put their thumb on machine for verification purpose. As soon as the payment is made, a new SIM is also activated in her name without her knowledge,” the source disclosed.

PTA spokesman Khurram Mehran was of the opinion that there was no problem with the system. “The problem is with people’s behaviour. Some are cheating others with a bad intent or due to lust,” he told The Nation. He said that the PTA would investigate the matter and strict action would be taken if any fraudulent practice was traced. “We’re going to send this issue to our Regional Office in Lahore for further investigation,” he declared.

The police are also oblivious of the scam. Talking to The Nation, Multan Senior Superintendent Police (Operations) Ch Muhammad Saleem said that police had not received any complaint from any side on this issue. “We’ll investigate the matter, and if we receive any complaint, we’ll take strict action,” he added. He said that the person caught in possession of SIM with fake subscription would be booked for theft and other offences.