PIN for cellphone and SIM card is the customer’s last line of defence against fraudsters

2014-07-01 00:00

WHEN Mthoko Shange’s iPhone 5 was pick-pocketed at the FNB Stadium he used the “Find My iPhone” app to block his phone.

But within 24 hours the thieves managed to ring up a whopping R49 035,44 in text messages and calls to premium services numbers including 40449 and 083 900 0497. Call charges ranged from R48 to R175 for calls lasting seconds to a few minutes, some of which were made at the same time.

Shange said he switched his phone to “lost” mode that night and unsuccessfully tried to contact MTN’s customer service centre from his wife’s phone, on the Vodacom network. However, Shange said he felt falsely comforted by the fact that he’d blocked the phone and that when he called it several times it was off.

It was only after reporting the theft to the police the following day, that Shange went to the MTN website and learnt he had to call a different number for customer service when dialling from another network.

“They told me that the unbilled balance was already at R52 000, which they rectified later to R46 000,” Shange said.

Shange said a MTN staff member had advised him that she had picked up “irregular activity” on his account and that she had already blocked his SIM card. The thieves had removed his SIM card and used it in another cellphone.

However, Shange said MTN held him responsible for the charges and had tried to debit his bank account since March.

“They are saying it’s my fault because the SIM is my responsibility,” Shange said.

MTN public relations manager Bridget Bhengu said the network had no control of the lost phone application and the customer should have immediately reported the theft to MTN to block the SIM card. “Fraudsters use stolen SIMs to call premium numbers, which are very costly. These are usually international numbers and the call rates … are higher than local calls,” Bhengu said.

“The app blocks calls from being made on the stolen handset, and does not block usage of the SIM card. Blocking the SIM prevents fraudsters from using the SIM and incurring costs,” Bhengu said.

Asked whether MTN would reverse the charges Bhengu said “an amicable resolution” had been reached with Shange, who confirmed, the network had now agreed to reverse a total of R49 035,44 in charges.

Bhengu said the “083” number belonged to a wireless application service provider (WASP), which provided services such as bulk SMS, MMS and premium rated services, while the SMS code 40449 belonged to Mira Networks.

“Customers are responsible for costs incurred on the usage of their SIM even if they have used the phone apps to block the usage of their devices,” Bhengu said. She advised customers to go to their phone’s security settings to set a personal identity number (PIN), to prevent the SIM from working in another device.

“The PIN for the phone and SIM card is the customers’ last line of defence,” Bhengu said.

Wireless Application Service Providers Association spokesperson James McNab said this was the second complaint of theft resulting in bill shock that he had received.

He said Wasps like Mira provided a short code SMS number to clients, such as relationship, legal or financial advice service providers, based on premium per minute call prices. He added that MTN had likely provided the “083” number to the Wasp.

But what could the thieves possibly gain financially by repeatedly dialing such services?

After examining Shange’s bill McNab said “40449” was probably a service for the purchase of call credits to dial an international destination as had been the case in the earlier complaint.

“These are the things thieves target,” McNab said.

“The only people who have benefited here are the thieves. Because there was a fraud alert, Mira won’t get paid and the provider of the service of 40449 will be financially affected. They don’t get their credits back,” McNab said.

“Mira is in the process of developing a threshold ceiling on their systems for clients that run these calling card type services. This solution will limit the incentive for fraud and hopefully avoid bill shock,” McNab said.

McNab advised consumers to set SIM card PIN codes on their cellphones and to implement monthly call limits to prevent bill shock.

• Send your consumer issues to Lyse Comins at consumer@3i.co.za.

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