Phoney Rica'd SIM cards can land you in jail

Buying a 'cloned' SIM card could land you behind bars.
Buying a 'cloned' SIM card could land you behind bars.

If you are found in possession of pre-registered SIM cards that you bought from street vendors, you could face jail time.

Local police are calling for cellular service providers to stop the sale of pre-registered SIM cards to customers as it hinders police investigations that require tracing of cellphones.

Scores of SIM cards already registered with the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act (Rica) are being handed out to passers-by on the streets in Pietermaritzburg and surrounding areas.

The Rica service was implemented in 2009 and is intended to be a tool to help law enforcement agencies to combat crime.

But the Rica-registered starter packs, already registered to other cellphone holders in the country, are still being distributed on the streets to the public in a manner which infringes the Rica regulation.

uMgungundlovu South cluster police spokesperson in Pietermaritzburg Mthokozisi Ngobese said the distribution of ready registered SIM cards has had a negative impact on their investigations.

“You would find that the number we are tracing is registered to someone else who is not even connected to the crime. It is often someone residing in a different province,” Ngobese said.

He said the freely distributed pre-registered SIM cards are a “setback” for police investigations.

“This practice defeats the entire process. We hoped that when this regulation was introduced it would help us combat crime efficiently.

“The service providers must step in and help put an end to this problem,” said Ngobese.

He also warned that should anyone be found in possession of these SIM cards, they would be arrested, and urged the public to refrain from collecting these starter packs.

“They can be charged under the Interception of Classified Information Act,” he said.

Under the RICA regulations, when purchasing a new starter pack from a registered cellular store, cellphone users on all the cellular networks are obliged to provide their service providers with the information required by the Act. These include the SIM card owner’s identity document and proof of residence.

Weekend Witness visited the hotspots in Pietermaritzburg where these pre-registered starter packs were being handed out.

In the Pietermaritzburg CBD, Weekend Witness found several vendors distributing the free and registered SIM cards.

When asked for their employers details, the vendors claimed that they were employed by the network service providers such as MTN, Vodacom and Cell C.

South African forensic investigator Riana Smalberger, who currently works for Cyber Crime Investigating Agency in the U.S., said the Rica regulation will remain futile until it is enforced by the government. “It is not because the Rica regulation was not explained properly. What makes people and companies abide by a particular law is only when it is enforced.

“A regulation or a contract is merely a piece of paper unless it does what it was intended to do. You could find that a hundred starter packs are registered with details of one person,” said Smalberger.

She said people who are behind the distribution of these starter packs manage to register them with the help of insiders at mobile service providers.

“They are very well organised and use false identity documents and false addresses to register a SIM card,” she said the government should strictly enforce the issue “or it won’t come to an end”.

“Someone must be in front of a computer to authorise registration requests. Obviously people who are doing this have a questionable agenda,” she said.

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