Criminals have the keys to steal your airtime and hijack your mobile number

South African mobile users are sitting ducks for criminals, who are given the keys to steal their airtime and hijack their mobile number.

What is even worse is that mobile users can do nothing about it. Instead, they just have to wait until they become a victim and hope the damage is not too significant.

Considering this state of affairs, it is not surprising that millions in airtime is stolen from South Africans each month and that online banking fraud is skyrocketing.

The South African Banking Risk Information Centre’s (SABRIC’s) annual crime statistics for 2018 reflected a 75.3% increase in online and mobile banking fraud.

Last year alone, R263 million was stolen from over 23,000 South Africans after their mobile numbers were hijacked and their banking details compromised.

Fraudulent SIM-swop and mobile number porting

A core component of online and mobile banking fraud is access to the victim’s mobile number, which is where SIM-swop and number porting fraud comes in.

It is surprisingly easy for criminals to hijack your mobile number in South Africa – they simply put in a fraudulent SIM-swop or number porting request via a rogue agent.

Instead of having an opt-in system, where users have the power to say whether their number must be moved, there is an opt-out system.

This places the power in the hands of criminals by always approving a SIM-swop or number porting request unless the user proactively requests it to be stopped.

To explain it in simple terms – this is similar to a criminal ringing your doorbell, and unless you answer the door and tell them to go away, the door automatically opens for the intruder (even if you are not at home).

Even if you find out that criminals are trying to hijack your number, your mobile operator cannot help you. Local mobile networks told MyBroadband that they cannot protect any numbers from this fraud.

You are therefore a sitting duck for criminals who have gained access to online banking details and only need your mobile number to steal your money.

Airtime theft

For over a decade, mobile operators have enabled rogue wireless application service providers (WASPs) to bill cellular subscribers’ accounts without their permission.

While mobile operators are continually implementing new measures to try to fight fraudulent billing, criminals simply find new ways to bypass these measures.

It is estimated that billions in airtime has been stolen from mobile subscribers in South Africa, and there is nothing users could do to stop it.

Once again, criminals have the upper hand as Vodacom, MTN, and Cell C’s subscribers are by default open to this abuse.

There is a simple solution to stop this crime – block all WASP billing by default and give mobile subscribers power over who can take money from their account.

Vodacom, MTN, and Cell C are, however, not willing to implement this solution. The reason: money, and lots of it.

Mobile operators profit from both fraudulent and legitimate WASP billing and they are not willing to touch this lucrative revenue stream, even if their subscribers suffer at the hands of criminals.

Do this now

While your mobile account is by default free for criminals to abuse, there are at least a few measures you can take to limit the damage.

Vodacom subscribers

To ensure that you are not billed by a rogue WASP without your knowledge, follow one of the steps below.

  • Send “STOP ALL” to 31050

You can also stop all subscription services by using the steps below.

  • Dial *111#
  • Select option 12 (Services)
  • Select option 9 (Content Services)
  • Select option 2 (Stop All)

Another way to stop all content services on Vodacom is to:

  • Dial *117#
  • Select option 11 (next)
  • Select option 5 (Unsubscribe)

The message which follows should tell you if you have been subscribed to any WASP services without your knowledge.

MTN subscribers

To ensure that you are not billed by a rogue WASP without your knowledge, follow the steps below.

  • Dial *141*5# and select option 2 (Content Services) and follow the prompts
  • Stop all WASP Content Services: Select option 1 (Manage Content Services)
  • Stop all MTN Content Services: Select option 2 (Manage Premium Rated Services)

You can also:

  • Dial *136*5# and select option 2 (Content Services), then follow the prompts
  • Select option 2 (Manage Premium Rated Services)
  • Select option 2 (PRS Charges)
  • Select option 1 (Block PRS Charges)

You can use the USSD string below to manage premium content subscriptions.

  • Dial *464*970#

MTN subscribers can further use the USSD below to view or cancel services, set service limits or block 3rd party messages:

  • Dial *155# and select option 1 (View or Cancel) and follow the prompt

Cell C subscribers

Cell C makes it easy for subscribers to stop WASP billing and prevent future billing through the service below.

  • Dial *133*1# and follow the prompts.

This service allows you to block WASP billing and gives you the power to open your account to WASP billing if you want.

Now read: Crime syndicates stealing South Africans’ airtime – WASPA

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Criminals have the keys to steal your airtime and hijack your mobile number