Cellular contract fraud poses an enormous challenge to both mobile network operators and the general public.
Identity thieves acquire the personal information of unsuspecting victims and use this to take out fraudulent contracts under their names.
The victim gets the bill, and by the time a dispute with the relevant mobile operator confirms that fraud has taken place, the criminal has likely run off with the device.
The operator then suffers the financial loss of having to refund the victim.
Given the prevalence of this type of crime, it could be expected that mobile operators implement better technologies to prevent further exploitation.
One of the ways in which this could be addressed is through the use of biometric authentication systems such as fingerprint readers.
We asked South Africa’s major mobile operators what biometric systems they use to prevent fraudulent contract applications.
South Africa’s largest mobile operator, Vodacom, said that it uses biometric authentication but did not specify whether this included a fingerprint reader.
“We have introduced elements of biometric security within our systems. We continue to seek ways to improve security for the company and our customers, now and into the future,” said Vodacom.
MTN introduced in-store biometric fingerprint authentication in 2017. This lets the operator verify the identity of applicants against the Home Affairs database.
It has also confirmed that it intends to employ this technology for its telephonic and online contract applications.
“When customers order through our online/telesales channels, upon delivery of their orders, the solution will validate their identity by placing their fingers on a handheld device to confirm their identity and if it does not match, the parcel will be returned,” MTN said.
Cell C does not use any biometric authentication during the contract sign-up process.
The operator said it is considering the technology if it is financially feasible.
“We are currently investigating the possibility of implementing biometric verification technology in the near future, if it makes financial sense to do so,” Cell C stated.
It said it does use other measures to ensure that customers are who they claim to be.
“Cell C does have several checks in place to protect customers and confirm identities within their current processes,” Cell C said.
Telkom said it has been using in-store biometric authentication since November 2018.
“As Telkom we have been using fingerprint biometric checks for all new applications that are received in-store, including contracts, sim swaps, upgrades and renewals since November 2018,” Telkom said.
It also noted that it requires “additional information” to verify a customer before releasing orders that are made via online and telephonic channels.
Telkom said it is considering the implementation of facial recognition to authenticate customers for online orders.