New evidence reveals widespread airtime theft and fraudulent WASP subscriptions on Vodacom’s network and shows that the company failed to act decisively against the criminals.
The latest evidence follows an industry investigation which revealed airtime theft on a mass scale from Vodacom’s prepaid customers.
What sets the latest evidence apart is that it comes from a prominent company which uses machine-to-machine communications and IoT devices with prepaid SIMs from Vodacom.
It is therefore impossible for these SIMs to pro-actively subscribe to WASP services, which means this data provides conclusive evidence of fraudulent subscriptions and airtime theft.
The company’s chief executive, who asked to remain anonymous because of his relationship with Vodacom, told MyBroadband hundreds of their SIMs have been hit by airtime theft.
The company experienced theft on both brand-new SIMs and SIMs which have been in devices for years.
He said Vodacom refuses to acknowledge any problem and added that it is very difficult to get refunds for the stolen airtime.
Only around 5% to 10% of the airtime theft which they logged with Vodacom were refunded.
He said it requires considerable effort to get a refund, which is further complicated as it is impossible to approach Vodacom with a list of SIMs from which airtime was stolen.
“You need to phone in as a single prepaid customer and go through the motions of trying to convince them that the SIM is in a device with no human access,” he said.
“You have to hound them repeatedly to get the refund to be processed, and you often just give up after a while.”
The evidence further showed that the same WASPs continue to steal airtime from SIMs long after it was reported to Vodacom.
The data provided to MyBroadband stretches back for many months and conclusively proves:
- There is widespread fraud and airtime theft on Vodacom’s network to this day.
- Vodacom was made aware of this fraud and airtime theft, for a long time, but failed to act decisively.
- The same companies continue to steal airtime from Vodacom’s subscribers.
A look at the data
The data in the table below are all from prepaid Vodacom SIMs installed in machine-to-machine and IoT units.
“There’s no way anyone has pulled out the SIM and subscribed to anything. We even detect and log when a SIM is removed from the device,” the CEO said.
Prepaid SIMs do not get invoices, but the company has developed its own logging mechanism which records airtime changes and subscriptions.
Through this platform each SIM’s airtime is checked regularly through USSD commands.
The company also continually runs USSD commands to query if there are any subscriptions.
If an illegal subscription is detected, the name is logged, and the service is removed using a USSD command.
He said most of the subscriptions are detected before significant losses are incurred, but occasionally they catch one that has R100 or more stolen.
The table below shows some of the airtime theft detected on hundreds of SIMs over the past two months alone.
It should be noted that this is only a small sample of the true extend of the fraud.
|Airtime theft on M2M SIMs|
|Detected Date||Estimated loss per SIM||Subscription Name|
|21/08/2020 20:58||R21.00||Amapiano Jingle|
|18/08/2020 10:18||R16.00||Ha a Mfa|
|09/07/2020 15:50||R2.40||Doce Vida ft DJ Tarico|
|06/07/2020 05:25||R13.00||Don’t change|
|15/06/2020 18:08||R42.00||Entertainment Content|
|03/06/2020 07:20||R4.00||Doce Vida ft DJ Tarico|
|03/06/2020 07:20||R5.00||Mum & Baby Premium|
|01/06/2020 02:16||R6.00||The only One|
The evidence versus what Vodacom claimed
Over the past few years Vodacom has consistently made a few claims regarding fraudulent subscriptions and airtime theft on its network.
- It has a zero-tolerance approach to any illegal activity on its network and takes a hard line against perpetrators.
- It investigates this fraud when it becomes aware of it and suspends suspected WASPs during this period.
- Its standard practice is to refund the customer first and then investigate the query later.
- It introduced and enabled content blocking on all M2M and IoT SIMs in December 2018, which prohibits content subscriptions and purchases such as WASP services from these SIMs.
The evidence from this company and from previous cases show that Vodacom’s claims are inaccurate and misleading.
The evidence revealed that despite having been alerted to companies stealing airtime from their subscribers, Vodacom failed to take decisive action against them.
In some cases, companies which have been accused of stealing airtime from Vodacom customers for years continue to do so with impunity.
It therefore shows that Vodacom either does not investigate accusations of airtime theft or does not suspend suspected fraudulent WASPs during this period.
The latest evidence also shows that it is very tough to get a refund – even in the case of M2M and IoT SIMs.
This echoes feedback from other Vodacom subscribers who said they also struggled to get a refund from Vodacom.
In one of the recent reports the victim said Vodacom first tried to blame him and said the unwanted subscriptions were his fault.
He first had to refute numerous false accusations from Vodacom before they were willing to process his refund application. Even after all of this, he still did not receive a refund.
These reports fly in the face of Vodacom’s claim that it “refunds the customer first and then investigates the query later”.
Vodacom’s claim of content blocking on all M2M and IoT SIMs is also brought into question by the latest data.
All the SIMs which were targeted were M2M and IoT SIMs, which clearly shows it is possible to steal airtime from these SIMs through content subscription services.
This raises the question as to why Vodacom is not stopping this fraud which has been plaguing its subscribers for years.
Industry players told MyBroadband that Vodacom does not want to address this fraud as they are making millions in profit from it.
One industry player, who has been operating a WASP for over a decade, told MyBroadband that mobile operators are enabling this fraud and are well aware of it.
“No WASP can take a subscriber’s airtime without the operator fully knowing about it – and enabling it,” he said.
Another industry player said Vodacom has always seen this as a revenue stream despite the misery caused.
“It’s criminal and should be thoroughly investigated,” he said.
MyBroadband asked Vodacom whether any action has been taken against WASPs implicated in airtime theft.
Vodacom said it cannot arbitrarily take action against a commercial partner – WASPs included – without requisite proof or evidence of a contractual breach or fraud.
“Rest assured, should we have this information, we will ensure that appropriate measures are taken,” it said.
Commenting on the issue of refunds for stolen airtime, Vodacom said if it suspects that customers have been defrauded, it will ensure that they are proactively refunded.
“Should we have proof or evidence that customers were incorrectly debited, it follows that we will effect refunds to customers in addition to taking appropriate measures against fraudsters,” it said.
Commenting on the examples that Vodacom is not refunding victims of airtime theft as promised, it said “we cannot comment on examples that we have not had the opportunity to investigate”.
“Our standard Customer Care policy is to effect refunds,” Vodacom said.
“We are fully committed to remedying instances where standard policy has not been adhered to but will naturally need the requisite customer information to do so.”