Police nail 45 suspects in fake SIM crackdown

The South African Police Service (SAPS) arrested 43 suspected illegal immigrants and two South Africans on Friday in a crackdown on a counterfeit SIM card operation.

Police had received information about a house in Sandton where these criminal activities were allegedly occurring, and SAPS mobilised the Gauteng Organised Crime Investigation Unit to move on the house.

“Upon arrival, they found more than forty suspected illegal immigrants aged between 17 and 36 years,” said SAPS spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Mavela Masondo.

“Further investigation led the police to a garage and backroom where thousands of SIM cards from all South African mobile cellphone networks and a substantial number of computers were found.”

SAPS said technicians from mobile network providers were called to the scene and confirmed that the SIM cards were imitations — likely manufactured on the premises.

“More suspects might be arrested pending further investigation,” said Masondo.

The suspects are facing charges including contravention of the Cybercrimes Act, fraud, and illegal immigration.

Scams are a major problem in South Africa, and this fake SIM operation is the tip of the iceberg.

Even more common is the rise of phishing scams, with a recent example being a new scam focused on eFiling users.

Scammers pretend to be the South African Revenue Service (Sars) and tell taxpayers they cannot file their 2024 return until they pay an “outstanding amount.”

The victim is given an account number to pay the amount, unaware that this will actually transfer money to criminals.

“Sars never provides bank account numbers. If you need to make a payment, only use the official Sars payment channels,” said Sars in response to the scam.

Another variant of these advance-fee scams that have taken root in South Africa is recruitment scams.

These also rely on criminals making contact with victims using mobile messaging like SMS and WhatsApp.

They promise people that they can earn thousands of rands per day by performing certain tasks online, such as following social media pages or writing fake reviews.

However, this is just a contrived con that has the side-effect of soiling the reputations of legitimate businesses.

In reality, no one has paid for the follows or fake reviews, and the scammers are simply trying to lure victims in by making it seem like they have a business model.

Victims may be paid small amounts at the start of the con to create the impression that they are earning money for completing their tasks.

However, the victim is soon encouraged to pay ever-increasing amounts as a “deposit” into the scam to increase their maximum earnings.

As soon as they’ve paid over a large enough sum, the scammers sever contact and disappear with their money.

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Police nail 45 suspects in fake SIM crackdown