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Fraudsters steal '50 years of savings' via SIM swap scam

The fraudsters made off with an estimated $35,000 through the scam.

Published onJanuary 8, 2019

A SIM card.
  • An elderly man lost “50 years of savings” due to a SIM swap scam in South Africa.
  • Scam artists use number porting and internet banking to make off with cash.
  • The SIM swap scam has also made its way to the likes of India and the U.K.

Criminals reportedly managed to steal an elderly man’s savings in South Africa via a SIM swap scam. Professor Darlene Lubbe, the daughter of the 78-year-old victim, told the Weekend Argus that 50 years of savings were stolen as a result of the scam.

“How they get access to account details, I don’t know. There was a SIM swap in October without my dad’s knowledge, done by [cellular network] Vodacom,” said Lubbe. “They cleared out 50 years of savings by transferring Absa Money Market to Absa Cheque and created 15 new beneficiaries. The money was gone within five hours. Both Absa and Vodacom deny responsibility.”

In an affidavit to the Absa bank, Lubbe’s father noticed that he had no cellular service. The victim thought he ran out of airtime/credit, and ended up at a Vodacom store, where he was told a SIM swap was needed instead.

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The victim noted that the employee took the phone to a back room for roughly 15 minutes. The employee inserted a new SIM card but didn’t give the old SIM back to the victim. Lubbe’s father was then told to wait four hours before switching on his phone.

The victim tried paying a domestic worker via internet banking the next morning, but didn’t receive a one-time PIN on his phone to authorize the payment. It was discovered that the money was missing. Lubbe said that the stolen R500,000 (~$35,822) was eventually paid back to the family as a “payment of goodwill” by the bank.

The story didn’t end there, as there was another attempt to defraud the victim by porting the number from Vodacom to the MTN network — despite the number being flagged for fraudulent activity. Nevertheless, Vodacom told the outlet that internet banking fraud “cannot succeed unless the victim has compromised their banking account details and personal information.”

A long-running scam

It’s far from the only instance of a SIM swap scam in the country either. Back in June 2018, an 85-year-old pensioner was reportedly swindled out of R300,000 (~$21,490). In this case, the pensioner received a text message from their network, stating that their number was ported to another carrier.

The pensioner lost internet banking capabilities when their number was ported back to the original network. Shortly thereafter, the bank (Nedbank) realized that R300,000 had been transferred out of the account.

Going back even further, South Africa’s DispatchLive outlet reported a 2016 case which saw a victim losing R200,000 (~$14,344) in a SIM swap scam.

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SIM swap scams aren’t restricted to one country either, as cases have popped up everywhere from India to the U.K. as well. Times of India previously reported that the scammers conduct a 4G SIM swap in the victim’s name. The culprits then pose as network employees, calling the victim in order to “upgrade” them from a 3G SIM to a 4G SIM. The victim’s SIM card is then deactivated, while the culprit’s fraudulently obtained 4G SIM is successfully swapped out.

A disturbing trend to notice is that cases of SIM swap scams aren’t limited to one bank or network, suggesting serious flaws in security systems (such as the one-time PIN system) and/or a wide network of criminal employees.

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