SIM swap scam: Airtel subscriber loses fancy number; new holder says he bought it at an auction from local dealer

R Dinakaran | Updated on August 09, 2019 Published on August 08, 2019

File photo

Indore Airtel number was ported to BSNL in Bengaluru

Navin Raghuvanshi of Indore got a shock of his life when his fancy Airtel number was sold and ported out without his knowledge.

Navin had gone on a 10-day trip to Leh and Ladakh, and when he returned from the trip, he realised his phone was not registering in the network. During his trip, he was unable to connect to the network, but he had assumed that it was due to poor network in hilly areas.

It was when his friend called him in his new number and alerted him that calls to his old (fancy) number were going to one Arjun Naidu in Bangalore.

When Navin contacted Arjun, he came to know that he had bought the number from a dealer by paying Rs 30,000. What’s more, the shop - Harish Telecom of Bangalore - voluntarily offered to port the number to BSNL. As Arjun did not have a BSNL number, he agreed.

When BusinessLine contacted Arjun, he said that he had no idea about the antecedents of the number. All he wanted was a fancy number and he went to Harish Telecom as he knew they had them.

Navin and Arjun have now realised that they are victims of a probable SIM swap scam.

Navin said that he had been using the number for over ten years, and within days, the number was sold – without his knowledge. He says he went to the Airtel head office in Indore several times, but was told they could not do anything as the number “was not in their database”. This could because Arjun ported the number to BSNL.

When nothing happened even after filing complaints with the police (from the Thana Incharge to the Director-General), Navin met the ADG of police, Varun Kapoor, and on his advice, filed a complaint online. He has also sent an application to the Indore Cyber cell.


BusinessLine tried to contact Harish Telecom, which advertises on its Facebook page asking people to contact “for VVIP fancy mobile numbers”, but none of the numbers connected.

What could have happened?

Telecom dealers and experts say how this could have happened:

Someone who has managed to get access to the documents required for a SIM swap — Aadhaar/Driving Licence and photograph — would have gone to a dealer and asked for a new SIM. The person would be aware that the owner of the SIM is in an area where the network is poor so that he does not get the SIM change notification from the operator. Or he must have banked on the probability that the SIM owner will not see or respond (or know how to respond) to SIM change SMS from the operator.

They are aware that not many bother to go through messages from operators for various reasons.

When the operator does not get a response, the SIM change automatically happens. With the new SIM, the first thing the fraudster does is to port the number to another operator so that it becomes difficult to trace the SIM. Here, BSNL is the preferred operator for porting as it is difficult to access or get details from the PSU, says a source in the telecom industry.

The new buyer who is ready to pay an astronomical amount for a fancy number is not bothered about the operator as he can always port it later again.

Airtel said it had been “made aware of this matter by the concerned customers and also the authorities. The said matter is under investigation with the authorities and we are cooperating with them on the same. We also urge customers to be cautious of the fraudsters operating in the market, and to take the communications sent by their respective telecom operator seriously.”

How to prevent this from happening to you?

1. Check emails and SMS from your service provider regularly.

2. If you find anything suspicious, talk to the customer care IMMEDIATELY.

3. Don't give documents to unauthorised persons or persons you don't know.

4. Nobody asks for PINs or OTPs. If you get a call asking for OTPs or PINs, immediately report it to your service provider and police

5. If there is an option to register your alternative mobile number and email address, register both. Constantly keep scanning for messages and emails about requests to change SIMs.

6. Never give out your PINs or OTPs through emails.

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Published on August 08, 2019
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